Our Migration Stories

Mapping our homes and migration paths

When we gathered for the third time as a group at Six Nations in July, 2019, we shared our diverse histories of migration along with the food icons described above. This activity, created by research assistant Tzazná Miranda Leal connected us to the broader political, economic and cultural process of global migration.

While we all live in a narrow latitude of North America (or Turtle Island), we discovered that, in reality, all of us have migrated throughout our lives, and have learned from diverse contexts, continents, cultures, and culinary practices.

Some of us have deep pre-contact ancestral roots in Turtle Island. Others have colonial histories in Europe and so have landed in North America (Turtle Island) as settlers on stolen land. Still others find a mixture of Indigenous and European ancestry in their family histories. Our complex trajectories perhaps reflect the reality of this era, that most settlers have moved from their homelands and thus have different relationships to the land. Many Indigenous cultures, however, moved extensively across vast territories yet still retained connection to the land.

Let’s start with those who have the deepest roots in the so-called Americas (named after an Italian mapmaker).

Original inhabitants were on the move

Our Indigenous partners represent three different peoples: the Haudenosaunee (known as the Iroquois Confederacy or Six Nations) straddling the border between the United States and Canada; the Mayan, located in the Yucatán region of Mexico; and the P’urepecha in an autonomous community in the central Mexican state of Michoacán.

Prior to European contact, the Haudenosaunee moved for food, across a wide swath from what is now New York State to Wisconsin. Today they are mainly located in upper New York State, southern Ontario and Quebec. For them the border between the so-called United States and Canada was imposed (link to photo essay on Contributions of Haudenosaunee Culture); it is more an inconvenience, something they cross regularly to connect with family and friends. Both Rick Hill and Chandra Maracle were born in Buffalo, New York, where their fathers were Mohawk ironworkers. Rick’s work trajectory criss-crossed the border over decades: he studied art in Chicago, taught at the University of Buffalo, then worked with the art program of Indian Affairs in Ottawa; back in the U.S. he curated Indigenous art in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and at the National Museum of the American Indian in D.C. Since 2007, he has lived in Ohsweken, Ontario on Six Nations of the Grand River territory, with his wife Chandra Maracle.

Chandra’s mother’s family is Sicilian American, while her father’s family came from Tyendinaga, a Mohawk territory in Ontario. Her family frequently crossed the border from Detroit to Fort Erie, Ontario. Now living with Rick and her four children at Six Nations in Ontario, the family regularly attends gatherings in upstate New York. But when asked where she calls home, Chandra points to the sky and outside of the map: “After I studied our creation story and learned how connected the first woman was to food and corn, I felt deeply that’s my home.”

Ryan DeCaire is also Haudenosaunee, but his people came from the east and settled in the Muskoka region of Ontario. His home reserve, Wahta, means maple tree leader of the trees (first to provide us with sustenance). As a young man, he worked on Dianne’s farm near his community. In his work in language revitalization, Ryan has taught at other Mohawk communities, Kanewake in Quebec, and Six Nations in Ontario. As he said, “Haudenosaunee people, if they’re involved in community, travel constantly.”

Our Indigenous collaborators in current day Mexico have a different colonial history, as it was the Spanish rather than the British and French who invaded their territories. Ángel Kú’s Yucatan hometown is Ticul, which means “settled, after the wars,” perhaps referring to a major massacre in nearby Maní where a Spanish friar had thousands killed and cultural codices destroyed in 1562. Ángel followed the path of many young Mayans, travelling to Chiapas to join Indigenous movements, and then to Oaxaca, where he worked for five years with UniTierra, University of the Land.

Angel’s partner Valiana Aguilar shared that experience with him, before they returned to her hometown of Sinanche, Yucatán, a Mayan community of 2,000, close to the Gulf of Mexico. Her grandparents worked in haciendas like slaves, and had to fight for the land, finally secured in the Mexican revolution. Recently her grandfather offered the family land to Valiana, confident that she would not sell it but would carry out her dream for a working farm and educational centre, like UniTierra, with youth in the community.

The third Indigenous nation in the Legacies exchange is the P’urepecha of Nurio, an autonomous community in the central Mexican state of Michoacán. Maria Blas Cacari grew up in a military family that moved regularly from state to state in Mexico. Then her family joined a majority of the residents of her hometown, migrating north to the United States for work – in California, Missouri, and Wisconsin. There is still a lot of movement back and forth among family members, and Maria has also travelled throughout Mexico, Central America, and Italy for agricultural workshops with her husband Fulio.

Colonizers, immigrants, and refugees

Fulvio Gionetto has spent his life on move, migrating between continents and states. Born in Italy and educated in France, he worked with UNESCO with the Sami in Lappland before coming to Mexico as an ethnobotanist in 1997. Since marrying his P’urepecha translator Maria, they and their four children have travelled around Mexico and Central America, offering workshops on medicinal plants and organic inputs. He also lectures at Mexican universities and advises producers on agroecology. His consultancy work has extended to the United States and Canada, where he has come regularly during the growing season.

Fernando Garcia was born in Guadalajara, Jalisco. His mother is from Saltillo, Cuihuila in northern Mexico, while his father is from Jalisco. As a youth, Fernando attended one year of high school in San Antonio, Texas. Then as a young agronomist, he spent a summer 20 years ago learning organic agriculture on two farms in Ontario, Canada. His current work of training farmers in organic production has involved travel all over Mexico and to Venezuela, Bolivia, the United States, and Ethiopia.

The four Canadian-born settler collaborators reflect both deep and recent British colonial histories.

