At the intersection of art and reconciliation

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“Art isn't always supposed to be in a canvas, in a museum. We're supposed to be able to interact with it, walk around it, take a look at it. See it in places that we love.”

Artist Lance Cardinal hopes his work encourages Edmontonians to stop, reflect and learn more about Indigenous Peoples. 

His bright, bold designs are featured on traffic control boxes in downtown Edmonton and the river valley. These boxes contain the equipment needed to operate traffic lights at intersections.

“I consider my work to be kind of a modern-day petroglyph,” he says. 

“These are snapshots of First Nations people—and when someone sees the piece, approaches it, I hope that they can hear the story of who we are, feel the essence of our people, what we believe in, the way we think about the world, our relationship with Mother Earth and each other.”

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Indigenous identity

Cardinal is a two-spirit artist from Bigstone Cree Nation in Treaty Eight Territory. He now lives in Edmonton in Treaty Six. 

The City of Edmonton wrapped eight control boxes with his art to mark National Indigenous History Month in June 2024 and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in September 2023. The boxes are located in Rossdale, which is home to traditional burial grounds, and near the Edmonton Convention Centre, City Hall and Fort Edmonton Park.  

“A lot of the art on these control boxes are (reproductions of) murals and paintings I’ve done all over Edmonton—these are pieces that are in schools, libraries and public spaces,” says Cardinal.

“It’s so important for our city to have Indigenous identity whenever we can, if it can be through naming our streets with Indigenous names or having Indigenous art around our city. Art brings beauty to our city and also encourages conversation about Indigenous content.” 

Here’s a guide to Cardinal’s control boxes:  

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A control box wrapped with art of orange smoke emanating out of tipis and modern-day houses.
Traditional and modern-day homes are featured on this control box in the Rossdale area.

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Darkness and Light 

Location: River Valley Road and 97 Avenue

Loss of culture is the main inspiration for this design, which Cardinal created in collaboration with people who rely on Boyle Street Community Services. He painted the original as a mural for the non-profit’s old location on 105 Avenue. 

“We see here in the tipis, the orange smoke represents the spirits of the residential school kids and the survivors who were left behind,” says Cardinal. “And then below, we see the draining of culture coming out from the homes in the modern world, where people are feeling disconnected and lost.” 

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A traffic control box wrapped with art of an Inuit elder, a Métis boy and a First Nations dancer.
Five of Cardinal's designs, including this one, are featured on control boxes in Rossdale.

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Intergenerational Love 

Location: 102 Street & 97 Avenue 

An Inuit elder, a Métis boy and a First Nations dancer gather in unity. The design is also part of a mural Cardinal painted for Esquao, the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women, in Edmonton. 

“This piece is all about battling the intergenerational traumas that we have—the disconnection between elders, adults and children,” he says. “This one’s all about bringing First Nations, Métis and Inuit people together, bringing generations together. We’re learning how to break those cycles of trauma and love each other again.”

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A woman in an orange vest uses a small plastic card to flatten any air bubbles as she wraps Cardinal’s art on a control box.
A City of Edmonton worker installs one of Cardinal's designs on a control box.

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Healing Medicine 

Location: 103 Street & 96 Avenue

A jingle dress dancer waves a fan of eagle feathers. “The jingle dress dancer is a healing spirit,” says Cardinal. “The dance is all about acknowledging those who are going through grief and tragedy.

The art was inspired by a mural Cardinal created for Wetaskiwin Mall.

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A control box wrapped with art of people holding hands under the northern lights.
A group of people hold hands under the northern lights as part of this Cardinal design.

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Community Spirit

Location: 97 Avenue & Rossdale Road 

Talk about teen spirit—Cardinal designed these images with input from students at Memorial Composite High School in Stony Plain. The original mural is painted on one of the walls inside the school. 

“The students were asked: ‘What represents community spirit to you?’” Cardinal explains. 

“For them, it was all about culture, so we painted the sweetgrass and feather, representing the honouring of the spirit world. We also have the northern lights, which are the ancestors coming to visit us. We also see a lot of LGBTQ2S+ representation with the two-spirit dresses and trans-spirit dresses. That was something the students were really very interested in having represented in this piece.” 

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A traffic control box, wrapped with art of an eagle soaring over some mountains and tipis, stands near the entrance to the Walterdale Bridge.
This control box sits near the south entrance to Walterdale Bridge and the Rossdale neighbourhood.

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Eagle Mountain Boy 

Location: Queen Elizabeth Park Road & Walterdale Hill 

An eagle soars over some mountains and tipis. Cardinal first created this scene for an Indigenous boy adopted by a non-Indigenous family. 

“They’re trying to introduce him to his culture,” says Cardinal. “This was a piece to let him know that he is celebrated. There are seven tipis, which represent the Seven Teachings. The medicine wheel represents the connection to everything, the four directions, the Four Nations, the four spirit realms. 

“The drum represents the heartbeat of Mother Earth, the sweetgrass is for ceremony, and the eagle represents the boy, soaring close to the Creator, flying high as an Indigenous person and reconnecting with who he is.”

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A control box wrapped with art of a person wearing rainbow-coloured clothes,  a second person holding a rainbow version of the Canadian flag, and a third person holding a rainbow-striped sign.

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Pride Corner Warriors

Location: 97 Street and Jasper Avenue

In 2021, a group of queer activists and allies started protesting at the intersection of Whyte Avenue and 104 Street. They called for the establishment of Pride Corner, a safe space for the LGBTQ2S+ community. 

“This print represents the first five people who were there in protest when the corner first began,” says Cardinal. “This is a photo I took of them dancing and celebrating and fighting hate on the corner. This was led by Claire Pearn—there in her beautiful rainbow outfit—and her supporting team. This painting was to honour them.”

The City of Edmonton officially recognized Pride Corner in 2022.

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A traffic control box wrapped with art of a circle of Indigenous people holding hands in front of three tipis.
This control box is located on the northwest corner of Churchill Square, one of downtown Edmonton's gathering places.

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The Gathering 

Location: 100 Street & 102A Avenue 

Cardinal originally painted this piece for the Edmonton Public Library. He calls it one of his favourite creations.

“It celebrates all the different reasons that we as Indigenous people gather,” he says. “We gather for celebration, for creativity, to honour people, to remember the residential school children and survivors, to learn from our elders.”

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 A control box wrapped with art of a bear in a forest and a person pulling rat root from a muskeg.
This control box sits near the entrance to Fort Edmonton Park, which is home to the Indigenous Peoples Experience.

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Healing Spirit 

Location: Fox Drive & Fort Edmonton Park Road 

A bear looms in a forest as a person harvests rat root from a muskeg. This Cardinal print is a reproduction of a painting that hangs in Grande Prairie Regional Hospital. 

“We see the bear as a very spiritual healing creature,” he says. “Rat root is a traditional Indigenous medicine. It’s an underwater plant that we harvest, dry and use for medicinal reasons. We chew it to heal our throats. It's a cleansing root.” 

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Read more about Lance Cardinal and some of his murals in and around Edmonton.