National Aboriginal Day: Indian Group of Seven

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June 21st is National Aboriginal Day in Canada. Established in 1996, it is a day for all Canadians to celebrate the cultures of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples, and their contributions to Canada.

June 21st was chosen because of the cultural significance of the summer solstice (first day of summer and longest day of the year) and because many Aboriginal groups mark this day as a time to celebrate their heritage. Setting aside a day for Aboriginal peoples is part of the wider recognition of Aboriginal peoples’ important place within the fabric of Canada and their ongoing contributions as First Peoples.

To celebrate National Aboriginal Day, DAF presents the work of the Professional Native Indian Artists Incorporation, better known as the “Indian Group of Seven”. Initiated in the 1970s by Potawatomi painter Daphne Odjig, the group consisted of professional aboriginal artists who came together to promote their work and change the way the western art world looked at native art. Members of the group included Daphne Odjig, Norval MorrisseauJackson BeardyCarl Ray, Joseph Sanchez, Eddy Cobiness, and Alex Janvier.

The precursor to the formation of the group occurred in 1972, when a joint exhibition of indigenous contemporary art was held in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  The show called,  “Treaty Numbers 23, 287 and 1171″, included Jackson Beardy, Alex Janvier and Daphne Odjig. The success of the exhibition led to the formation of the Professional Native Indian Artists Association in November 1973 which was funded by the Department of Indian Affairs. The PNIAI was incorporated in February 1974 by all seven members. Haida artist Bill Reid, although not formally signed on, was considered the eighth member and participated in some of the group’s shows.

The name “Indian Group of Seven” was given to the group by Gary Scherbain of the Winnipeg Free Press, referring to the well known Group of Seven who painted Canadian landscapes in an impressionistic style in the 1920s.

“The group’s work covered the gamut from intensely spiritual to slyly humourous, deeply personal to fiercely political. It took Canada by storm, in both native and non-native communities.”

The “Indian Group of Seven” had numerous joint exhibitions in Canada. The last in which all participated was at the Dominion Gallery in Montreal in 1975. The group disbanded in 1975.

National Aboriginal Day events are held in every region across Canada. For a detailed list of activities, visit the Indian and Northern Affairs Canada website or contact an Aboriginal community or organization near you.

Sources: Native Art in Canada, Wikipedia, Seventh Generation Gallery, Moving Images