Indigenous artists are introducing traditional knowledge practices to the contemporary art world. This article discusses the work of selected Indigenous artists and relays their contribution towards changing art discourses and understandings of Indigenous knowledge. Anishinaabe artist Norval Morrisseau led the way by introducing ancient mythos; the gifted Carl Beam enlarged his oeuvre with ancient building practices; Peter Clair connected traditional Mi'kmaq craft and colonial influence in contemporary basketry; and Edward Poitras brought to life the cultural hero Coyote. More recently, Beau Dick has surprised international art audiences with his masks; Christi Belcourt’s studies of medicinal plants take on new meaning in paintings; Bonnie Devine creates stories around canoes and baskets; Adrian Stimson performs the trickster/ruse myth in the guise of a two-spirited character; and Lisa Myers’s work with the communal sharing of food typifies a younger generation of artists re-engaging with traditional knowledge.
This paper reads the Isuma ‘Fast Runner’ trilogy – Atanarjuat, The Fast Runner (2001), The Journals of Knud Rasmussen (2006), Before Tomorrow (2008) – as contemporary digital video instantiations of Inuit cultural memory and knowledge (re-)production; as fixed audiovisual texts ironically documenting and archiving a repertoire of traditional cultural folkways, reinscribing them in the present as still-living cultural practices. This is achieved in the films through Isuma’s unique approach to cinematic style, combining long takes and natural light with the freedom and unpredictability afforded by the digital format. In the end, Isuma’s openness to post-literate media forms emerges as an ideal approach to the representation of specific posthuman Indigenous identities.
Focusing on First Nations traditional medicine, we investigated whether traditional knowledge of medicinal plants can be validated by modern scientific methods of molecular and cellular pharmacology and whether this information is of value for improving current therapy options. Based on two projects on medicinal plants of the Gwich’in – a First Nations group on the Canadian North West Coast – we found that extracts from several plants traditionally used medically were able to kill tumor cells, including otherwise multidrug-resistant cells. Investigating medicinal plants from Indigenous communities raises questions about ownership, appropriation, and commercial use. At the same time, because of the intricacies of patent law, publishing scientific investigations on medicinal herbs represents an effective way to prevent biopiracy. Therefore, research cooperation between industrialized and developing countries, and between Western and non-Western knowledge systems will facilitate ethically sound ethnopharmacological research and merge a diversity of competencies and knowledges.