The same pattern of combining the maintenance of the traditional with adaptation to modern influences dominates another major area of cultural resurgence among Aboriginal peoples in Canada. It is not possible to deal in a systematic way with all the manifestations of Aboriginal art and expression but perhaps a few examples will illustrate the merging of the venerable with the novel. Inuit artistic expression, for example, has revived older traditions while giving them a modern twist. Inuit have long carved ivory and bone, including the creation of items for trade purposes after they encountered kabloona, the white-skinned strangers. However, the end of the whaling industry in the early twentieth century both diminished trade opportunities and eliminated the supply of ivory. After the Second World War, Inuit carving and printmaking, largely inspired and encouraged by a non-Native southerner, James Houston, re-emerged as both artistic and commercial successes. In many Arctic locations, Inuit sculptors and printmakers form local co-operatives that market their output through central agencies in southern Canada. The art itself often combines traditional and contemporary themes. A magnificent soapstone carving, for example, might embody an Inuit legend of humans and supernatural forces; a print might just as likely show modern Inuit at play or recreation.

In southern Canada, parallel artistic movements have emerged at a number of points across the country. In northern and northwestern Ontario, for example, the so-called Woodlands School of Algonkian art has become a highly proficient and profitable expression of Aboriginal belief and cultural attachments. With its X-ray style that depicts beings with other beings inside their forms, the Woodlands School art of a Norval Morriseau, for example, expresses in artistic form traditional Aboriginal animistic beliefs about the linked nature of existence in the world. Forms shift from human to animal or fish and back again. Juxtaposed with ancestors is a figure of the present generation. In the Creator's world, all existence and all ages—"all my relations"—join in a shared animation. Finally, on the northwest coast, modern carvers, artisans, and painters have revived traditional motifs in modified forms and on new topics. Pole carvings, jewellery, artwork, and artifacts such as boxes all display traditional colours and curvilinear designs to portray ancient traditions in modern forms. Perhaps the most successful example of this Pacific mingling of traditional and modern has been the work of the late Bill Reid; a man of mixed Scottish-Canadian and Haida ancestry. In middle age, Reid identified strongly with his Aboriginal roots and expressed that newly recovered identity in magnificent jewellery, totem poles, and sculptures. Reid, however, has been merely the most prominent of a large number of West Coast Aboriginal artists whose work impresses artistically and succeeds financially. These Pacific artists have many Native associates across the country. What is true of cultural flourishing on the West Coast is true throughout the country, as, for example, in the heightened development and success of Mi'kmaq basketwork.

The final example of Aboriginal peoples' knack for combining their traditional beliefs and practices with new opportunities is found in the realm of mass media. One of the most important promoters of Native communications has been the public broadcaster, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), which has both encouraged Native broadcasters on its own airwaves and provided training and employment opportunities to Aboriginal journalists and commentators. The CBC's Northern Service, for example, portrays Dene and Inuit to themselves and others. Indeed, at some periods of the day, it does so in the Native languages. Arctic telecasts, such as those of the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation and Northern Native Broadcasting Yukon, transmit programs of information and entertainment that relate closely to the preoccupations of Aboriginal peoples. In many locations throughout southern Canada, for example northwestern Ontario where Wa Wa Tay Native Communications provides large quantities of programming, Aboriginal-operated broadcasting outlets serve their own community and help to educate non-Natives about Aboriginal reality. Print as well as electronic media is important in the communications field, as all across Canada weekly newspapers, magazines, newsletters, and other publications distribute both creative and journalistic writing by Aboriginal authors. They distribute material to a readership that has, in the 1980s and 1990s, grown beyond the Aboriginal people. As has been the case with the friendship centre movement, many of these print outlets have succumbed to financial adversity. However, in the 1990s, for every weekly or magazine that ceased operations two more sprang up, and there are rare cases, such as the Alberta-based Windspeaker, of Native publications that have had long and successful lives. One of the most interesting signs of progress visible towards the close of the 1990s was the emergence of a number of Aboriginal business newspapers and magazines. They are designed to cater both to non-Native entrepreneurs wishing to do business in "Indian country" and to the growing numbers of Native business people and organizations with development funds to invest.

Written By

J.R. Miller
History Professor Emeritus
University of Saskatchewan


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