Stories of Indigenous history, Indigenous cultural spaces, art and monuments are everywhere. They’re around every corner, they’re on your walk to work or school. They’re also looked over on a daily basis.
Indigenous Walks is an effort to change that.
The brainchild of artist Jaime Koebel, Indigenous Walks is a company in Ottawa that offers tours of the city’s downtown area and its Indigenous landmarks and history.
Koebel says a lot of participants in the tours are surprised by what they learn.
“I get lots of feedback like, ‘I’ve passed this monument 100 times,’” she said. “Or ‘this kind of thing is really needed.’”
For many participants, it’s their first exposure to Aboriginal issues.
Koebel, a Métis/Cree woman from Lac La Biche, Alberta, started Indigenous Walks two years ago after working at the National Gallery of Canada, where part of her job was was to take youth around the gallery and talk about social, political and cultural issues through the artwork from an Indigenous perspective.
She had a degree in Canadian studies under her belt, and had previously been actively involved with the National Association of Friendship Centre’s youth council, and really loved the role of being an educator. She saw Indigenous Walks as the perfect way to bring her experiences together and to help teach and engage others with Indigenous culture and history.
“I have a walk on Parliament Hill,” Koebel added. “We look at each of the prime ministers, and then we look at where Indigenous people were at the time of this particular prime minister’s leadership. People just have no idea of things like treaties, or any idea of the history of voting or Aboriginal women.”
There’s one basic tour that anyone can take, but Koebel also tailors the walks to focus on politics or art, for example. She’s led tours for high school groups, university students, law students, art curators and visitors from the various embassies around the nation’s capital. Local businesses book tours for staff outings as well.
“The one great thing about these walks is you can take one… and you can take it again, and it will not be the same,” she said. “Every single walk is different. I’m always finding different stories to cater to each of the groups.”
Koebel’s planning to expand the company across the country, starting with London, Ontario in the fall and Winnipeg next spring. She’ll be leading a special public tour in Ottawa, free of charge, in conjunction with the Ottawa Art Gallery on April 23.
To find out more about Indigenous Walks, visit indigenouswalks.com.