Traditional and Contemporary Art
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.
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.
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.
Hodgins, Ken J. The Art of the Nehiyawak
. Edmonton: Plains Publishing, 1988.