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Piita Irniq

Piita Irniq (formerly known as Peter Irniq and Peter Ernerk), cultural proponent, artist, public servant, commissioner of Nunavut (born 1947 at Lyon Inlet, NT [now Nunavut]). Irniq represented the Keewatin region in the Council of the Northwest Territories from 1975 to 1979. From 2000 to 2005, he served as the second commissioner of Nunavut . Irniq has worked to preserve and promote Inuit culture and languages.

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Duncan Campbell Scott

Duncan Campbell Scott, poet, writer, civil servant (born 2 August 1862 in Ottawa, ON; died 19 December 1947 in Ottawa, ON). Scott’s complicated legacy encompasses both his work as an acclaimed poet and his role as a controversial public servant. Considered one of the “poets of the Confederation” — a group of English-language poets whose work laid the foundations for a tradition of Canadian poetry — his intense works made use of precise imagery and transitioned smoothly between traditional and modern styles. However, his literary work has arguably been overshadowed by his role as the deputy superintendent of the Department of Indian Affairs. He enforced and expanded residential schools, failed to respond to a tuberculosis epidemic and oversaw a treaty process that many claim robbed Indigenous peoples of land and rights. His oft-quoted goal to “get rid of the Indian problem” became, for many, characteristic of the federal government’s treatment of Indigenous peoples.

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Sun Dance

The Sun Dance (also Sundance) is an annual sacred ceremony performed by several First Nations in the Prairies. (See also Plains Indigenous Peoples in Canada.) The Sun Dance reaffirms spiritual beliefs about the universe. 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. (See also Religion and Spirituality of Indigenous Peoples 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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Christie Blatchford

Christie Blatchford, journalist, newspaper columnist, writer, broadcaster (born 20 May 1951 in Rouyn-Noranda, QC; died 12 February 2020 in Toronto, ON). Christie Blatchford was one of Canada’s best-known journalists. In a career spanning five decades, she wrote for all of Canada’s national daily newspapers — the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star and the National Post — as well as the Toronto Sun. She also published several books, including Fifteen Days: Stories of Bravery, Friendship, Life and Death from Inside the New Canadian Army (2008), which won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction. Blatchford won a National Newspaper Award for her columns in 1999 and was inducted into the Canadian News Hall of Fame in November 2019. She was a conservative writer who focused mainly on crime, human suffering and criminal justice. Her often controversial views prompted strong reactions and media responses.

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Professional Native Indian Artists Inc., or the “Indian Group of Seven”

The Professional Native Indian Artists Inc. (PNIAI) was one of the first independently organized, self-managed Indigenous artists’ collectives and cultural advocacy groups in Canada. It was established in the early 1970s in Winnipeg, Manitoba. PNIAI consisted of seven independent Indigenous painters, Jackson Beardy, Eddy Cobiness, Alex Janvier, Norval Morrisseau, Daphne Odjig, Carl Ray and Joseph Sanchez.

Though diverse in their painting styles and cultural backgrounds, the founders of PNIAI were united in their determination to advocate for inclusion, recognition, and equal access to art funding. PNIAI has had a formative and enduring influence on the development of contemporary Indigenous art practice, its critical acceptance and public appreciation. PNIAI initiated an era of increasing activism and empowerment for artists and cultural workers of Indigenous ancestry across the country. PNIAI’s efforts paved the way for later arts organizations such as the Society of Canadian Artists of Native Ancestry and the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective. It also helped broaden national awareness of contemporary Indigenous art in Canada.

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Brian Maracle

Brian Maracle, also known as Owennatekha, author, journalist and radio host (born in 1947 in Detroit, Michigan). Brian Maracle is a member of the Mohawk First Nation and a passionate advocate for the preservation of the Kanyen’kehaka (Mohawk) language.

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Alex Janvier

Alex Simeon Janvier, CM, painter (born 28 Feb 1935 on Le Goff reserve, Cold Lake First Nations, near Bonnyville, AB). Recipient of the Governor General's Award for Visual and Media Arts, and a Member of the Order of Canada, Alex Janvier is often referred to as the first Indigenous modernist artist in Canada. Janvier is also one of the founding members of Professional Native Indian Artists Inc., also known as the Indian Group of Seven. His work is in major museum collections throughout Canada, including the National Gallery of Canada, Canadian Museum of History, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and Winnipeg Art Gallery. (See also Contemporary Indigenous Art in Canada.)

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Lee Maracle

Lee Maracle, OC, author and critic (born 2 July 1950 in Vancouver, BC; died 11 November 2021 in Surrey, BC). Lee Maracle was a prolific First Nations writer and expert on First Nations culture and history, and an influential Indigenous voice in Canadian postcolonial criticism.

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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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Harry Daniels

Harry Wilfred Daniels, politician, writer, actor (born 16 September 1940 in Regina Beach, SK; died 6 September 2004 in Regina Beach). Daniels was a celebrated Métis politician and activist who fought for the rights of Métis people. His greatest contribution to Indigenous rights in Canada was the Supreme Court case Daniels v. Canada, which guaranteed that Métis and Non-Status Indians are considered “Indian” under the Constitution Act, 1867. (See also Indian Status.)

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Rita Joe

Rita Joe (née Rita Bernard), PC, CM, Mi’kmaq poet (born 15 March 1932 in Whycocomagh, NS; died 20 March 2007 in Sydney, NS). Often referred to as the poet laureate of the Mi’kmaq people, Rita Joe wrote powerful poetry that spoke about Indigenous identity and the legacy of residential schools in Canada. Her works continue to influence Indigenous and non-Indigenous writers and artists alike.

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Powwow Singers

Powwows feature distinct music that is recognized by many as the central, unifying feature of these culturally meaningful gatherings.

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Arthur Goss

Arthur Goss documented the poor living conditions of immigrant families and the impact of poverty on the health and welfare of children in impoverished areas of Toronto like St. John’s Ward for the Department of Public Health.

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Tomson Highway

Tomson Highway, OC, playwright, novelist, pianist and songwriter (born 6 December 1951 in northwestern Manitoba). Highway is one of the most prominent and influential Indigenous writers in Canada. His works discuss and explore important issues affecting First Nations people, including residential schools, reserve life, Indigenous identity and more. Highway is an Officer of the Order of Canada and in 1998 was named one of the 100 most important people in Canadian history by Maclean’s. Tomson received the Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement at the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards in 2022. (See also Influential Indigenous Writers in Canada.)

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Tantoo Cardinal

Rose Marie “Tantoo” Cardinal, CM, actor (born 20 Jul 1950 in Fort McMurray, AB). Cree and Métis actor Tantoo Cardinal has broken barriers for onscreen representation of Indigenous peoples. She has more than 120 film, television and theatre roles to her credit, including the films Dances With Wolves (1990), Black Robe (1991), Smoke Signals (1998) and Through Black Spruce (2018); as well as the TV series Street Legal (1987–94), Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman (1993–95), North of 60 (1993–97), Moccasin Flats (2003-06) and Mohawk Girls (2010–17). She is known for her strong presence, the depth of her performances and her activism on behalf of the environment. A Member of the Order of Canada, she has won a Gemini Award, the Earle Grey Award for lifetime achievement in Canadian television, a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, and a National Aboriginal Achievement Award.

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Gail Bowen

Gail Bowen, novelist (b at Toronto, Ont 22 Sept 1942). Gail Bowen grew up in Toronto, where she claims she learned to read from the tombstones in the Prospect Cemetery. This early fascination with death perhaps foretold her vocation as the author of the best-selling Joanne Kilbourn mystery series.

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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.