Indigenous Arts

Indigenous Arts Protocols

This video was created by the Ontario Arts Council as a tool to highlight the significance of Indigenous cultural protocols in the arts.

Avoiding Appropriation

The following are examples provided in the secondary course curriculum documents:

Every culture has a distinct way of creating, passing on, using, and showing respect for its cultural text forms. Some cultural text forms are protected, according to Indigenous traditions. It is therefore critical for educators to understand that it may be necessary for them to engage with and seek direction from the specific Indigenous community from which a cultural text form originates before using it in a classroom setting.

Some cultural text forms, such as prayer, song, and music, are found across First Nations, Métis, and Inuit cultures, while others are unique to particular groups. The chart that follows provides examples of the cultural text forms used by particular cultural groups. It highlights some of the rich forms of communication among Indigenous societies of the oral tradition in Canada.

Cultural Group

Example of Cultural Text Form


Mode of Communication


Winter counts

Pictorial calendars or histories drawn on buffalo hides, with a representation of a significant event for each year.

To be viewed, read, and presented

Anishinaabe Ojibwe

Water song

A song sung by women, as the water keepers, to show respect and reverence for the spirit of water, in recognition of its sacredness and its immense importance to all of creation.

To be listened to

Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, and other First Nations

Covenant Chain Belt of 1764

A wampum belt displaying symbols made from shells, beads, and string that records the agreement made at Niagara between the British and several First Nations.

To be viewed and read


Thanksgiving address

Words spoken at the beginning of ceremonies and significant meetings to give thanks to the natural environment.

To be listened to


Guswenta or Kaswentha (Two Row Wampum)

A wampum belt displaying symbols made from shells and string that records an agreement between the Haudenosaunee and the Dutch in the mid-seventeenth century. Each row represents a nation, with the belt showing the nations co-existing without interfering in each other’s affairs.

To be viewed and read


Beaded clothing

Items of clothing decorated with detailed beadwork, often in distinctive floral designs. Colours and patterns may convey aspects of Métis history, Métis teachings, and/or family identity.

To be viewed


Drum dance

A combination of drumming and dance, traditionally performed by men. Drum dances may be used as a peaceful way to settle disputes.

To be listened to, viewed, and presented


Button blanket

A robe decorated with white buttons forming images of an animal that represent the clan of the individual wearing the blanket.

To be viewed, read, and presented


Dances such as the raven dance and the killer whale dance

Dances that communicate important stories about history and creation. Families and/or clans collect and protect these dances, which are passed from one generation to the next.

To be presented and viewed

“apply the creative process individually and/or collaboratively to create art works, including integrated art works/productions, that draw on their exploration of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit perspectives to express their own personal world views, histories, or cultures.”

What you should do

What you should NOT do

Provide examples of Indigenous artworks and artists

Replicate or reproduce Indigenous artworks (**unless permission has been granted by the artist)

Read, watch or listen to learn about various cultural practices

Replicate or mimic cultural practices (e.g., a non-Indigenous teacher smudging)

Consult with Indigenous Education Lead at your school board or recognized Indigenous community member

Conduct activities in your class that pass on teachings, cultural or spiritual practices that do not belong to you (e.g. making dream catchers)

The UNDRIP (Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) outline the jurisdiction and protection of Indigenous Knowledge Systems:


Exploring Art for Action

The following resource has been created in collaboration with Ojibway artist Isaac Murdoch in order to assist teachers in the classroom with exploring Indigenous artworks.  Rather than simply replicating artwork it is important that teachers look at what messaging is being conveyed and how students can think about how those messages relate to their own learning.  This inquiry based approach can help inspire the creative process for students to then design their own works of art.  Several images have been provided by Isaac along with a recording explaining the meaning behind each as well as examples of how these can be used to inspire action and awareness.  Included are colouring pages that can be used for younger students.