Indigenous representation through street art

Reflecting on the place of visual art in the Montreal streetscape

Wherever you go on the island of Tiohtià:ke (Montreal), you will find street art. Regardless of the borough or neighbourhood, you are bound to stumble upon a sculptural installation, mural or the good ol’ reliable mosaics and vitrines in various metro stations. It’s what gives the city its charm and personality.

Other than during the annual MURAL festival, I rarely think about the street art that I see nearly every day. However, upon a recent weekend trip to Tkaronto (Toronto) I began to think about street art a lot more, primarily due to the fact that I did not really see any.

I’ve been told by many friends, and via a thorough Google search, that Toronto has plenty of wonderful street art. And yet, during my three-day venture through numerous districts and boroughs of Toronto, I did not come across a single one. Except, that is, for the renowned 3D TORONTO sign, situated in Nathan Phillips Square.

In 2018, the sign, which is very popular among tourists, was modified to include the Medicine Wheel, an Indigenous symbol that represents various spiritual concepts, including health. The last time I had seen the installation, I was quite young and I did not think much of it, as it was just a large illuminated “Toronto.” This time, I began to reflect on the place of the installation in the city, the inclusion of the Medicine Wheel, and Indigenous representation in the Montreal streetscape.

Other than the Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women mural, by artists Fanny Aisha, Guko and Monk-e, commissioned by Missing Justice, a solidarity collective working to eliminate violence and discrimination against Indigenous women in Quebec, I have yet to come across street art by Indigenous artists or for Indigenous people. However, there are plenty… just not in areas frequented by most.

So, what does this mean about representation in Montreal? Two large murals of Leonard Cohen are placed at two of the busiest intersections in the city, but Indigenous art work, like Skawennati’s The Celestial Tree, is situated on Pine Ave. and McTavish St., an intersection less frequented.

Shanna Strauss’ 2017 work, Ellen Gabriel & Mary Two Axe Earley, Tiohtià:ke unceded Haudenosaunee territory, pays homage to Mohawk activists Ellen Gabriel and Mary Two Axe Earley. Situated on St-Antoine St. West, in Saint-Henri, the mural features a portrait of the women and was created in solidarity with Indigenous women from Tiohtià:ke, in an effort to resist colonial violence and fight for the recognition of Indigenous rights.

Towards the downtown core of Montreal, at the intersection of Atwater Ave. and Lincoln Ave., one can find Meky Ottawa’s 2018 mural, Hommage à Alanis Obomsawin. As the name states. the work is an homage to Alanis Obomsawin, an activist committed to the defense of First Nations and the rights of Indigenous children. The mural consists of a portrait of Obomsawin, and numerous children holding hands.

Ottawa, an Atikamekw artist, collaborated with MU Montreal, in creating the piece. MU is a project that aims to turn Montreal into an open air museum. Since their conception in 2007, the group has produced over 120 murals.

At the McCord museum, one might stumble upon Inuk artist Jusipi Nalukturuk’s 1936 work, Inukshuk. The sculptural installation, owned by the McCord Museum, is an ode to Indigenous ancestry. The work consists of over 200 stones and was initially assembled in Nunavik.

Even upon further research, I am shocked to discover the plethora of hidden works by Indigenous artists within the Montreal art milieu. Each work offers a piece of history that is not taught in the classrooms and aims to maintain both personal and collective histories that have otherwise been destroyed by colonial violence.

Considering the diversity of artists featured at street art festivals, like MURAL, it is infuriating that Indigenous people are not properly represented on their own lands and in their streets, to say the least. With artists from Colombia, the Netherlands, and settlers being given the opportunity to showcase their works at one of Montreal’s largest art festivals, it certainly raises questions where representation and attribution are concerned.

I am left wondering, does it really count as representation if marginalized artists are offered a place to show their work that is virtually hidden from the majority of the population? It seems to me like yet another inadequate attempt at reconciliation.

Further information about Montreal street art can be found at Art Public Montreal, at, and at MU Montreal at


Graphic by @sundaeghost.

Student Life

Canada’s void: A talk on our indigenous peoples

Missing Justice organized a discussion on the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada

Missing Justice hosted a teach-in on Sept. 27 to shed light and engage Montrealers on the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada.

