Stories from the Archives

Glenbow's Archives hold thousands of stories of western Canadian lives and events. In November 2013, with the generous assistance of The Calgary Foundation, we invited retired Calgarians to explore some of our little-used research files and to prepare articles about what they discovered. This was a pilot project aimed at involving more people in the community telling community stories using Glenbow's resources.


Joane of Arc in Alberta?

An artist's personal story, passion and perspective inspires present-day understanding, compassion, and change for Canada's Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals.

by Jackie Bohez

Joane of Arc in Alberta? Indeed, if we mean the late Dr. Joane Cardinal-Shubert, Alberta's acclaimed artist, writer, curator, lecturer, and activist who created some of Canada's most personal and provocative works of art depicting the rich culture of Aboriginal peoples as well as related systemic injustices. And what about the Arc? Certainly, the Arc is her signature dome, a reoccurring symbol in her paintings often representing the curved roof of a sweatlodge, a sacred place for healing; the sky over earth; or the encompassing heavens over all.[1]

Today, as Canada, and Canadians of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal descent bear witness to the Indian Residential Legacy, Cardinal-Schubert's visual stories provide a means for introspection, deeper understanding and compassion, and a chance to consider our own personal beliefs and perspectives surrounding Aboriginal issues.

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Cardinal-Schubert's paintings often incorporate her dome imagery, depicted subtly in Dawn Quilt, 1999. This artwork is available as part of Glenbow's Honouring Tradition: Reframing Native Art education guide from the online teacher's resource series 21st Century Learning: Links to Our Collection. (Glenbow Museum collection)

But who was Joane Cardinal-Schubert and why is she so relevant and influential in contemporary Aboriginal issues? Why has Glenbow been collecting and exhibiting her works for almost two decades? To understand her present influence, one must understand her past. Joane died in 2009 after a courageous battle with cancer, but not before she left an artistic legacy amassing significant recognition for her talent and societal contributions.

Beyond the public achievements and accolades is a private underlying force that gave her motivation to create and help shape history - her powerful, personal story. Alberta's Joane, not unlike France's heroine, was driven by immense courage and passion in her quest for her nation's survival. The First Nations fight for identity and existence is embedded broadly and deeply not only within Canadian history, but also within the essence of Cardinal-Schubert's artistic vision. Here art not only imitates life, but the artist's life is reflected in her art.

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Joane Cardinal-Schubert, ca. 1990s (archived Calgary Herald image retrieved from National Gallery website: http://www.gallery.ca/en/see/collections/artist.php?iartistid=895, July 22, 2014)

As a child of European and Aboriginal descent growing up in the predominantly "white" Red Deer, Alberta, her upbringing provided rich intercultural roots to nurture curiosity about intuitions, ideas and her Aboriginal heritage, as well as experiences of painful acts of racism to ignite her motivation and vision.[4] [5] [6] Recalling in an interview "her first night in Red Deer's St. Joseph's Convent where she was sent. She remembers only the Native children being made to take showers. She remembers the harsh scrubbing, the soap, the inference that she had lice. "I was already clean," she said, years later, the humiliation still there."".[7]

In another interview, Cardinal-Schubert shared, "Growing up party to the jokes and comments about Indians led me to sometimes not admit who I was, hiding from the pain, because I simply did not want to be part of it. Ignore them, my parents advised me, of my tormentors, they don't know any better. You know who you are, that is all that matters, older and more sophisticated about it. I realized my strength was just in being who I was." [8] Academic schools also presented challenges, but despite being initially rejected and ejected by both the University of Alberta and the Alberta College of Art respectively, Joane persevered, eventually graduating from the ACA and the University of Calgary.[9] [10] Formal academic training aside, particularly inspiring and influential to her art were her two great grandmothers. Marguertie Rach, was a religious woman also knowledgeable about the natural world, herbs and folk wisdom; and Rose Bobtail, a holy woman and convener of the Sundance ceremony.[11]

A powerful combination, these diverse experiences of family history and nurturing as well as societal prejudices and injustices shaped her personal expression - mixing feelings, memories, imagery, and spirituality into potent layers of meaning and fearlessness to her medium. Knowing at least some of her personal story enables one to interpret her works with a deeper understanding of the complex Aboriginal narrative applied to historical and contemporary issues - whether about identity, culture, or injustice. In turn, she compels the audience to approach these issues with more compassion and tolerance.

