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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


June 15, 2002 - Issue 63


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Art of the Northwest Coast and Aboriginal Canada

In the next two issues, we're going to talk about the art of the Northwest Coast, Aboriginal Canada and Inuit. Our thanks to Spirits of the North Gallery for sharing this information with us.
credits: Frog, Artist: Patrick Amos, Nation: Nuu-Chah-Nulth
, Artist: Roy Thomas, Nation: Ahnishnabae

Northwest Coast History:

Some believe that the people of the Northwest Coast originally migrated from Asia, across the Bering straits. The art of the Northwest Coast developed a unique expression and style. It is one of the most distinctive of all the arts of man.

The Northwest Coast is one of the richest natural environments in the world. The area is bounded by Alaska to the north, the coastal mountains to the east, the Columbia River to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west.

The natives of the Northwest Coast of North America constitute one of the worlds oldest and richest cultural groups. The favourable enviroment of the region, with its temperate climate and abundance of food, especially salmon, made it possible for the people to develop a sophisticated social and ceremonial life that was greatly enriched by a vairiety of beautifully decorated objects, the best of which reached the level of great art.

In the past, the social and spiritual order of the First Nations was visually confirmed through their art. The people of the Northwest Coast were essentially Animist in their beliefs and considered that every living thing and natural element had a soul, (a spirit) a purpose, and was deserving of respect. Secret society ceremonies served to bring the animal spirits into closer contact with man and helped to renew his relationships with the pervasive supernatural world. These spirits were not regarded as deities, but rather as manifestations of the forces of nature.

Many masks represent beings that exist in the spirit world or of an ancestral or contemporary experience in which a person crossed into the spirit world, then came back to the mortal world with knowledge and treasures.

The Aboriginal People of Canada:

Aboriginal peoples have occupied the territory now called Canada for several thousands of years. Many diverse and autonomous First Nations lived in the territory as hunters and gatherers for most of that period of time.

The name Canada probably comes from the Iroquois word kanata, meaning "town" or "settlement".Where did the name Canada come from? It is thought to date back to Jacques Cartier's voyage of 1535 when Aboriginal guides referred to the communities along the St. Lawrence River as "kanata". As early as the 1540s, the name Canada appeared on maps. At Confederation, it was chosen over suggestions such as Tuponia, Borealia and Efisga as the name of the new Dominion.

The term "Indian," which outsiders long used to refer to First Nations peoples, is now considered a misnomer (an error in naming). "Indian" peoples in Canada today prefer to be known as First Nations. Canada's two other Aboriginal peoples are the Inuit and the Métis. Inuit are Arctic people. They have lived along the coastal edge and the islands of Canada's far North for thousands of years. Métis are people of mixed ancestry, the descendants of Aboriginal peoples who intermarried with European fur traders and settlers.

All of these cultures had in common a deep spiritual relationship with the land and the life forms it supported. According to First Nations spiritual beliefs, human beings are participants in a world of interrelated spiritual forms. First Nations maintain great respect for all living things.

Through decades of dedication and persistence, First Nations have succeeded in making the government and the general public aware that they were once free, self-sustaining nations. Today, in seeking their own forms of self-government, they want to assume their rightful place in Canadian society. At the same time, they want to maintain the rich diversity of their traditional cultures which evolved over thousands of years before European contact.

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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