Ravine Symposium Series: Part 1
Minaz Asani Kanji didn’t know anything about saving the environment when she came to Canada as a student from Kenya 28 years ago. Today she helps new immigrants learn all about recycling, picking up litter and more.
Whether it’s putting people in touch with a Learn to Camp program run by Ontario Parks or helping teenagers living in high rise buildings explore the ravines near where they live, “teaching newcomers about environmental issues is so important,” says the TBG’s new Toronto Environmentalist of the Year. “I’m often told people don’t care but I’ve learned that they simply don’t know.”
Minaz is the manager of outreach for Park People, an independent charity that brings people and funding together to transform communities through better parks. She works with communities across the city to help them animate their parks and green spaces. Minaz manages the TD Park Builders program, a micro-grant program for marginalized communities. Prior to working at Park People, she worked as a Live Green Toronto community animator helping North York residents take environmental action. The program was part of the City of Toronto’s strategy to meet aggressive targets for reducing greenhouse gas and smog causing emissions.
Minaz started her career as a waste coordinator at the (North) Toronto Green Community, the non-profit organization that brought North America’s first wind turbine to Toronto as well as launching Toronto’s first car-sharing company, Autoshare. She went on to become executive director launching and coordinating programs ranging from community gardens to stewardship, energy, water, climate change, transportation and waste. Minaz has a degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Waterloo.
The award was presented at TBG’s 2nd annual Ravine Symposium and includes a $2,500 cheque from the Dalglish Family Foundation. The Aster Awards speak directly to the TBG’s mission to “connect people to plants, inspiring us to live in harmony with nature.”
“We don’t do it for awards but it’s special when you do win,” said Minaz. “This award means all the more because it comes from the grassroots.”
Called the Aster Awards for the Greek word Aster meaning star, this is the award’s 5th year and the emphasis is focusing more on the environment this year, explained TBG executive director Harry Jongerden. Hence the new name for the award recognizing environmental leadership in the community. Also, winning $1,000 each are rising stars Aidan Dahlin Nolan and Alan Colley. This award recognizes two early-career individuals whose efforts or studies demonstrate a commitment and a promise of significant achievement in environmental enhancement.
Aiden Dahlin Nolan is project lead for Community Canoe and a Ph.D. student at York University. He began planting gardens in old canoes in 2014 as part of the David Suzuki Foundation’s Homegrown National Park project to fill broken down discarded canoe planters with native plants friendly to pollinator birds, bees and other insects. There are now 40 such canoe gardens across the GTA. Each canoe has a captain, a member of the community, responsible for watering and weeding.
“The work I do depends on the work of other people,” says Aiden. “We don’t do this work for recognition or money but we are so grateful.” He sees the canoe garden project as “a way of bringing people together to see a world beyond their perception.”
Alan Colley, a nature guide and teacher of Indigenous perspective and knowledge runs Toronto Aboriginal Eco Tours. “Our mission is to create a sustainable relationship with Toronto, Turtle Island (North America) and Mother Earth for generations to come,” he says.
“I believe we are at the point in history where we are able to teach and share with the next generations how to have a sustainable relationship with the environment. My goal is to bring together our beautiful community in a way that allows elders, adults, youth and children to connect and make a difference with actions based on the ground principles of the seven Grandfather Teachings, 13 Grandmother Moon Teachings and Medicine Wheel Teachings.”
Alan is looking forward to “sharing information regarding history, the plants, the animals, the fish and the insects so that we can start looking at a healthy future that we are planting seeds for in the present.”
He was the keynote speaker for the event and during the lunch hour took people on a guided tour of the ravine.