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George Littlechild: Artful Storyteller

By Anita Jenkins

Eminent artist George Littlechild draws inspiration from his ancestors and generously shares his vision and gifts with young and old alike.

"I imagined it as going to a little white house at the end of a road to be welcomed home," says renowned Canadian artist George Littlechild, describing his first visit to Ermineskin Indian Reserve at Hobbema. That was in 1977, when Littlechild was just 19. Having been raised by foster parents in Edmonton, he didn't fully realize that searching for your roots can have some unexpected outcomes.

First, Littlechild had to accept the harsh reality of his people's lives. He quickly learned that hope was a scarce commodity on the reserve, and that many First Nations people face huge social, economic, and cultural barriers. Second, he had to recognize that, as he puts it, "I knew nothing about being Cree. I had no understanding of the culture. For example, I had to learn the protocol for talking to Elders."

All the same, thanks to Littlechild's perseverance and need to know, his search has produced exceptional results—his original artistic vision and successful career are firmly based on his Aboriginal heritage. "Many of my ancestors were gifted artists, as are many of my relatives today," he notes.

There is also another connection with the past. Littlechild draws strength and inspiration from the Cree concept of Wahkomkanak, or "our ancestors."

"Through the wisdom of our Elders and the courage of all our people," he says, "we have survived the past 500 years." 

Back in the late 1970s, Littlechild met several aunts, uncles, and cousins. He acquired photos of his parents and other family members and learned that he had an impressive ancestry. His great-grandfather was a chief (Francis Bull), as was his great-great-grandfather (Louis Bull). One of his great-great-grandfathers was Louis Natuasis, headman to Chief Joseph Samson. He is also related to Chiefs Ermineskin and Bobtail.
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Reprinted with the permission of Anita Jenkins and Legacy ( Fall 2000): 8-11.
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