Indigenous art and Indigenous people

January 20, 2022

When people talk about Indigenous art, not everyone sees this subject from the same perspective. Likely, when the phrase “Indigenous art” is typed into Google, it shows a mixture of artworks either done by an Indigenous person or an artwork that portrays an issue or an idea about Indigenous people. But, what exactly is Indigenous art?

Indigenous art is the oldest form of art in the world and it dates back as far as 60,000 to 80,000 years. This includes portable arts, such as paintings, basketry, textiles or photography, as well as monumental works such as architecture, land art, public sculptures and murals. Indigenous art is art created by the First People to inhabit North America. First Nations, Inuit and Metis are all examples of Indigenous cultures.

So, to understand what Indigenous art is, one must also explore what the term “Indigenous” means.

Indigenous people are members of distinct social and cultural groups who share collective ancestral ties to the lands and natural resources where they live, occupy or from which they have been displaced. Often, they have shared experiences and identify with certain characteristics:

  • Primarily, they self-identify as Indigenous people.
  • They have a strong link to territories and surrounding natural resources.
  • They have distinct social, economic and political systems and beliefs.
  • They have distinct languages, cultures and beliefs.
  • They maintain and develop their ancestral environments and systems as distinct peoples.
  • They are marginalized and discriminated against by the state

Each of these characteristics may vary in importance, depending on the situation and different ideologies of Indigenous people.

Indigenous peoples are often marginalized and face discrimination in countries’ legal systems, which leaves them even more vulnerable to violence and abuse. In addition, individuals may be physically and mentally attacked or even killed just for belonging to an Indigenous community.

It is easy to get confused between the true definition of “ Indigenous art” when one sees a non-Indigenous artist creating art as a way of spreading awareness about what Indigenous people have been going through and what people can do to advocate for the inclusion of these communities. For example, a misidentification of Indigenous art could occur with an artwork portraying the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, created by a non-Indigenous artist as an act of recognition. Despite the fact that the subject matter of the art pertains to Indigenous people, it is important to recognize that this does not fall into the category of Indigenous art.

The term “Indigenous art” defines artwork created by Indigenous people, portraying how they see the world and how they maintain their culture and home.       

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