Cardinal-Schubert exposes cruelty, violations, and racism with a raw directness that leaves a viewer inescapably affected. As an example, her Self-Portrait as an Indian Warshirt uses the power of self-revelation to convey her own story as well as a larger, more disturbing message of profound injustices. Among these are "references to Native history such as the red smallpox dots a reminder of the decimation of Native populations as a result of European contact." The Plains warshirt also serves as a reminder of the "expropriation of Native cultural artifacts by contemporary colonially-influenced art museums. The imagery grew out of Cardinal-Schubert's discovery that many Native artifacts and sacred objects have been removed from the lives of the people they represent, languishing in museum collections across the world. Without access to these objects, Native people are disconnected from their past and denied control over their own history. This work asserts a personal connection to warshirts and offers a Native voice to the understanding of their significance."[12]

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Personal and provocative story-telling found in Self-Portrait as an Indian Warshirt, 1991. This painting is featured as part of Glenbow's inquiry-based learning program, ArtPad, an engaging website for teachers and learners of all ages. (Glenbow Museum collection)

Cardinal-Schubert understood the power of her perspective in challenging the way we see the world and think about historical and contemporary issues. As she shared early in her career, "I could paint a horse the way it looks, but people already know that. Instead, I'm creating a mirror of understanding. It's like a partnership happening with the viewer. That way the painting keeps creating, depending on what the viewer puts into it," she says.[13]

It is this invitation for the viewer to be part of the conversation that is essential, testing assumptions, interacting with the messages, challenging beliefs that help one shape new outcomes. Art plays a profound role in creating the context for examination, reflection and questioning. Cardinal-Schubert's art acts as a mirror and spotlight, reflecting and illuminating the issues for those willing to contemplate.

Her installation, The Lesson, is a potent example of her ability to provoke viewers to new perspectives. A haunting replica of a residential classroom having rows of empty small wooden desks adorned with colonial texts and satirical apples, blackboards filled with the tortured history of Aboriginal peoples, and the air seemingly tainted with residual oppression and brutality. "Cardinal-Schubert says The Lesson is meant to shake spectators' notions about the history of colonialism and challenge their perception about Native people. "I'm trying to get the viewer's attention and make them think,' says Cardinal-Schubert".[14] The Lesson first exhibited in 1993, is part of a travelling exhibition and was most recently shown at the Glenbow Spring 2014.

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Installation shot of The Lesson, on view at the Glenbow Museum during the exhibition Made in Calgary: The 1990s, February 8-May 4, 2014. (photo courtesy of Mike Schubert)

Cardinal-Schubert also invites the viewer to consider one's identity. A thematic thread woven through many of her works, she knew early on that having a strong sense of self and where you come from is part of developing a healthy identity and community. The residential school system, with its "colonialist is superior, Aboriginal is inferior" premise, however wrong, deprived individuals and an entire culture of this foundation. Here one culture is ashamed of themselves while the dominant one assumes an unquestioned arrogant authority and attitude. This thinking has been deeply ingrained in our assumptions, beliefs and treatment towards indigenous peoples. As Cardinal-Shubert stated, "People have been typecasting Indians for so long they don't even realize it's a kind of racism. It's difficult for people to accept that their society is racist .".[15] Racism burrows in at the core of many of society's injustices and Cardinal-Schubert helps us confront deep-rooted beliefs so they can be examined and ended.

