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Pageants and Portraits




Edmund Morris (1871–1913)

Edmund Morris was born in 1871 in Perth, Ontario. He was the son of Alexander Morris, Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba and the North-West Territories from 1872–1877. After receiving art education in New York and Paris, Morris returned to Canada where he helped to found the Canadian Art Club in 1907. In 1906, he probably met Duncan Campbell Scott, one of top mandarins of the Department of Indian Affairs, and through this route, began painting Indian portraits. Under Scott’s influence, he would have been exposed to Scott’s ideas that Indians were “a weird, waning race.”

In 1909 Morris was commissioned by the governments of Saskatchewan and Alberta to do portraits of Indians living in those provinces. Much of this work resides in the legislatures of Saskatchewan and Alberta. Sadly, Morris met an untimely death (some speculate it may have been suicide) in 1913.

Morris, Chief Nepahpenais thumbnail

Edmund Morris, Chief Nepahpenais—Night Bird

Edmund Morris, Le chef Nepahpenais—Night Bird

This portrait was painted in 1908. Nepahpenais was once employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company and journeyed many miles. At eighteen years of age, Nepahpenais had gone on the warpath and was said to have been engaged in seven battles. Once, fighting with the Sioux, his party of 46 were surrounded by 700 of the enemy. For two days they held out and Nepahpenais finally escaped.

Morris, Chief Piapot thumbnail

Edmund Morris, Chief Piapot

Edmund Morris, Le chef Piapot

This image of Piapot depicts him as a classic representative of the Ieader of the northern Plains Indians. He is wearing a Hudson’s Bay Blanket, typical of the fur trade period. He cradles a trade gun, the most valuable and prized possession of a warrior. At the time of annexation of the North West, Piapot was at the front lines of Cree and Assiniboine conflict with the Blackfoot.


James Henderson (1871–1951)

Born in Scotland, James Henderson came to Canada in 1910 and, within a few years, found a home at Fort Qu’Appelle. Henderson was fascinated by two things: the Valley and the Indians. According to a biography, he “lived, moved and had his being in the valley. . . . he put on canvas his great love and understanding of its beauty.” His portraits of Indians attempted to capture “the dignity and manhood that was theirs before the coming of the Indian Agent.” His subjects were “majestic creatures, austere, remote.” Like most painters of his age, he believed the Indian was a vanishing race, and his images of them romanticized their past. The Sioux recognized him by naming him an honourary chief Wiciteowapi Wicasa or “Man Who Paints Old Men.”

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James Henderson, Portrait of Sioux Indian (Chief Standing Buffalo)

James Henderson, Portrait d’un Indien sioux (Chef Standing Buffalo)

Standing Buffalo (Tatankanaje) crossed into Canada in 1862 leaving behind animosities that had erupted after the Minnesota Massacre of that year. This band of Santee Sioux had earlier been allies of the British, and requested that a reserve be established for them in Canada. Their reserve, located 4 miles west of Fort Qu’Appelle, was surveyed in 1881.

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James Henderson, Waiting: Sioux Indian (Red Breath)

James Henderson, L’attente: Indien sioux (Red Breath)

Henderson’s Waiting: Sioux Indian (Red Breath) is a classic portrayal of the savage and doomed Indian. Under the Social Darwinist thinking predominant in the latter part of the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth centuries, Indians were regarded as savages who lacked the true attributes of civilization. While Indians were admired as courageous warriors and skilled hunters, it was thought that their intellectual and moral traditions were deficient, if not evil. Hence, it was believed that the key to salvation for the Indian was the abandonment of his culture, and its replacement by European knowledge and religion.


Henry Metzger (1877–1949)

Metzger, Chief Matore Tchanka thumbnail

Henry Metzger, Chief Matore Tchanka (Jumping Bear Sioux—fought at Custer Massacre, 1876)

Henry Metzger, Le chef Matore Tchanka (Sioux Jumping Bear qui s’est battu au massacre de Custer en 1876)

Born in France, Metzger became an ordained Roman Catholic priest in 1901. He came to Canada in 1909 and served at Balgonie and at St. Peter’s Colony near Kronau. He is known for building a Grotto to Our Lady of Lourdes, which became a shrine at the Colony. Finally, he painted portraits of prominent Indians as a record for posterity. Although he was an accomplished painter, he shunned any publicity or recognition for his work.

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Henry Metzger, Muskeg, File Hills Indian (Cree)

Henry Metzger, Muskeg, Indien de File Hills (Cri)

This person is likely Muskego or “The Swamp,” an individual who participated in the 1925 Lebret Historical Pageant.


Lebret Historical Pageant (1925)

The Lebret Historical Pageant was held on “Hugonard Day,” August 15, 1925; 2,000 whites and 3,500 Indians from the region participated. Distinguished guests included Lieutenant-Governor Newlands and Archbishop Mathieu. Several chiefs from the area attended, including Chief Standing Buffalo, Chief Masqua of Piapot, Chief Echasem Gambler of Muscowpetung, Chief Wachane of Pasqua, and Chief Red Dog, representing File Hills.

Capitol Studios, Landing of Champlain 1 thumbnail

Capitol Studios, Lebret Historical Pageant—the Landing of Champlain with view of Audience (part 1)

Studios Capitol, Regina SK, Tableau historique de Lebret—l’arrivée de Champlain avec vue du public (part 1)

Capitol Studios, Landing of Champlain 2 thumbnail

Capitol Studios, Lebret Historical Pageant—the Landing of Champlain with view of Audience (part 2)

Studios Capitol, Regina SK, Tableau historique de Lebret—l’arrivée de Champlain avec vue du public (part 2)

The day included a depiction of three significant events in Canadian history: the landing of Champlain, the exploration of LaVerendrye, and the arrival of Father Hugonard at Lebret 50 years earlier. The warlikeness of the Indians was depicted by a fight among the tribes, and was followed by interception of the three famous French-speaking personages, all of whom brought peace to the Indians. The event also raised funding for the Hugonard monument, which was erected in 1927.

Capitol Studios, Participants and Audience 1 thumbnail

Capitol Studios, Lebret Historical Pageant—Participants and Audience (part 1)

Studios Capitol, Tableau historique de Lebret—Participants et public (part 1)

Capitol Studios, Participants and Audience 2 thumbnail

Capitol Studios, Lebret Historical Pageant—Participants and Audience (part 2)

Studios Capitol, Tableau historique de Lebret—Participants et public (part 2)

Pageants such as the Lebret Historical Pageant of 1925 were spectacles acceptable to government officials, staged mainly for the benefit of the public. Symbolically, they often took place at a residential school site, which would also highlight the important policy aspect of the residential school.

The greeting of Champlain, while geographically dislocated, nevertheless would have symbolized the acceptance by Indians of white presence. At the same time, Indians in full dress could be displayed like trophies, standing in straight and unthreatening lines.

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Capitol Studios, Regina SK, Lebret Historical Pageant—Indians and Furtraders

Studios Capitol, Regina SK, Tableau historique de Lebret—Indiens et commerçants de fourrures

Certainly Indians were not often seen outside of their reserves, as their movements were closely monitored by Indian Agents and by dictatorial officials such as William Graham. Therefores, parading them out at certain times became opportunities for public spectacle of an aspect of aboriginal life that was viewed as being primitive, and on the decline, aided by government policies.


—Blair Stonechild

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