Daphne Odjig, C.M., O.B.C.

(1919-2016)

Daphne Odjig was a Canadian First Nations artist of Odawa-Potawatomi-English heritage. She was born in 1919, at Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, on Manitoulin Island.

When Odjig was 13, she suffered rheumatic fever, left school and while at home, spent time with her paternal grandfather, Jonas Odjig (a stone carver), and her parents, all of whom encouraged her to explore art. Odjig said her grandfather “played a great role in my life – he nurtured my creative spirit – he was the first one I ever drew with... he was my first mentor.” Odjig was also influenced by her mother, who embroidered, and her father, who liked to draw war scenes.

In 1945, after the Second World War, Odjig moved to British Columbia. In the 1960s she relocated to Manitoba. Her break into the art world happened in the early 1960s when she received critical acclaim for her pen and ink drawings of Cree people from northern Manitoba. She was concerned over the potential loss of traditional ways of life and hoped that by preserving images of the people and their daily life, they could survive. In 1963, she was formally recognized as an artist when she was admitted to the British Columbia Federation of Artists.

In 1971, she opened Odjig Indian Prints of Canada, a craft shop and small press, in Winnipeg. In 1973, Odjig founded the Professional Native Indian Artists Association, along with Alex Janvier and Norval Morrisseau and others. Also known as the Aboriginal Group of Seven, they organized shows and are considered critical pioneers in the development of indigenous art in Canada. It resulted in bringing First Nations art to the Canadian art scene. By 1974, she and husband Chester Beavon had expanded their shop and renamed it New Warehouse Gallery. It was Canada’s first gallery exclusively representing First Nations art and its first Indigenous-owned and operated art gallery.

Her work is included in such public collections as Canada Council’s Art Bank, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Tom Thomson Gallery, the McMichael Canadian Collection, the Sequoyah Research Center and the Government of Israel. She was commissioned to create art for Expo ‘70 in Osaka, Japan, the Manitoba Museum, and for El Al, the Israeli airline.

Odjig received a wide range of honours, including an honourary doctorate of letters from Laurentian University in 1982, and an honourary doctor of law from the University of Toronto in 1985, the Order of Canada in 1986, the commemorative medal for the 125th anniversary of the confederation of Canada in 1992, an honorary doctor of education from Nipissing University in 1997, and a National Aboriginal Achievement Award in 1998. She was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Art in 1989. In 2007, Odjig received the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts.

Canada Post featured three of her paintings on postage stamps in February, 2011. In 2007, she was made a Member of the Order of British Columbia. Odjig also received the Eagle Feather by Chief Wakageshigon for her artistic achievement.

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Library and Archives Canada / 4318736