Because of the cultural diversity of First Peoples in Canada, the traditional art being created by those communities is incredibly varied. The materials used were often determined by geography and available resources. The purpose behind the creations ranged from simple aesthetics, to recording stories and traditions, to useful ceremonial talismans. The types of images produced provide a beautiful and diverse picture of pre-colonial Canada.

  1. West coast nations are known for their carved and painted totem poles.

  2. Due to their nomadic lifestyle and available resources Inuit art from the arctic consisted mainly of small carvings.

  3. This is an article on the feminine art of Inuit tattooing which fell out of favour with colonization and is only now making a comeback.

  4. For the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) of the Eastern Woodlands, "wampum" are beads used for a variety of reasons. Here is a good explanation of their uses and a number of specific examples.

  5. Petroglyphs Provincial Park north of Peterborough has the largest known concentration of rock carvings, or "petroglyphs", in Canada. These were created 600 to 1000 years ago by Algonquian speaking people.

  6. This book is a comprehensive look at the weaving traditions of the Salish people from both the northwest coast and the interior plateau. It offers a material cultural study of the Salish people.

  7. Plains Nations, like the Blackfoot, used paint to decorate their homes and clothes.

Peterborough Petroglyphs

Peterborough Stone petroglyphs (photographer: Robin L. Lyke)


Modern Indigenous art in Canada can be as varied as its traditional forms. It has been used to tackle important indigenous issues as well as to create beautiful, unique designs. Appropriation of First Peoples' artistic styles has proven to be a great challenge, but one that, in the last few years, has garnered much attention. This attention to ownership of culture has created today an art world that tends to be more open and understanding, where theft of creative images produces public ire and occurs less and less frequently.

  1. Modern First Nations artists owe a lot to the "Professional Native Indian Artists Inc." group who worked during the 70s. They were trail blazers for artists from all different Nations across Canada. A comprehensive book was written in 2014 that chronicles their journey and the effects they had on the Canadian art world. Several copies are available at the Ottawa library.

  2. Alex Janvier is an artist who does mostly abstract work inspired by his Dene Suline and Saulteaux background. The National Gallery of Canada recently hosted a massive, and hugely popular, solo exhibition of his work.

  3. A photo series by artist Arthur Renwick at the National Gallery of Canada dealing with discrimination and stereotypes.

  4. Printmaking was introduced to Inuit communities in the 1950s and massive artistic output followed its arrival. This website, maintained by the Canadian Museum of History, provides information on the history, techniques, and themes involved in Inuit printmaking.

  5. In the spirit of reconciliation, a modern totem pole was erected in Montreal about the history of residential schools.

  6. An article about an artist whose exhibit was cancelled in Toronto when it was discovered she had appropriated her content and style from famous indigenous artist Norval Morrisseau.

  7. Kent Monkman's creations, featuring his character Miss Chief Eagle Testicle, are incisive and speak to the painful history of colonialism in Canada. Most recently, his collection Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience addressed the celebration of Canada's 150th birthday.

Map of six main cultural areas

Kenojuak Ashevak and Qavavau Manumie creating the print "The Sun's Return", stonecut and stencil technique, 1992-1993,
Photo by Jimmy Manning, for the Canadian Museum of History.