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Contemporary Indigenous Art in Canada

Contemporary Indigenous art is that which has been produced by Indigenous peoples between around 1945 to the present. Since that time, two major schools of Indigenous art have dominated the contemporary scene in Canada:  Northwest Coast Indigenous Art and the Woodlands school of Legend Painters. As well, a more widely scattered group of artists work independently in the context of mainstream Western artand may be described as internationalist in scope and intent.

Contemporary Inuit art has evolved in parallel with contemporary Indigenous art, producing celebrated artists like Zacharias Kunuk and Annie Pootoogook.

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Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake)

Emily Pauline Johnson (a.k.a. Tekahionwake, “double wampum”) poet, writer, artist, performer (born 10 March 1861 on the Six Nations Reserve, Canada West; died 7 March 1913 in VancouverBC). Pauline Johnson was one of North America’s most notable entertainers of the late 19th century. A mixed-race woman of Mohawk and European descent, she was a gifted writer and poised orator. She toured extensively, captivating audiences with her flair for the dramatic arts. Johnson made important contributions to Indigenous and Canadian oral and written culture. She is listed as a Person of National Historic Significance and her childhood home is a National Historic Site and museum. A monument in Vancouver’s Stanley Park commemorates her work and legacy. In 2016, she was one of 12 Canadian women in consideration to appear on a banknote. (See Women on Canadian Banknotes.)

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Carl Ray

Carl Ray, Cree artist, illustrator, editor and art teacher (born January 1943 in Sandy Lake, ON; died 26 September 1978 in Sioux Lookout, ON). Ray was known for his innovative paintings in the Woodlands style and was a founding member of the Indian Group of Seven. Ray’s work has influenced Indigenous art in Canada and can be found in the collections of various galleries and museums across the country.

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Métis Settlements

Métis Settlements located across the northern part of Alberta are comprised of the Paddle Prairie, Peavine, Gift Lake, East Prairie, Buffalo Lake, Kikino, Elizabeth and Fishing Lake settlements. These eight settlements form a constitutionally protected Métis land base in Canada.

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Jackson Beardy

Jackson Beardy (also known as Quincy Pickering Jackson Beardy), Oji-Cree artist (born 24 July 1944 at Island Lake, MB; died 8 December 1984 in Winnipeg, MB). Beardy was part of the Woodlands School of Indigenous art, and in 1973 he became part of a group of Indigenous artists popularly known as the Indian Group of Seven. His stylized artworks — sometimes painted on canvas, birch bark or beaver skins — were often concerned with the interdependence of humans and nature. They also tended to depict figures from Ojibwe and Cree oral traditions. From the late 1960s to his death in the early 1980s, Beardy promoted Indigenous art as a valid category of contemporary art. His influence as a Woodland artist has contributed to the development of contemporary Indigenous art in Canada.

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Northwest Coast Indigenous Art

More than 3,000 years ago, Indigenous peoples of the coast of British Columbia (and adjacent areas of Washington State and southeastern Alaska) such as the Haida and Kwakwaka'wakw developed artistic traditions that are heralded throughout the world for their imaginative and stylistic qualities.

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Iglulingmuit

 In recent years settlement, social and logistic factors have eliminated the nomadic lifestyle in favour of aggregation into permanent settlements which have concentrated around Repulse Bay, Mittimatalik [Pond Inlet], Hall Beach, Arctic Bay and Iglulik, which were formerly centres of trade.

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Inuinnait (Copper Inuit)

Social organization was based on kinship and on various types of formal partnership, and affiliation between individuals tended to be more a matter of personal choice than is usually found among other Inuit groups.

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Jean-Louis Riel

Jean-Louis Riel (also known as Louis Riel Sr.), Métis leader, farmer, miller (born in 1817 in Île-à-la-Crosse, Saskatchewan; died in 1864 in Saint-Boniface, Manitoba). Riel rallied hundreds of Métis people in support of Métis defendants against the Hudson’s Bay Company in the 1849 Sayer trial. A landmark case in the history of the Canadian West, the Sayer verdict re-established free fur trade in the Red River Colony. By the 1850s, Jean-Louis Riel had become a leader of the French-Canadian community in the Red River. His role in having the French language used in the Assiniboia courts, and in gaining representation for the Métis on the Council of Assiniboia, helped to cement this status. Riel’s outspoken stance on Métis rights and autonomy significantly influenced his son, Louis Riel, who went on to become arguably the most significant historical Métis leader.

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Richard Wagamese

Richard Wagamese, Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) novelist, journalist, mentor (born 4 October 1955 in northwestern ON; died 10 March 2017 in Kamloops, BC). A well-known Indigenous writer in Canada, Wagamese won several awards including the Canada Council for the Arts Molson Prize (2013) and the Writers’ Trust of Canada’s Matt Cohen Award (2015). His works speak about the historical and contemporary socio-economic issues affecting Indigenous communities in Canada. They also bring attention to issues regarding Indigenous identity, culture and truth and reconciliation. A beloved writer, Wagamese’s works have inspired many Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples and writers alike.

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Highway of Tears

The Highway of Tears refers to a 724 km length of Yellowhead Highway 16 in British Columbia where many women (mostly Indigenous) have disappeared or been found murdered. The Highway of Tears is part of a larger, national crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. In 2015, the federal government launched a national inquiry into these cases.

This article contains sensitive material that may not be suitable for all audiences.

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Indigenous Feminisms in Canada

At their root, Indigenous feminisms examine how gender and conceptions of gender influence the lives of Indigenous peoples, historically and today. Indigenous feminist approaches challenge stereotypes about Indigenous peoples, gender and sexuality, for instance, as they appear in politics, society and the media. Indigenous feminisms offer frameworks for learning about and understanding these, and other issues, regardless of one’s gender or ethnicity.

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Sadlermiut Inuit

Sadlermiut were the inhabitants of three islands in Hudson Bay: Southampton (Salliq), Coats and Walrus. The original Sadlermiut were annihilated by disease in 1902-03.

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Netsilingmiut

Until the latter half of the 20th century, the Netsilingmiut were nomadic hunters who lived in small shifting family groups with simple nonhierarchical social organization. They had no formal government and no institutionalized group relationships.

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Kivallirmiut (Caribou Inuit)

The name “Caribou Inuit” stemmed from Europeans who took part in the Fifth Danish Thule Expedition (1921–24) and observed that the Kivallirmiut relied on caribou for food, clothing and shelter. Based on recent estimates, the Kivallirmiut today number about 3,000.