Symbolism and Expression Additional Reading

Symbolism and Expression Introduction

Most First Nations and Inuit peoples’ languages do not traditionally have a word for art. This does not mean that their lives were historically devoid of beauty or creativity. Instead, every aspect of their daily lives – from clothing to shelter to hunting – was infused with artistic expression. Traditional peoples did not hang their art in museums or galleries. Instead, it formed the vivid paintings on the walls of First Nations tipis, it was woven into sashes worn by Métis fur traders, and it crept up during an Inuit hunt in the guise of a beautifully carved wooden club.

Some forms of creative expression traditionally helped reinforce cultural and social identity. Many designs were unique to a particular nation or clan. Use of them helped to enhance a common bond. For example, the salmon instantly speaks to First Nations from the Pacific Northwest, the polar bear to the Artic Inuit and the buffalo to the Plains first Nations and Métis people.

Traditionally some significant designs were restricted to particular individuals, who were then responsible for passing on the design to the next generation. This practice ensured the integrity of symbols and designs from one generation to the next.