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Traditional and Contemporary Art

moccasins In traditional Aboriginal communities, art was present in every aspect of life. Art was not just tied to the First Nations’ everyday existence, nor was it designed solely for aesthetic purposes; it was also fundamentally connected to their spirituality.

The First Peoples greatly respected that the resources, as well as the inspiration necessary to create arts and crafts, came from the land and from the Creator. They revered the Creator for providing them with the materials necessary to foster physical and spiritual resilience. Art demanded patience and vision; because it served the vital task of connecting the people to the land, the Creator, and to those who had come before them.

painting Some of the earliest known man-made creations in the area of Treaty 6 are the Clovis arrowheads found in present-day Thorsby, Alberta which date back over 11,000 years ago. While the arrowheads were purely functional, they also represent one of the first instances in which people made use of natural resources to create new objects. Different methods of handcrafting hunting, fishing, and transportation tools from stone, wood, tree roots, branches, and animal bones, were passed down from generation to generation.

The Aboriginal peoples have always incorporated art into their everyday lives, an approach which is apparent in the products they create. Hide tanning, for example, was a functional art form that demanded skill, patience, and plenty of hard work. The finished hides were used to make clothing, footwear, and smaller items such as satchels, medicine pouches, and mittens, which were fashioned with great care and intricately decorated. Porcupine quills tinted with vegetable dyes, or left in their natural colour, were sewn onto the items to create colourful patterns and symbols that often told stories. Porcupine quills continue to adorn crafts today, along with glass beads which were introduced during the fur trade.

Goose Decoy Today, the art emerging from the Treaty 6 area embodies a variety of forms, from decorated, hand-sewn objects, to contemporary painting and technology-based art. It is not uncommon to see contemporary Treaty 6 artists who mix modern artistic styles with traditional ones. Treaty 6 artists such as Alex Janvier, Ed Peekeekoot, and Stewart Steinhauer often use newer artistic techniques to reflect older understandings. Some artists use their art as a way of approaching past or current injustices in the hopes that others may be inspired to view the world in a new way.

From the first hand-carved arrowheads to contemporary media such as painting, sculpture, and digital photography, the artistic creations of the peoples of Treaty 6 have changed significantly over the years. Though the art produced today may vary in feature and function, it continues to serve a vital role across communities by connecting people to a shared past and providing a sense of pride and identity.


Sources:
Hodgins, Ken J. The Art of the Nehiyawak. Edmonton: Plains Publishing, 1988.
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