The event, facilitated by Missing Justice members Chantel Henderson and Chelsea Obodoechina, explored the past as a cause, the present as a time for action, and the future as hope for the conversation of the issues surrounding indigenous peoples.

A diverse crowd of students and community members, both indigenous and non-indigenous, gathered at Concordia’s Centre for Gender Advocacy for the evening discussion.

Obodoechina (left), Henderson (right). Photo by Danielle Gasher

Missing Justice is a fee-levy organization that operates under the Centre for Gender Advocacy’s umbrella. According to the organization’s website, Missing Justice’s mandate is “to promote community awareness and political action through popular education, direct action, and coalition-building, all of these in consultation with and in support of First Nations families, activists, communities and organizations.”

Henderson has been a member of Missing Justice since January 2015. She got involved with the organization when she moved to Montreal from Winnipeg for school, two years ago. As a Master’s student in community economic development at Concordia, Henderson explained she had to find an organization to get involved with as part of her program.  Henderson knew she wanted to get involved with a centre or organization that focused on missing and murdered indigenous women.

As an indigenous person herself, Henderson wanted to join Missing Justice because she said she feels personally impacted by the issue.

Photo by Danielle Gasher

“I went missing when I was 16. I went missing when I was 20. And yeah, I’m here to tell you my story, to tell you why this issue is important,” she said. “Being from Winnipeg, it’s hard to be native and to not know somebody who has gone missing or who has been murdered,” said Henderson.

Obodoechina joined Missing Justice four months ago. “I kept hearing about missing and murdered indigenous women, and I just wanted to get involved any way I could, as a non-Indigenous person,” said Obodoechina.

According to the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), aboriginal women are almost three times more likely to be killed by a stranger than non-aboriginal women are. Additionally, the NWAC found that between 2000 and 2008, aboriginal women represented approximately 10 per cent of all female homicides in Canada, even though they only make up three per cent of Canada’s female population.

Last year’s scandal surrounding allegations of sexual and physical abuse of indigenous women by Sûreté Québec officers in Val d’Or caused an uproar in the province, and sparked pressure on the federal government to launch an independent investigation into the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women. The Canadian government announced the launch of an independent national inquiry into the affair on December 8, 2015, according to the CBC.

The facilitators discussed indigenous peoples’ history in Canada, going back to colonization, the Indian Act and the more recent residential school system.

“It all comes back to that. Colonization. The loss of land. The patriarch. And of course, the Indian Act, where indigenous women lost their status. [The women] married non-indigenous men, and therefore that affected generations of indigenous peoples that were, you know, not Indian anymore,” said Henderson. “So it was a slow genocide, and it continues to this day.”

Photo by Danielle Gasher

Until Bill C-31, or the Bill to Amend the Indian Act, revised the laws on Indian status under the Indian Act in 1985, indigenous women who married to non-indigenous men would lose their Indian status. Additionally, according to Indigenous Foundations, under Section 12(1)(a)(iv) of the Indian Act, an indigenous child would lose status if both their mother and grandmother acquired status from their husbands.

Henderson and Obodoechina also discussed the negative impacts the residential school system had on indigenous children, mothers and fathers, and generations that followed. They also discussed the lack of representation and misrepresentation of indigenous peoples in mainstream media and Hollywood.

Jonel Beauvais, an attendee of the event, introduced an activity after the first half of the talk.  Beauvais is a community outreach worker from Seven Dancer’s Coalition—an indigenous coalition of workers from Haudenosaunee and other areas of the state of New York that seek to educate and support indigenous communities. She had attendees stand in the middle of the room and form a circle that would represent an indigenous community. The “children” sat in the middle, the “mothers” placed themselves behind, and the “fathers” behind them—each row supporting the other with a hand placed on someone’s shoulder.

Beauvais wanted to show that when a member of that community is not there, the community is not complete—the link is broken. “Now you have missing mothers, missing women, missing grandmothers, missing men. If we took at least one person from each level, our circle, our community, is very much deprived now. That’s the kind of state in which we’re in,” said Beauvais, her tone strong, but her voice shaky.

Exit mobile version