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Contemporary Indigenous Art in Canada

Contemporary Indigenous art is that which has been produced by Indigenous peoples between around 1945 to the present. Since that time, two major schools of Indigenous art have dominated the contemporary scene in Canada:  Northwest Coast Indigenous Art and the Woodlands school of Legend Painters. As well, a more widely scattered group of artists work independently in the context of mainstream Western artand may be described as internationalist in scope and intent.

Contemporary Inuit art has evolved in parallel with contemporary Indigenous art, producing celebrated artists like Zacharias Kunuk and Annie Pootoogook.

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Inuit

Inuit — Inuktitut for “the people” — are an Indigenous people, the majority of whom inhabit the northern regions of Canada. An Inuit person is known as an Inuk. The Inuit homeland is known as Inuit Nunangat, which refers to the land, water and ice contained in the Arctic region.

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Murray Hyman Kirsh (Primary Source)

Murray Hyman Kirsh served in the Canadian Army during the Second World War. After his grandparents were killed by Nazis in Europe, Kirsh felt it was his duty to enlist to serve in the war. From 1942 to 1944, Kirsh served on the home front as a military officer guarding Allied prisoners of war. Listen to his story of German POWs trying to escape during his watch.

Please be advised that Memory Project primary sources may deal with personal testimony that reflect the speaker’s recollections and interpretations of events. Individual testimony does not necessarily reflect the views of the Memory Project and Historica Canada.

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Tina Fontaine

Tina Michelle Fontaine (born 1 January 1999 in Winnipeg, MB; died between 9 and 17 August 2014 in Winnipeg). Tina Fontaine’s murder highlighted systemic problems in Canada’s treatment of Indigenous women and girls and galvanized calls for government reforms in Manitoba’s care of youth. Combined with the acquittal of Fontaine’s accused killer, Raymond Cormier, her death led to demands for a federal inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. This resulted in the formation of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) on 1 September 2016.

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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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Gilbert Monture

Gilbert Clarence Monture (Big Feather), OC, OBE (Order of the British Empire), Mohawk mining engineer, civil servant, army officer (born 27 August 1895 on the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation, ON; died 19 June 1973 in Ottawa, ON). Monture was a university student during the First World War and interrupted his studies to enlist in the Canadian military. After the war, he completed university and became a world-renowned mining engineer.

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Native People's Caravan

The Native People’s Caravan was a cross-country mobile protest that took place in 1974. Its main purpose was to raise awareness about the poor living conditions and discrimination experienced by Indigenous peoples in Canada. It travelled from Vancouver to Ottawa, where the subsequent occupation of a vacant warehouse on Victoria Island, near Parliament Hill, extended into 1975. The caravan brought various Indigenous groups together in protest of broken treaties, as well as a lack of government-supported education, housing and health care. As a result, meetings between Cabinet ministers and Indigenous leaders became more frequent. The protest is remembered as an important turning point in Indigenous activism in Canada.

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Louise McKinney

Louise McKinney (née Crummy), Alberta MLA 1917–21, women’s rights activist, lay preacher (born 22 September 1868 in Frankville, ON; died 10 July 1931 in Claresholm, AB). Louise McKinney was the first woman elected to a legislature in Canada and in the British Empire. A member of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and a devout Methodist, she dedicated her life to good works in the service of others. She is also known as a pioneer suffragist and member of the Famous Five. Her signature appears on the legal petition to recognize women as persons under the Constitution, allowing them to serve in appointed positions, such as in the Senate of Canada (see Persons Case).

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Indigenous Peoples and the First World War

Indigenous soldiers, nurses, and ordinary civilians made a major contribution to Canada’s First World War effort. More than 4000 First Nations soldiers fought for Canada during the war, officially recorded by the Department of Indian Affairs (see Federal Departments of Indigenous and Northern Affairs). In addition, thousands more non-Status Indians, Inuit, and Métis soldiers enlisted without official recognition of their Indigenous identity. More than 50 Indigenous soldiers were decorated for bravery in action, including the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) soldier Francis Pegahmagabow, Inuit soldier John Shiwak, and Cree soldier Henry Norwest.

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Indigenous Peoples and the Second World War

In 1939, Canada found itself at war for the second time in a generation. As in the First World War (1914-18), thousands of Indigenous soldiers and nurses volunteered for the war effort at home and abroad, serving with distinction in the Canadian army, navy, and air force. At least 3090 First Nations soldiers enlisted in the Canadian military in the Second World War, with thousands more Métis, Inuit, and non-Status Indian soldiers serving without official recognition of their Indigenous identity.

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Fred Loft

Frederick Ogilvie Loft (commonly known as Fred or F.O. Loft), Mohawk chief, activist, war veteran, reporter, author and lumberman (born 3 February 1861 on the Six Nations reserve, Grand River, Canada West [ON]; died 5 July 1934 in Toronto, ON). Loft founded the League of Indians of Canada, the first national Indigenous organization in Canada, in December 1918 (see Indigenous Political Organization and Activism in Canada). He fought in the First World War and is recognized as one of the most important Indigenous activists of the early 20th century. His Mohawk name was Onondeyoh, which translates as “Beautiful Mountain.”

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Lester B. Pearson

Lester Bowles "Mike" Pearson, prime minister 1963–68, statesman, politician, public servant, professor (born 23 April 1897 in Newtonbrook, ON; died 27 December 1972 in Ottawa, ON).

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Indigenous Languages in Canada

There are around 70 distinct Indigenous languages in Canada, falling into 12 separate language families. While in many places there has been decreased transmission of languages from one generation to the next, recognition of this has led to efforts by Indigenous peoples to revitalize and sustain their languages. Canada, and North America more generally, represent a highly complex linguistic region, with numerous languages and great linguistic diversity. Indigenous languages are spoken widely and are official languages in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, while the Yukon recognizes the significance of the Indigenous languages of the territory. On 5 February 2019, the Canadian government tabled the Indigenous Languages Act, which seeks to protect and revitalize Indigenous languages in Canada.

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Samuel de Champlain

Samuel de Champlain, cartographer, explorer, colonial administrator, author (born circa 1567 in Brouage, France; died 25 December 1635 in Quebec City). Known as the “Father of New France,” Samuel de Champlain played a major role in establishing New France from 1603 to 1635. He is also credited with founding Quebec City in 1608. He explored the Atlantic coastline (in Acadia), the Canadian interior and the Great Lakes region. He also helped found French colonies in Acadia and at Trois-Rivières, and he established friendly relations and alliances with many First Nations, including the Montagnais, the Huron, the Odawa and the Nipissing. For many years, he was the chief person responsible for administrating the colony of New France. Champlain published four books as well as several maps of North America. His works are the only written account of New France at the beginning of the 17th century.

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John Shiwak

John Shiwak (Sikoak), Inuit hunter, trapper, soldier (born February or March 1889 in Cul-de-Sac, near Rigolet, Labrador; died 21 November 1917 near Masnières, France). Shiwak was one of more than 60 men from Labrador who joined the military during the First World War. He went on to become one of the best scouts and snipers on the Western Front.