Indigenous culture in Canada is present and strong despite the attempted cultural
genocide it had to endure. Through the use of symbolism, Aaron Paquette is sending the viewer
a message of hope in his painting ‘Seven Grandfather Teachings’. He is referring to the
European Settlers’ attempted assimilation of First Nations people in Canada. The attempt was
vicious and calculated. Indigenous children were taken away from their families. They were
forced into residential schools where they were treated with great cruelty. The children were not
allowed to speak their own language, practice their own culture or have contact with their
families. This attempted assimilation caused great pain and suffering for Indigenous people over
several generations as many of them lost their identity in the process. It stands as one of the
darkest periods in Canada’s history. Thankfully, as Paquette illustrates in his painting, the
European colonizers were unsuccessful in their attempt at assimilation. His painting shows us
that Indigenous culture is alive today and a process of healing has begun for them.
The most prominent visual feature of First Nations culture in this piece are the seven
horses painted in the mid ground. The horses are painted as Indigenous peacekeeping warriors.
They have traditional paint on their faces and are adorned with colourful feathers and jewelry
that is also worn by Indigenous dancers. The horses are painted to look large and strong with
thick lines outlining their bodies. These horses symbolize the strength of Indigenous culture as it
is today. Scarring on the horses shows that they have been hurt in the past, but they have
managed to heal and stay strong just like Indigenous culture in Canada. The scarring on the
horses is a symbol representing the pain inflicted from the attempted assimilation of Indigenous
culture by European colonizers.
In the foreground of the picture the viewer can see the base of the painting is painted red
which is symbolizing life and Mother Earth. The thirteen cycles of the moon are painted along
the bright red base of the painting, again showing the viewer a symbol of Indigenous culture
because they used a thirteen moon cycle as their calendar, not the twelve month calendar used
by Western Culture. The use of this Indigenous symbolism, painted bright red, from which tall
grass grows, is another example of Paquette illustrating his culture being very much alive and
strong. In contrast to the life-affirming symbolism of Mother Earth, a barbed wire fence is painted
faintly in the grass. Paquette painted this fence as a symbol of colonialism because before
European colonizers came to the Indigenous Peoples land, there would have been no fences.
Fences are used...