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Indigenous Language Revitalization in Canada
Before European settlement in Canada, Indigenous peoples spoke a wide variety of languages. As a means of assimilating Indigenous peoples, colonial policies like the Indian Act and residential schools forbid the speaking of Indigenous languages. These restrictions have led to the ongoing endangerment of Indigenous languages in Canada. In 2016, Statistics Canada reported that for about 40 Indigenous languages in Canada, there are only about 500 speakers or less. Indigenous communities and various educational institutions have taken measures to prevent more language loss and to preserve Indigenous languages.
Maisie Hurley, née Maisie Amy Campbell-Johnston, Vancouver-area political activist, Indigenous ally (see Indigenous Peoples in Canada), newspaper founder and art collector (born 27 November 1887 in Swansea, Wales; died 3 October 1964 in North Vancouver, British Columbia). Although Hurley had no formal legal training or law degree (see Legal Education), she worked on several legal cases and advocated for Indigenous peoples’ basic human rights as well as for changes to the Indian Act. In 1946, Hurley started a newspaper called The Native Voice that aimed to bring attention to important issues concerning Indigenous communities across Canada (see Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada). In 2011, Hurley’s collection of Indigenous art was displayed at the North Vancouver Museum.
The Sun Dance (also Sundance) is an annual Plains Indigenous cultural ceremony performed in honour of the sun, during which participants prove bravery by overcoming pain. Historically, the ceremony took place at midsummer when bands congregated at a predetermined location. The Sun Dance was forbidden under the Indian Act of 1895, but this ban was generally ignored and dropped from the Act in 1951. Some communities continue to celebrate the ceremony today.
William Ronald Reid, sculptor (born 12 January 1920 in Victoria, BC; died 13 March 1998 in Vancouver, BC). An internationally recognized Haida artist, Bill Reid is frequently credited with the revival and innovative resurgence of Northwest Coast Indigenous arts in the contemporary world. (See also Contemporary Indigenous Art in Canada.)
Shingoose (also Curtis Jonnie), Ojibwe singer-songwriter, guitarist, folk musician, Indigenous activist (born on 26 October 1946 in Winnipeg, MB; died on 12 January 2021 in Winnipeg, MB). Shingoose rose to popularity in Canada and the US in the late 1960s. A well-respected musician, Shingoose was also a strong advocate of Indigenous issues and strove to highlight Indigenous culture on the world stage. (See also Music of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.)
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 Vancouver, BC). 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.)
Lee Maracle, author and critic (born 2 July 1950 in Vancouver, BC).
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.
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.
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.
Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun
Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, Coast Salish and Okanagan (see Interior Salish) artist and activist (born in 1957 at Kamloops, British Columbia). Yuxweluptun trained at the Emily Carr College of Art (now the Emily Carr University of Art and Design) in the late 1970s and early 1980s, focusing on historical European art. His paintings employ both traditional Northwest Coast imagery (see Northwest Coast Indigenous Art) and surrealist visual language to critique colonialism, racism against Indigenous peoples, capitalism, and environmental destruction, among other issues. In addition to paintings, Yuxweluptun has produced multimedia artworks, videos and performances that are political in nature. In 2013, Yuxweluptun was awarded a Fellowship at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis, USA. Yuxweluptun’s art is featured in the permanent collections of many prominent galleries and museums in North America.
Jean Cuthand Goodwill
Jean Cuthand Goodwill, OC, nurse, public servant and Indigenous health and education advocate (born 14 August 1928 on the Poundmaker Cree Nation, SK; died 25 August 1997 in Regina, SK). Cuthand Goodwill was one of the first Indigenous registered nurses in Canada. In 1974, she cofounded Indian and Inuit Nurses of Canada (now known as the Canadian Indigenous Nurses Association). She was a lifelong organizer, writer and educator who promoted First Nations health and culture.
Alanis Obomsawin, CC, GOQ, filmmaker, singer, artist, storyteller (born 31 August 1932 near Lebanon, New Hampshire). Alanis Obomsawin is one of Canada’s most distinguished documentary filmmakers. She began her career as a professional singer and storyteller before joining the National Film Board (NFB) in 1967. Her award-winning films address the struggles of Indigenous peoples in Canada from their perspective, giving prominence to voices that have long been ignored or dismissed. A Companion of the Order of Canada and a Grand Officer of the Ordre national du Québec, she has received the Prix Albert-Tessier and the Canadian Screen Awards’ Humanitarian Award, as well as multiple Governor General’s Awards, lifetime achievement awards and honorary degrees.
Andrew Qappik, CM, RCA, Inuk graphic artist and printmaker (born 25 February 1964 in Nunataq, in what is now known as Nunavut). Qappik helped design the Nunavut flag and coat of arms, as well as the logo for the Government of Nunavut. In 2017, he was appointed to the Order of Canada “for his contributions to defining the visual culture of Nunavut as a master printmaker and sculptor.” He is based in Panniqtuuq (Pangnirtung), Nunavut.
Charlie Panigoniak, ONu, singer, songwriter, guitarist (born 7 March 1946 in Eskimo Point, NWT [now Arviat, NU]; died 6 March 2019 in Rankin Inlet, NU). Charlie Panigoniak was one of the first people to write, record and perform music in Inuktitut. Often referred to as the “Johnny Cash of the North,” he is considered by many to be the father of Inuktitut music. (See also Music of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.) He was a Member of the Order of Nunavut and a recipient of the Nunavut Commissioner’s Performing Arts Award.
Pitikwahanapiwiyin (Poundmaker), Cree chief (born circa 1842 in central SK; died 4 July 1886 in Blackfoot Crossing, AB). Remembered as a great leader, Pitikwahanapiwiyin strove to protect the interests of his people during the negotiation of Treaty 6. Considered a peacemaker, he did not take up arms in the North-West Rebellion (also known as the North-West Resistance). However, a young and militant faction of his band did participate in the conflict, resulting in Pitikwahanapiwiyin’s arrest and imprisonment for treason. His legacy as a peacemaker lives on among many Cree peoples, including the Poundmaker Cree Nation in Saskatchewan.
Sandra Birdsell (née Sandra Bartlette), CM, Mennonite-Métis, short-story writer, novelist (born 22 April 1942 in Hamiota, MB). Birdsell’s fiction often investigates the lives of small-town characters, especially women. She has written novels, plays, radio dramas and scripts for television and film. Appointed a Member of the Order of Canada in 2010, Birdsell has been nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award for English Language Fiction three times, and for the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2001.
Olive Patricia Dickason (née Williamson), CM, Métis journalist, historian, university professor, author (born 6 March 1920 in Winnipeg, MB; died 12 March 2011 in Ottawa, ON). Dickason was the first scholar in Canada to receive a PhD in Indigenous history. Her ground-breaking research and books about Indigenous and Métis history and culture transformed how Canadians perceive the origin of their country and Indigenous peoples. Dickason’s work inspired a new generation of scholars, helping to launch Indigenous studies as an area of scholarly research. She received an Order of Canada in recognition of her achievements.