The Museum of Aboriginal Peoples' Art and Artifacts

The Museum of Aboriginal Peoples’ Art and Artifacts a Lakeland Gem

The Museum of Aboriginal Peoples’ Art and Artifacts within Lac La Biche’s Portage College is one of the most inspiring art galleries in the Lakeland as well as all of Alberta.

Spread out over two levels along the hallways of the college, rich collections of art and artifacts are displayed on the walls, in glass cases and through interpretive panels and videos. Baskets of different sizes and designs, quill and bead work, mukluks, headdresses and more fill cases, but it is the art on the walls from renowned, honored and influential Indigenous artists that makes this museum a distinctive standout.

Pick up a Museum Tour Map at the main entrance to Portage College and follow the arrows on the floor highlighting 27 themed “exhibits” or choose the pieces that interest you and head there.

Brochures and looping videos alongside the exhibits enhance your appreciation for the Woodland School of Art, the Professional Native Indian Artists Inc., Northwest Coast Art, Inuit Art and others.

Professional Native Indian Artists Inc.

The Professional Native Indian Artists Inc., or PNIAI, was officially formed in 1974 by Daphne Odjig, Alex Janvier, Jackson Beardy, Norval Morrisseau, Joseph Sanchez, Carl Ray and Eddy Cobiness. Janvier and Sanchez are the only two living members of the group. It was Canada’s first Indigenous art collective and cultural advocacy group. To take control of their own artistic narratives and public perceptions of their art, these artists felt an official group needed to be created.

Daphne Odjig, whose store in Manitoba was the site of gatherings instrumental to the group’s creation, said:
“Many people did not believe that our art was worthy of exhibition in fine arts galleries because it was not rooted in European tradition.”

Alex Janvier, who still paints daily at his gallery on Cold Lake First Nations, said at the time:
“. . . the main galleries, the National Gallery and all the other galleries that are funded by government . . . wouldn’t even look at us. It was an impossible thing to do. We had a Cultural Apartheid right here, right in this so-called free country, and we still have to deal with that. But none of us stopped painting. We just kept going . . . The paintings started to speak for us . . . and this is the way it started.”

Though the group eventually disintegrated, it left a legacy that continued to expand and illuminate ethnological and anthropological views of contemporary Aboriginal arts within mainstream galleries and venues.

Importantly, it enhanced professional development opportunities and stimulated young Indigenous artists. Over time, the professional art community thrived, and many artists reached national and international prominence.

In the hallways, you’ll see stunning pieces by all of the PNIAI members and much more. The art of Joseph Sanchez, the only non Canadian member of the group, is distinguished by a spiritual surrealist style.

Look for Ernest Cobiness’s Buffalo. Cobiness, known as Eddy, is of Ojibway descent from Buffalo Point First Nation in Manitoba.

Find Daphne Odjig’s Bundled and Ready. Odjig hid her identity as an Indigenous woman until she was 45, when she danced at a powwow and began to embrace her culture and her own style of art.

Get a taste of some of Alex Janvier’s art here, known for its bright colour combinations and curved lines.His working gallery in Cold Lake First Nations holds more of his world renowned prints and reproductions—contact the gallery first if you plan on visiting.

The Woodland School of Art

The Woodland’s style of art originated with the Anishinaabeg, Indigenous nations around the great lakes. It has a distinct, easily recognizable style of boldly coloured images of animals, spirits and humans. The style originated with Norval Morrisseau. Besides Morrisseau, artists also include Daphne Odgig, Carl Ray, Joshim Kakegamic and Roy Thomas, all deceased. The Bearclaw Gallery in Edmonton promotes the pioneers of The Woodland School of Art and is a great place to see and buy art.

Northwest Coast Art

With its distinct U and S formlines, carvings and prints of Northwest Coast Art are some of the most identifiable Indigenous art pieces. Beyond prints, art includes totem poles, masks, canoes and more. Featured artists like Bill Reid, Robert Davidson, Chief Tony Hunt, Earl Muldoe and Susan Point were instrumental in reintroducing this art to the world.

And Beyond

You’ll also see pieces by the Second Generation of Woodland Artists, such as Benjamin Chee Chee, Clemence Wescoupe and Isaac Bignell. There are numerous pieces of Inuit Art including Pitseolak Ashoona, Napachie Pootoogook, Jessie Oonark and at least six others. Don’t miss three major commissions: Stewart Steinhauer’s stone sculpture Four legged Spirit Being; Dr. Jane Ash Poitras’ postmodern issues collages; and Jason Carter’s Crusaders of the Land mural in the main foyer.

A stamp collection features works showcased by Canada Post, a Traditions Gallery features Alberta Indigenous artists, and a Traditions Store sells unique one of a kind gifts.

If you are drawn to places featuring art, you’ll find the trip to Lac La Biche in Northeast Alberta worthwhile for The Museum of Aboriginal Peoples’ Art and Artifacts alone. However, there is more to do and see in Lac La Biche, a classic choice and Lakeland treasure for Canadian experiences amid prime boreal landscapes.