In addition to the extent of depravity and physical, emotional and sexual abuse, what is not always understood is the sheer number of residential schools and the length of time they existed within Canada. It is chilling to know that after operating for 130 years the federal government, which created and ran the schools, didn't close the final residential school until 1996. "There were a total of about 130 schools in every territory and province except Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. In all, about 150,000 First Nation, Inuit and Métis children were removed from their communities and forced to attend the schools".[16]

Cardinal-Schubert, through her art and activism, makes us think, forces us to pause and be more curious about uncomfortable parts of our past, and explore what it means for us as individuals, for our communities and for those individuals and families who suffered such intentionally inflicted abuse and depravity. Regarding Dunbow, for example, a residential school near Calgary founded by Father Lacombe in the 19th century, she remarks "... out in the open now I really wonder what happened to those children. There are graveyards full of four and five year olds."[17] In looking through Cardinal-Schubert's lens we also see larger, more universally applicable themes about humanity and our very survival. Her work embeds themes of individual suffering, spiritual renewal, and survival.

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Blood students in classroom at St. Mary's Residential School, Blood Reserve, Alberta, 1946. A Catholic school, St. Mary's opened in 1911. (Glenbow Archives NC-7-746)

Currently the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)helps Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals surface and understand the extent of suffering inflicted from the Residential School system and its attempt at cultural genocide - including the accounts of abuse, cruelty, and starvation. The Commission "is a sincere indication and acknowledgement of the injustices and harms experienced by Aboriginal people and the need for continued healing. It represents a profound commitment to establish new relationships embedded in mutual recognition and respect that will forge a better future."[18]

The TRC, like Cardinal-Schubert's art is not exclusively an Indian issue, it is one of humanity, of respectful relationships, and all Canadians own a part of this history and are responsible for shaping its future. The non-Aboriginal, as well, needs to understand the suffering and be open to shifting one's ideas and beliefs to effect deeper, lasting change. To bring about the social bridge that sees the humanness in each other, we must pause to see the space between the slats, know the pain, prejudices, and people that are within these those spaces. We need to be able to bring the right slats, or actions and ideas to build this support.

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Residential Schools of Canada, a map produced by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and exhibited in Witnesses: Art and Canada's Indian Residential Schools at the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, September 6-December 1, 2013. After operating for 130 years, the federal government closed the final residential school in 1996. (Glenbow Library collection)

Paralleling the French Joan who received visions to recover France from English domination, Joane Cardinal-Schubert used her unique vision to rebuild and reshape our nation's future. Ultimately, by providing a forum for individuals to reflect and question the beliefs we hold about Aboriginal issues, Cardinal-Schubert's art brings about deeper understanding, compassion towards others, and hopefully change in our thought. But to better our community, these thoughts must evolve into altering commentary and conversations, which in turn can influence our daily reactions and actions regarding First Nations matters. Only then can we move from dehumanizing to humanizing, from disconnection to interconnectedness, from destruction to reconciliation strengthening a person, a community, and a nation.

As part of the community, Glenbow's vision "is for more people to experience art and culture more often". If interested in more of Joane Cardinal-Schubert's art beyond those highlighted in this article, the Glenbow collection includes the following works spanning three decades of her artistic career:

Springtime in the Rockies, 1977, 995.018.143

Grassi Lakes, 1983, 2000.002.003

Ursa Above the Earth, 1987, 2000.002.001

Dream Bed Lover-Tipi Flap, 1999, 2008.065.001

Phoenix Rising, 2008.126.002


Footnotes

[1]
Cardinal-Schubert, J. (1985, June). Joane Cardinal-Schubert: This is my history. An exhibition of works on paper and canvas. Thunder Bay National Exhibition Center and Center for Indian Art, p. 10-11
[2]
Witnesses: Art and Canada's Indian Residential Schools.(2013, September 6 - December 1). Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, belkin.ubc.ca. p. 59-60
[3]
Alberta art presented to Smithsonian. (2006, June 30). Medicine Hat News.
[4]
Cardinal-Schubert, J. (1985, June). p. 3
[5]
Vida, Sandra. (2003, Winter). Art and Activism: The Journey of Joane Cardinal-Schubert. Legacy, Alberta's Heritage, Arts and Culture. p. 11
[6]
Mainprize, G. (1986). Stardusters. Thunder Bay Art Gallery A National Exhibition Centre and Centre for Indian Art Thunder Bay, Ontario. p. 21
[7]
Cockburn L. (1997, March 9). Soul searching: Interview with Joane Cardinal-Schubert. Calgary Sun.
[8]
Joane Cardinal-Schubert: Two Decades. (1997, October 9 - November 7). Muttart Public Art Gallery. p. 23
[9]
This Member of Cardinal Family Creates on Canvas
[10]
Vida, Sandra. (2003, Winter). p. 12
[11]
Cardinal-Schubert, J. (1985, June). p. 3
[12]
http://www.glenbow.org/artpad/en/look/gallery/details.html?controller=ArtGalleryController&action=loadArtwork&artworkid=61
[13]
Cockburn L. (1997, March 9).
[14]
Cockburn L. (1995, January, 27). Festival celebrates female artists. Calgary Sun.
[15]
Hanna, D. (n.d.). Native cultural remnant. Tahranto. When Where Art Section.
[16]
A history of residential schools in Canada. Retrieved April 4, 2014, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/a-history-of-residential-schools-in-canada-1.702280
[17]
Hanna, D. (n.d.).
[18]
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/index.php?p=7#eight

