Glenbow Museum - Where the World Meets the West

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Large Image

Title: Belts

Date: early and mid 20th century

Additional Creator Information: Siksika and Nakoda

Medium: canvas, glass beads, hide

The swastika is an ancient symbol that is found among many First Nations in North America and in other cultures around the world. It represents harmony, balance and the importance of living a proper life. The appropriation of the symbol by the Nazis turned the meaning to one of hate and racism. Because of this popular understanding, many museums are reluctant to display the symbol - even when it is on Native material. This deprives people of the right to their own symbols and, unwittingly, supports the Nazi supremacist beliefs.

-Gerald Conaty

What I like about this one, it has a stylized symbol of life. This design reflects the four directions. It is a similar design to the swastika that Hitler used. Native people used this as a symbol of life, a symbol of the four directions and a symbol of the four seasons. It is a very important symbol that one evil person took away from the Native people. If you wore it today you would be accused of loving the Nazis. But if I wore it today it would be with the intent of taking back a First Nations design.

Symbols have dualities, different meanings in different cultures. As an artist you have to recognize why you are putting a design on a piece of art, what it means and who is going to be looking at the art. Back then, when they made the belts, they were incorporating a design that was a family design, a community design or a design of their own people or nation, so it had specific meanings for those people. Now, because we are looking at objects 50 or 100 years after they were made, we are still trying to piece together what the designs mean. These meanings were not written down or recorded. That is not readily available.

-Frederick McDonald

Collection Area: Native North America

Rights Holder: Collection of Glenbow Museum

Catalogue No: AF 1540; R8.70

Image No: P0012183

Learn More:
This artifact can be used in conjunction with Honouring Tradition: Reframing Native Art education guide from the online teacher's resource series 21st Century Learning: Links to Our Collection.

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