September 30th is officially recognized as Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Day, a federal statutory holiday that asks citizens to reflect on the Indigenous Peoples' historical abuse and mistreatment in Canada. The day recognizes the intergenerational trauma caused by the sixties scoop and residential school systems on Indigenous communities. This year saw the discovery of a mass grave with the remains of 215 Indigenous children from the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia.

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Day also shares a date with Orange Shirt day, an Indigenous-led grassroots commemorative day founded by Phyllis Webstab focused on honouring the survivors of the residential school system and remembering those who did not return. This day serves to expose and reduce the social inequalities disproportionately faced by Indigenous Peoples in Canada, in line with Goal 10 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Simultaneously, the day advocates for Goal 16: inclusivity, accountability, and justice.

Phyllis Webstab (most right) is the founder of Orange Shirt Day, an initiative to educate and promote awareness of the impact of Canada's residential school system on Indigenous communities. Image courtesy of Orange Shirt Day Organization

Founded on the idea that art can improve the world, Arts Help is a non-profit organization that focuses on art as a tool to further social change and works to amplify the UN 17. Many Indigenous artists in Canada have long been using art to advocate for Indigenous rights, aligning with the UN’s 16th SDGs by bringing light to the many colonial and systemic issues plaguing Indigenous communities over Canada. Moreover, much of this art works to document the ongoing failure of Canadian institutions to take meaningful responsibility and provide reparations for the inhumane treatment and abuse of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

In the spirit of Truth and Reconciliation, we wanted to shine a spotlight on some amazing Indigenous artists we have covered in the past:

Residential School Survivor Retells History Through Art

Adrian Stimson of the Siksika (Blackfoot) Nation, an interdisciplinary artist and a survivor of the Canadian residential school system, channels his experiences into his art to advocate for justice and reconciliation within Canada.

“I set out to decolonize the map inspired by Blackfoot ways of knowing,” Stimson told the University of Calgary. “The map highlights stories of the Calgary Stampede that are not often heard: stories that focus on a history which has sometimes been controversial. But if we’re to truly understand and appreciate history, we have to tell all of the stories — be they the good, the bad, or the ugly.”

Métis Artist Advocates for Indigenous Justice Through Her Revival Art

Christi Belcourt, a Métis artist, uses her art to advocate for Indigenous rights, emphasizing traditional Indigenous worldviews on spirituality and medicine, and a revival of Indigenous culture, language and knowledge through visual mediums and beadwork.

“Flower beadwork is one of the artistic legacies left to us by our ancestors. What began in 1993 as a simple attempt to transfer beadwork aesthetics onto the canvas with paint has become the artistic journey I’ve been on since. This journey has led me into the depths of understanding my own culture, our worldview, and our spirituality as it relates to the natural world, ” said Belcourt.

Haida Manga Blends Indigenous Art and Manga to Call for Environmental Protection

Micheal Nicoll Yahgulanaas, a Haidi Artist from Haida Gwaii in Masset, is best known for his self-taught craft of ‘Haida Manga’, which combines the North Pacific Indigenous iconography with brush techniques found in manga literature.

"One of the things that I'm really in search [of] after some 20 years of being an artist is hybridity. I'm wanting to take my cultural inheritance as a Haida artist ... and find a way to connect to people who are not Haida," says Yahgulanass.

This Painting is a Mirror (2012) by Métis artist Christi Belcourt. Image courtesy of Resilience Project.

To learn more about how you can action to bridge the relationship between Indigenous peoples and settlers, browse the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 calls to action.

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