Indians of Canada Pavilion | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Indians of Canada Pavilion

The Indians of Canada Pavilion was a part of Expo 67 in Montreal, Quebec. It was created by First Nations peoples from across Canada. They took advantage of the opportunity to share with Canada and the world provocative histories of colonial resistance. The pavilion was separate from other provincial and national pavilions at Expo 67. It displayed contemporary Indigenous issues and showcased contemporary art (see Contemporary Indigenous Art in Canada). Few traces of the Indians of Canada Pavilion remain beyond archival sources and photographs. It was dismantled along with many of the other pavilions created for the exposition. Kwakwaka’wakw artists Tony Hunt and Henry Hunt carved a totem pole for the exterior of the pavilion site. While nearly all of the pavilion was destroyed, the totem pole still stands in Montreal on Île Notre-Dame. The pavilion’s impact resonates today as a significant step towards change.

Exterior of the Indians of Canada Pavilion
Interior Exhibit at the Indians of Canada Pavilion
Drumming Outside of the Indians of Canada Pavilion
Tony and Henry Hunt Totem Pole

Creation & Development

A group of First Nations leaders and artists were invited by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (DIAND) to design a pavilion for Expo 67 (see also Federal Departments of Indigenous and Northern Affairs). The designers of the pavilion did not shy away from controversy and realities. The pavilion site included an imposing triangular-shaped structure meant to symbolize a tipi. It was made of steel beams and white vinyl cladding that placed it in the present day. Kanyen’kehà:ka steel workers, famous for building many skyscrapers, constructed the structure.

The interior of the pavilion contained 10 rooms housing challenging educational panels. A team of young Indigenous women tour guides were chosen from all regions of Canada. They led visitors through the pavilion. Visitors encountered uncomfortable and controversial themes related to the consequences of Canada’s colonial policies, including education of Indigenous children (see also Residential Schools in Canada). The tour was conducted in a counter-clockwise direction. It ended with a visit to a symbolic flame inviting reflection on histories many had never heard about prior to this presentation.

The exterior of the pavilion displayed contemporary Indigenous art. Denesuline artist Alex Janvier, working for DIAND, invited a group of Indigenous artists from across Canada to create works for the exterior spaces. Medallions, murals and the iconic totem pole attracted and welcomed visitors to enter the pavilion. Artists commissioned to create art for the pavilion included: Janvier; Anishinaabe artist Norval Morrisseau; Tseshaht artist George Clutesi; Haida/Tlingit artist Robert Davidson; Cree artists Noel Wuttunee and Carl Ray; Kainai (Blood) artist Gerald Tailfeathers; Seneca artist Tom Hill; Ojibwe artist Francis Kagige; Lakota artist Ross Wood; Huron-Wendat artist Jean-Marie Gros-Louis; Kwakwaka’wakw artists Tony Hunt and Henry Hunt. Art in the interior spaces included work by Delaware artist Nathan Montour.


The pavilion presented contemporary views held by Indigenous peoples. They resisted stereotypical narratives and positioned information in a direct way. A series of interpretive texts, photographs and artifacts were present inside the pavilion. They provided visitors with a snapshot of the original inhabitants of this territory. Pointed displays concerning the history of education of Indigenous children shocked and unsettled viewers and the press (see also Residential Schools in Canada).

At the time of the pavilion, fine arts museums in Canada were collecting work of Indigenous artists. While the interior of the pavilion was not censored, on two occasions DIAND included additional texts to reduce the impact of some messages. Additionally, concerns by organizers resulted in changes to the exterior art. Norval Morrisseau designed a mural, titled Earth Mother and Her Children, that depicted an understanding of kin that included a female-form nursing bear cubs. The mural reflected a foundational Ojibwe story. Morrisseau often painted this story. However, organizers deemed the mural too controversial, despite previous approval of the design. Morrisseau handed the project over to his friend and assistant, Carl Ray. Ray amended the design so that the Earth Mother was with a human child. He positioned a bear cub to the side of their embrace. He also kept the dedication to Morrisseau’s grandfather and to his ancestors. Additionally, the title of Alex Janvier’s medallion was changed because of its political overtones. The work’s original title was changed from The Unpredictable East, signed with his treaty number, to Beaver Crossing Indian Colours. It was moved to the rear of the pavilion.


The Indians of Canada Pavilion serves as a historic moment of change within Indigenous activism in Canada (see Indigenous Political Organization and Activism in Canada). The interior text panels provided a blunt and unembellished view of Indigenous histories. Those texts continue to resonate within Indigenous circles. Despite its efforts, Jim Miller and Myra Rutherdale found little evidence of a lasting impact on public opinion and Canadian policymakers.

Indian Memento, Michel Régnier, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

Today, the Indians of Canada Pavilion has been rediscovered. Indigenous artists, curators and scholars have worked to resituate its significance. The 50th anniversary of Expo 67, in 2017, coincided with the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 1867 and Montreal’s 375th anniversary. Projects by Indigenous artists including Omaskêko Cree artist Duane Linklater and Upper Nicola Band of the Okanagan Nation member Krista Belle Stewart marked the event in the exhibition In Search of Expo 67. The purpose of this exhibition included revisiting the messages of the Indians of Canada Pavilion. Linklater created a work inspired by Norval Morrisseau’s censored mural. It possesses a monumental spirit all on its own through its depiction of watchful eyes. Stewart created work to engage with the National Film Board’s Indian Memento, a 1967 film that documented the pavilion. Her work focused on her mother who was one of the guides at the pavilion. Monika Kin Gagnon and Lesley Johnstone’s exhibition catalogue In Search of Expo 67 offers insights and a repositioning of the Indians of Canada Pavilion. Through essays and artwork, they express the active interest in its ongoing impact.