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Inkameep Art Education Unit

Lesson 4: Integrated Arts

Catalogue Image: 0102, Bear dance
[figure 11. Bear dance]
Catalogue Image: 0102

Drama, dance, music, and art

In Western society there is a history of separating and specializing among the arts. In many pre-industrial societies there was no specific word for art because it was seen as inextricably linked to other aspects of culture: ritual, ceremony and celebration. Where Western museums often exhibit First Nations masks as objects for contemplation, attached to a wall, in First Nations societies the masks are neither silent nor stationary, they are performed with full costume in the telling of a story to the beat of the drum.

Storytelling and song in Inkameep

In Anthony Walsh's memoir he recounted the story of a boy named Johnny Stalkia who possessed a remarkable ability to imitate the actions of a bear. The students were encouraged by Walsh to gather stories from their elders and to act them out wearing masks made of paper maché. Scripts were written by the students and performances were presented for family members and friends in a spectacular outdoor setting. Students were also encouraged to learn songs from their elders. A girl named Irene found a natural talent and came to a new sense of self as she sang three songs her elderly grandmother taught her. A butterfly dance in costumes the children made and performed to the beat of a drum brought together music, dance, and art ­ another example of integrated arts. Walsh's enthusiasm for the performance is summed up in his words, "I was transfixed by such a sight. There before me, created by children of four, five and six, was a true art form."

Catalogue Image: 0087, Children in costumes and animal masks
[figure 12. Children in costumes and animal masks]
Catalogue Image: 0087
Catalogue Image: 1967-028-015, Children in costumes and animal masks
[figure 13. Singing girl in costume]
Catalogue Image: 1967-028-015

Figure 11 is a photograph of a Frank Stalkia drumming and Raymond Baptiste performing a Bear dance. While a still photograph is a poor substitute for film in representing movement, there is nevertheless a suggestion of actions that could suggest a bear on hind legs. The drumbeat adds to the spell as the child becomes the bear.

In figure 12, children are seen wearing animal masks they made, perhaps acting out a play they wrote.

Catalogue Image: 1963-113-032, Dancing human/animal figures
[figure 14. Dancing human/animal figures]
Catalogue Image: 1963-113-032

In a particularly intriguing artwork (figure 13) a girl stands on a tree stump to collect berries from a bush and places them in a basket slung around her neck. The musical notes indicate she is singing as she gathers. The figure has a human body and head of a small mammal, perhaps a squirrel or cat. In the drama, mask, and singing, there is ample evidence of the combining of arts.

Dance is the most apparent theme, with musical instruments, perhaps drum and horn, in the artwork of costumed animal figures (figure 14). The image shows figures of varying sizes and having a variety of animal heads. The yellow figures dance in a circle as one might at a powwow.

Creating and responding ideas for the classroom

  1. Intergenerational experiences are important for youth as they are for elders. Youth have much to learn and elders have many life experiences to share. Ask students to invite parents or grandparents to tell them about a personal experience that constituted an important or memorable event. The children could illustrate the story as they imagine it. This might involve gesturing, posing, or moving ­ modeling for one another has a way of bringing ideas or events to life.
  2. There are many possibilities for connections among the arts. One example looks for music and art, a painting created in response to a musical composition. Human subjects may become the focus. In other instances the melody, tempo, or beat may suggest abstract responses related to creating patterns of line, shape, colour, and texture.
  3. Adult art forms sometimes integrate the arts in the telling of a story. Canada's Cirque du Soleil makes use of dance/gymnastics, elaborate costumes, props and face painting, instrumental music and vocal music. The results are exotic and captivating; much of the aesthetic force is owed to the combined and sensitively balanced weaving of artistic forms. With your students, observe a taped performance of the troupe and deconstruct it through audio taping the music and listening to it alone, painting costumes and faces of photocopies of figures, writing the story so that the writing interprets the movements of the actors, and so forth. By such means, the distinctive contribution of each art form may be better appreciated.

Resources: Web Sites and Artists

Vancouver Art Gallery exhibition: Down From the Shimmering Sky: Masks of the Northwest Coast
A review of the 1998 summer exhibit. In addition, two artists in residence, Dwayne Simeon and Tom Eneaf, carved masks as part of a hands-on educational component throughout the exhibition. The gallery also featured First Nations mask and dance performances. The same exhibit was later held at the McMichael Gallery in Ontario. For a review see:

Ontario Curriculum Centre: Finding Truth
This Grade 10 Dramatic Arts Curriculum is an interesting and theoretical approach to the mask as a device for mediating or constructing identity. Students may both physically and metaphorically construct masks. Though not specific to First Nations culture, the unit of study, particularly Appendices 2.3, 2.4, and 2.5 are worth considering.

Mask Making and Use in Different Cultures
This site provides an overview of different mask-making techniques and links to lesson plans and other related sites. There are exhibitions and collections of masks from around the world, including goalie masks from hockey.

The Arctic Studies Center in Alaska (affiliated with the Smithsonian Institute)
This is a visually appealing website with a section on the Yup'ik Mask exhibit titled, Agayuliyararput, and includes the project objectives, descriptions and meanings of masks.

NativeTech: Native American Technology and Art
An excellent site for written resources, there are links to full-text articles on a wide variety of issues of Native art, including masks. There are issues around contemporary art, stereotyping, repatriation, and appropriation. There is, however, no information about making masks or dramatic arts.

The Turtle Island Native Network
This has a multitude of sites relating to First Nations film, television, and theatre production.


Laubin, R. & Laubin, G. (1989). Indian dances of North America: Their importance to Indian life. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.


The spirit of the mask (1992). Victoria, BC: Gryphon Productions


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