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The Siksika Nation Profiles - Dr. Gerald McMaster

Dr. Gerald McMaster

The world of Aboriginal fine arts in Canada owes a debt of gratitude to Dr. Gerald McMaster, not only for the contributions he has made as a contemporary artist, but also for his tireless work championing the Aboriginal voice and presence in contemporary Canadian art.

McMaster is actually Cree by birth – he was born on the Red Pheasant First Nation reserve in southwest Saskatchewan – but is currently a member of the Siksika (Blackfoot) First Nation in Alberta. Growing up, the man who became a huge influence on the direction of Native art in Canada didn’t grow up influenced by Native art forms, despite his childhood interest in drawing and painting.  Such cultural art was not taught in the schools he attended. It wasn’t until he finished high school that he was exposed to the subject that would become his life’s work and passion.

After graduating from High School, McMaster took a job with Native artist and poet Sarain Stump at the Saskatchewan Indian Cultural College (now the Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Centre). For a year, McMaster and Stump travelled to Native schools throughout Saskatchewan, teaching children about Native art. At that time, McMaster the teacher became McMaster the student, for he was learning the concepts and issues of Native Art as he taught them. From then on he was hooked and turned himself towards further study of the subject. He studied fine art at the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. He later earned a master of arts in anthropology from Carlton University in Ottawa, and a doctorate from the University of Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis.

Much of McMaster’s art finds its central theme in the satirical exploration of Native stereotypes in popular culture and the often contentious historical relationship between Aboriginal People and the Canadian Government. One of his works, a darkly humourous painting entitled Trick or Treaty depicts Prime Minister John A. MacDonald in clown make-up, attempting to sell the idea of the 1876 Indian Act. In visual form, McMaster addresses the treaty process and expansion of the Dominion into the northwest as a vicious joke played on First Nations People. According to McMaster’s philosophy, humor is key to opening up the minds of viewers to the serious underlying issues he explores.

Outside of his own art, McMaster has used his vast scholarship to encourage and develop what he calls the Aboriginal voice in Canadian fine art and culture. Aboriginal People must take the lead not only in the production of Native art, but also in its scholarly discourse. He has worked to bring Native art to the fore, acting as curator for Aboriginal art exhibits in museums in the United States and Canada. For his work, he received the National Aboriginal Achievement Award in Canada in March 2005, but his work is not over yet. He continues to strive towards a goal of opening a Canadian museum or art gallery dedicated to Aboriginal arts and culture.

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