References

A history of residential schools in Canada. Retrieved April 4, 2014, from

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/a-history-of-residential-schools-in-canada-1.702280

Alberta art presented to Smithsonian. (2006, June 30). Medicine Hat News.

Calgary Herald Archive. (n.d.). Joane Cardinal-Schubert [Photograph]. National Gallery of Canada. Retrieved February 26, 2014 from http://www.gallery.ca/en/see/collections/artist.php?iartistid=895

Cardinal-Schubert, J. (1985, June). Joane Cardinal-Schubert: This is my history. An exhibition of works on paper and canvas. Thunder Bay National Exhibition Center and Center for Indian Art.

Cardinal-Schubert, J. (1991). Self-Portrait as an Indian warshirt. [Collage]. Glenbow Museum Collection. (2000.002.004). Retrieved February 26, 2014, from http://www.glenbow.org/artpad/en/look/gallery/details.html?controller=ArtGalleryController&action=loadArtwork&artworkid=61

Cardinal-Schubert's work bears stamp of the personal. (1992, November). Impressions Newsletter. Masters Gallery.

Cockburn L. (1995, January, 27). Festival celebrates female artists. Calgary Sun.

Cockburn L. (1997, March 9). Soul searching: Interview with Joane Cardinal-Schubert. Calgary Sun.

Glenbow Archive. Blood students sitting at desks in classroom at St. Mary's Residential School, Blood Reserve, Alberta. Glenbow archive File number: NC-7-746

Hanna, D. (n.d.). Native cultural remnant. Tahranto. When Where Art Section.

In Memoriam: Joane Cardinal-Schubert. (2010, Spring). Galleries West. www.gallerieswest.ca. Spring 2010.

Joane Cardinal-Schubert: Two Decades. (1997, October 9 - November 7). Muttart Public Art Gallery.

Mainprize, G. (1986). Stardusters. Thunder Bay Art Gallery A National Exhibition Centre and Centre for Indian Art Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Rickard, D. (1987, March, 28). This Member of Cardinal Family Creates on Canvas. The Advocate.

Roche, H. Joane Cardinal Schubert. (1989, October 25). The San Francisco Bay Guardian.

The Lesson (1989). [Photograph]. Surrey Art Gallery. Retrieved June 12, 2014, from http://vandocument.com/2013/09/the-lesson-witnesses-art-and-canadas-indian-residential-schools/

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Retrieved February 26, 2014, from http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/index.php?p=7#eight

Vida, Sandra. (2003, Winter). Art and Activism: The Journey of Joane Cardinal-Schubert. Legacy, Alberta's Heritage, Arts and Culture. pp. 11-14.

Witnesses: Art and Canada's Indian Residential Schools.(2013, September 6 - December 1). Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, belkin.ubc.ca.

About the author

Calgary-based globetrotter and human resources and organizational change executive, Jacqueline Bohez was fortunate to grow up surrounded by some of Canada's most inspiring art including works by the Group of Seven, Emily Carr and Alberta's Joan Cardinal-Schubert. With a passion for international and intercultural communication and as an avid fan of the Glenbow Museum, the archive project enabled her to dig deeper into how Cardinal-Schubert's legacy continues to promote intercultural understanding and personal change through the artist's moving and provocative works of art.

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