Dianne Kretschmar’s ancestors came to the eastern coast of the U.S. with a sister ship of the Mayflower, in the 1600s. They retreated to Canada as United Empire Loyalists after the Boston Tea Party (1773). Dianne’s mother was born in Yorkshire, England, and came to Canada as a child. Both parents were raised on the west coast, married in Vancouver, then migrated east, to Edmonton, to Toronto, and the suburbs. Her move two hours north to the Muskoka region over 30 years ago was to start a farm in a rocky area, after working as a geologist in Alaska and other points north.

Her son Dan was born on the farm, and only as a young agrarian activist did he begin to travel. As a youth delegate for the National Farmers Union, he went to meetings of Via Campesina in Miami, Peru and Brazil. These experiences sparked his vision for an agroecology school or centre on the farm. For the past three years, he has been teaching English in China, earning money to develop this dream in Ontario.

Adam Royal grew up close to Dianne’s farm in Ontario, and met his wife Anna while working there for several years in the early 2000s. He then moved his family back to the Gaspé region of Quebec, where his mother’s great grandmother settled.

Anna Murtaugh’s parents represent migration to Canada from two different wars. Her mom was born in England during the second world war and came to Canada with her mother, a war bride, when she was three years old. Her dad (production team member John) came from Chicago (his grandparents were from Ireland and England), but arrived in Toronto in the early 1970s as a ‘draft dodger’, protesting the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Anna grew up in the centre of Toronto, though next to a city farm, then worked on Dianne’s farm for ten summers; she then lived with Adam in Montreal until they moved to the Gaspé community of New Carlisle.

Since the 1980s, the massive influx of immigrants and refugees to Canada was from the Global South, fleeing economic hardship, war, and various forms of discrimination.

Leticia Boahen was born in rural Ghana, where she grew up with her grandmother, a corn and peanut farmer. Leticia’s mom and sister immigrated to Canada in 1993, and she joined them in 1996. They all currently live in the Jane Finch neighbourhood of Toronto, where she directs the Black Creek Community Farm, and promotes healthy food and food justice.

A border-crossing production team

All members of the production team have complex migration histories.

Co-director Alexandra Gelis was born in Venezuela, grew up in the Carribean coast of Colombia, and lived in Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Panama. In 2007, she moved to Toronto, but her multi-media artistic projects have taken her all over Canada and the U.S., to Ethiopia, Peru and back to Colombia. Other Colombian Canadians, Jorge Lozano and Juan Pablo Pinto, have joined her on the video documentation and editing team.

Co-editor Lauren Baker’s maternal grandparents migrated from Ukraine and settled in a farming community in Alberta. Her father’s ancestors came on Mayflower ship as new immigrants to Turtle Island. They lived in Boston then came to Canada. Her parents grew up in Hamilton. Over many years, her father worked internationally, so Lauren was born in Malaysia, and lived in Honduras, Rome, and Nepal. While Toronto has always been her home base, her current work takes her around the world connecting with other NGOs working for the future of food sovereignty.

John Murtaugh, Production Assistant, was born in the United States, and grew up in the Chicago area. He spent two years working with the Peace Corps on agricultural projects in Tonga, travelled extensively through Central American and the South Pacific. In refusing to fight for the U.S. in the Vietnam War in 1970, he was welcomed to Canada as a ‘draft dodger: “I got advice to go to Toronto; the other option was to go to jail.” He has raised his family in downtown Toronto over the past 50 years.

Similarly, Co-director/co-editor Deborah Barndt has made her home in Canada since the early 1970s. Born in northern Maine in the U.S., next to the Quebec and New Brunswick borders, she grew up in farming communities in Ohio, then studied in Ohio, Michigan and France, and worked in Switzerland and New York City, before moving to Canada. She migrated internally for work from Ottawa to Montreal to Toronto (where she has lived for 45 years). Sporadically she worked and lived in Latin America (Peru in 70s, Nicaragua in 80s, Mexico in 90s and 2000s); these intercultural connections have inspired and provided a base for the Legacies project.

These short migration vignettes reveal that, like many in our globalized world, we have complex identities and trajectories over space and time. A clear difference among us, however, is the relationship we each have to the colonial history of where we now live and work. While the political contexts shaping this relationship are different in Canada, the United States and Mexico, the fact remains that the history of the Americas is based on a brutal occupation of Indigenous land, the theft of natural resources, the suppression of languages and cultural practices, and the loss of connection to land and healthy practices of securing and eating food (see photo essays The Mush Hole and The Thanksgiving Address video). Some of us with racial, class, and education privileges have benefitted from this ongoing cultural genocide. One of the aims of the Legacies project is to use food as an entry to a conversation that leads us to a deeper understanding of Indigenous perspectives and moves us toward more active alllyship.

Ruth Koleszar-Green offers us new ways to think about this relationship. She distinguishes between the term ‘settler’ and the term ‘guest’. A settler engages in a superficial way, participating in ways that do not unsettle the privilege, or equating settler’s reality to Indigenous realities. In contrast, “a guest is an individual that is in relationship to the Land in a way that supports stewardship and not ownership.” Guests develop relationships with Indigenous communities and “respect reciprocal engagement.”1 This is a worthy goal for our project, one that we must constantly work toward. We hope that it will inspire others to reconsider their relationship to colonization and reconciliation through the lens of food sovereignty.

  1. Ruth Koleszar-Green. What is a Guest? What is a Settler? Cultural and Pedagogical Inquiry, Vol. 2, No. 10 (2018), 174-175.