Teachers Lesson Plans

Aboriginal Voices in Canadian Contemporary Art

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Compare A Minor Sport in Canada by Bob Boyer with Dorothy Grant's Seven Ravens.
Both artists use blankets as a support for the images. How has the use of this support reinforced the meaning conveyed in these works?

In A Minor Sport in Canada the blanket represents trade blankets and, by extension, the trade relations on the Northern Plains during historic times. By using a blanket as a support, Boyer hints at one of the most devastating colonizing forces used by the Europeans to weaken the Aboriginal communities. Many European diseases such as smallpox were spread through the use of the trade blankets. Thousands upon thousands of people died during these epidemics, which decimated the Aboriginal populations. Because the blankets were a valued trade commodity, they were often the unsuspected carrier of the disease. The blanket symbolizes the violence of the European assimilation.

On the other hand, Dorothy Grant's modern interpretation of the "button blankets" shows in her words, "the pride in where we come from." A button blanket is a form of ceremonial robe that first emerged among Northwest Coast cultures during the fur-trade era. In the 1800s, Haida women began to appliqué family clan and crest designs, usually in red, onto the surface of the black or navy blue wool blankets commonly introduced as European trade goods. They would then outline the designs with pearl buttons. Button blankets continue to be worn at potlatches and other important ceremonies among the Haida people. They serve to advertise the wearer's family clan (for example, Raven) and crests (denoting properties and titles to which the person is entitled). They are also a way of recording history, as clan crests represent lines of matrilineal descent that can be traced back through several generations.