Search for "Indigenous Languages in Canada"

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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.

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Charlie Panigoniak

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.

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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 flare 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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Alanis Obomsawin

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.

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Maisie Hurley

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.

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Margaret Ecker

Margaret Alberta Corbett Ecker, journalist (born 1915 in Edmonton, AB; died 3 April 1965 in Ibiza, Spain). Margaret Ecker was an award-winning newspaper and magazine writer. She was the only woman to serve overseas as a war correspondent for the Canadian Press wire service during the Second World War. She was also the only woman present at Germany’s unconditional surrender in 1945. Ecker was made an officer of the Netherlands’ House of the Orange Order in 1947, making her the first Canadian woman to receive that honour.

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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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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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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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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.

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Jeffrey Spalding

Jeffrey John Spalding, CM, artist, teacher, curator, gallery director (born 5 November 1951 in Edinburgh, Scotland; died 14 October 2019 en route to Toronto, ON). Throughout the greater part of the 1970s, Spalding produced abstract works, primarily paintings, generated through predetermined, systematic processes. His early commitment to procedural artmaking methods emerged during his senior high school years 1968 and 1969. It was refined during his initial studies at the University of Guelph (1969–72), where, associated with Eric Cameron, Spalding produced a series of abstract, hard-edge, geometric screenprints and paintings. He used procedures elaborated from elementary colour theory and from alphabetical and numerical systems.

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Katherine Govier

Katherine Mary Govier, CM, writer, editor, administrator, teacher (born 4 July 1948 in Edmonton, AB). Katherine Govier has published 10 novels and three short-story collections, as well as two acclaimed collections of travel writing. A Member of the Order of Canada, she has received the Toronto Book Award and the Marian Engel Award. She has served on the boards of the Toronto Arts Council, the Canadian Council for Civil Liberties and the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing. She has also taught at Sheridan College, Ryerson University and York University.

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Ron Hynes

Ron Hynes, singer, songwriter, guitarist, actor (born 7 December 1950 in St. John's, NL; died 19 November 2015 in St. John’s). One of Canada's most esteemed songwriters, Ron Hynes is often referred to as the “man of a thousand songs.” His debut solo album, Discovery (1972), was the first album of entirely original material by a Newfoundland artist. He is best known for the 1976 folk classic “Sonny’s Dream,” which has been covered by more than 200 artists, including Emmylou Harris, Stan Rogers and Great Big Sea. Hynes won a Genie Award and numerous East Coast Music Awards. He was posthumously inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2020.