I was intrigued by this artwork in the center of a large round room at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Our guide told us the piece was called Old Sun and was by Blackfoot artist Adrian Stinson. Old Sun was a relative of Mr. Stinson’s and a revered medicine man, warrior and leader among the Blackfoot. He refused to sign Treaty 7 with the Canadian government and thought it would be better to fight and die to preserve the Blackfoot way of life.
Ironically Anglican missionaries named a residential school built on Blackfoot land after Old Sun. If you look carefully at the artwork you can see it is made out of bison fur which represents the Blackfoot ties to the land but the light above casts an image of the Union Jack on the fur- a symbol of colonization. Old Sun is displayed in a room full of works by artists from the Group of Seven who were painting at the same time as residential schools like Old Sun, the one on the Blackfoot nation, were in operation and at a time when indigenous artists would not have received recognition for their work nor would they have been invited to display it in publicly funded galleries as Mr. Stinson is doing today.
Also included in the room is an artwork by Emily Carr which she painted on Vancouver Island in 1929. It shows a church on the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation. Emily called her artwork Indian Church but in May of 2018 the Art Gallery of Ontario decided to rename it Church in Yuquot Village because they felt it was a less discriminatory title. The church is still standing but has been decommissioned by the Catholic hierarchy and now serves as a community centre in Yuquot.
The renaming of the Emily Carr painting, the inclusion of indigenous art in almost every room of the gallery, as well as didactic panels in First Nations languages, are some of the changes towards indigenization I noticed since my last visit to the AGO two years ago.