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Aboriginal Arts Research Initiative

Report on Consultations

October 27, 200927 October 2009

Aboriginal arts

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Based on a series of consultations in 2007 with Aboriginal artists, arts administrators, elders, youth and other community members, this report attempts “to better understand the specificities of Aboriginal art practices; to explore the impact of the arts within Aboriginal communities; to investigate the impact of Aboriginal arts in Canada and internationally; and to generate interest in research related to Aboriginal arts”.

The report notes that “Aboriginal practices and art forms are the original expressions of the land called Canada…. Along with Indigenous languages, these art forms exist nowhere else in the world.”

The report maintains that “to understand the reality of Aboriginal art practice in Canada today, history and context must be taken into consideration”. The report argues that the Massey-Lévesque Commission was exclusively concerned with European-based artforms. Partly because of this, “Aboriginal artists and their organizations did not receive appropriate funding from the Canadian art system.”

“The current challenge is to first recognize this history, to develop an immediate understanding of the urgent needs and to allocate new resources in consultation with Aboriginal artists and their communities.”

Important elements in some Aboriginal arts activity include the importance of the land and togetherness, the process-based nature of much Aboriginal art, the idea that “Indigenous concepts of art are contained in ancestral languages” (describing process and movement), and many others. Aboriginal arts include sacred, ceremonial traditional and contemporary activities as well as community-based, amateur and professional ones. As noted by one participant, “Aboriginal arts are the economics of the soul – self-worth, respect and honour”.

In terms of the relationship to communities, the report notes that “art is an important tool in addressing social struggles. Culture is an indication of the health/wealth of a people.”

The report contends that mainstream arts data, including audience statistics, cannot be applied to Aboriginal arts. “Paying for a cultural experience is a foreign concept to most Aboriginal people.” The framework of art and who is an artist is different. “Art is not a specific thing. Art is process, movement and experience.” Many contemporary artists consider their practices “to be a process of decolonization, re-appropriation, reclaiming and healing”.

For future research, the report recommends “a paper on the integrative relationship of Aboriginal languages to the arts”, “cultural mapping of Aboriginal arts world in Canada”, “a national directory of Aboriginal artists”, and “documentation of Aboriginal arts and cultural practices that are disappearing or at risk of disappearing”.

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