This post was originally published on the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada website.
Art has always been an integral part of the preservation and expression of culture in Indigenous communities, and Canada is a treasure trove of Indigenous art that has shaped the country’s cultural identity over thousands of years.
Indigenous artists express voices of the peoples who have inhabited these lands for generations and draw inspiration from a close relationship with family and all relatives, including those in the natural environment. Taking in the rich history of Indigenous art is a great way to celebrate the multilayered cultural tapestry of the more than 600 diverse communities of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples across Canada.
Traditional Indigenous art comes in many forms, from moose hair embroidery, painted caribou hide coats, and deer hide moccasins, to porcupine quillwork on birch bark, burden straps of twined hemp, intricate beadwork, and colourful paintings. Contemporary Indigenous artists tap the history and heritage of their ancestors but also weave in social and political commentary on issues that affect Canada, including environmental ones. All provinces have communities filled with art and artists, but here are a few suggestions to get you started.
British Columbia showcases a variety of art galleries owned and operated by Indigenous people. Among those is Wind Spirit Art in Powell River by renowned Haida artist April White who is known for her watercolour and acrylic paintings and hand-pulled serigraphs. Housed in a traditional Northwest Coast longhouse with a carved and painted cedar plank exterior and doors of beaten copper, Eagle Aerie Gallery in Tofino is owned by artist Roy Henry Vickers. Here you can find his limited edition prints, paintings, calendars, and art cards.
On the site of the original K’ómoks Village on Vancouver Island, I-Hos Gallery features traditional and contemporary Northwest Coast artwork, such as woven cedar masks and hats, gold and silver jewellery, and wood carvings, all made by First Nations artists. Aboriginal Tourism BC has a complete listing of British Columbia’s art galleries as well as stamp of authentication to ensure artists are properly compensated and recognized for their artworks.
On Prince Edward Island, on the shores of Malpeque Bay on Lennox Island, the Indian Art & Craft store carries traditional Mi’kmaq crafted art, such as ash splint baskets, pottery, and figurines. Works by other First Nations from elsewhere in Canada include wood, bone, horn, stone, and semi-precious stone sculptures, as well as birch bark items, miniature wigwam, and sweet grass brooms.
In Nova Scotia, the work by Mi’kmaq artists from eastern Canada conveys the importance between the land, Indigenous culture, language, and visual identity. Award-winning Mi’kmaq artist Alan Syliboy, whose oeuvre is influenced by ancestral rock drawing and quill weaving traditions, creates vibrantly-coloured artworks in acrylic and mixed media, exploring the themes of connection, family, spirituality, struggle, and strength.
Yukon is also fertile ground for artistic expression, home to many Indigenous artists who create works inspired by traditional images and legends passed down through generations. From hide, fur, and beaded clothing to antler jewellery, Ravenstail and Chilkat weaving, and mastodon ivory carvings, these artists display and sell their work at cultural centers, local galleries, and from their homes. The Yukon First Nation Culture & Tourism Association is the go-to for detailed information.