Celebrating Indigenous beauty and resiliency in Edmonton



“That’s the best painting I’ve ever seen.” 

“Your colours are beautiful.” 

“Is it finished?”

Cree artist Lance Cardinal smiles as he’s surrounded by a gaggle of inquisitive elementary students. He’s working on a mural of a beaver at the TELUS World of Science in Edmonton, which is located on Treaty Six Territory, the traditional land of diverse Indigenous Peoples.

“Do you know what animal that is?” Cardinal asks the students. 

“A lion?” replies one girl. “A beaver!” says another. “You’re right,” Cardinal beams. “Do you know how to say beaver in Cree?” The children shake their heads. “Amisk,” he says. “Amisk,” they repeat. 

Cardinal lives for these moments, getting to celebrate and share his Indigenous culture with others in Edmonton and Alberta. 

“We had [the Truth and Reconciliation Commission],” he says. “Now it’s a new type of reconciliation. It’s led by Indigenous and non-Indigenous people and that’s what’s exciting. Now we are one-on-one.”


 Lance Cardinal’s mural features a beaver, four Indigenous people, the moon, stars, northern lights, trees, earth, and water.
You'll find Lance Cardinal's mural, amiskwaciy-wâskahikan, at the entrance of the TELUS World of Science.


Dedication and reconciliation 

Born and raised on Bigstone Cree Nation, about 320 kilometres north of Edmonton, Cardinal has devoted the last three decades of his life to art. He’s a painter, actor, director, set designer, puppet maker, photographer, teacher and the owner of Soulflame Creative Services. (He eventually wants to host his own children’s TV show. “I want to be like Mr. Dressup,” he says.)

Over the past three years, Cardinal’s paintings, murals and other designs have decorated walls across Edmonton and northern Alberta. He’s worked with more than 200 schools, institutions, community groups, festivals and businesses—including IKEA, Unbelts, a local accessories company and the Edmonton Oilers. 

As the team’s Indigenous consultant, he designed a logo featuring the trademark oil drop on the back of a turtle. It symbolizes Turtle Island, which some First Nations call North America. Cardinal also wrote a land acknowledgement to recognize that the Oilers’ arena, Rogers Place, sits on Treaty Six Territory. A video recording of the acknowledgement, recited by Chief Willie Littlechild, is now played before each of the team’s home games.


“I feel like I'm holding hands with everybody,” says Cardinal. “My people, non-Indigenous people and I'm like, ‘Let's go together. Let's trip, let's fall. Let's hold each other up and let's just go for it.’”



Cardinal recently discussed his art, working with the Oilers and reconciliation. 

Q: What’s the inspiration behind your painting at the TELUS World of Science? 

Lance: TELUS wanted to have something that recognizes we are on Treaty Six Territory. I thought about the beaver because it’s part of amiskwaciy-wâskahikan, or Beaver Hills House, which is the Indigenous name for Edmonton. I thought it would be cool to sort of celebrate the science of Indigenous culture, the science of our people. The land, earth, sky and water are all represented and there’s also a First Nations Elder with a Métis child and Inuit woman, out under the stars, learning about the stories and legends that live in the sky.  

Q: This is more than just a painting. What does your artwork mean to you? 

Lance:  I consider them to be sort of modern-day rock drawings. These are historical documents, these are moments in time that are captured and celebrated. It's important that they tell the authentic story of who we are as Indigenous people. 

I used to live in Vancouver, which is based on First Nations’ culture. I didn’t feel that much in Edmonton when I came back here three years ago. And so, I decided I was going to make an effort to really celebrate who we are as Indigenous people—to let people understand who we are, but also for our own people to remember. So I want my pieces to be bright, to give a feeling of warmth and welcoming. I want them to say that we are a beautiful, resilient people.


Six paintings of flowers are attached to a wall next to a community garden.
Lance Cardinal's paintings for Inglewood’s community garden. Courtesy of Lance Cardinal.


Q: How has Edmonton responded to your work?  

Lance: Love, conversation and welcome—those are the words I would use to describe Edmonton. When people see the work, they say: “That’s beautiful, I so relate to it and it affects me emotionally,” and that’s what I want to happen. That’s when I think change happens, when we affect people emotionally, we can connect to them. 

It’s exciting that people want Indigenous content to enhance their space.


What was it like working on the logo and land acknowledgement for the Oilers? 

Lance: Amazing. For them to phone me and say, “Hey, listen, we don't really know how to approach Indigenous people, can you help us do that?”—I was very honoured. The first thing we did was write a land acknowledgement. I said “Let's erase the last ones. No more third person, let’s do it in first person: “I welcome you to our Treaty 6 Territory. Let's walk hand- in-hand in this reconciliation.” It's a new way of thinking. 

How did you go about designing the logo? 

Lance: We always sort of receive the request and then I wait for imagery or visions. I hate to go into a spiritual mode, but I have to trust the vision—and so I did see Turtle Island immediately. It represents North America and that was what brought us together in the first place. We’re now working on the new jerseys for [the Oilers], which will be premiered in November at the next Indigenous Celebration Day. They’re going to be beautiful jerseys with ribbons and beadwork designs. The team will be wearing them for the warmup. 


An illustration of a turtle with the Oilers’ logo on its back.
Lance Cardinal designed this logo, inspired by Turtle Island, for the Edmonton Oilers. Courtesy of Lance Cardinal.



Q: You were at Rogers Place when the land acknowledgement was unveiled. What was it like to hear Chief Littlechild say your words in front of Oilers fans

Lance: Incredible. I felt overwhelmed and grateful and sad and happy. But most of all, I felt proud that I could look to my left and right and see [Enoch Chief] Billy Morin and an Elder from up north and they were smiling and they were proud. It was like an out-of-body experience. I don't see myself as the person who did it, I see myself as someone who's sitting with everyone receiving the acknowledgement that we finally are getting. 

So, it's a group thing. I never feel it alone.


And I feel like now some little kid who walks through Rogers Place will say “I'm celebrated” and then they'll become confident and grow up and be something important, you know, and not feel like they're not worthy to be celebrated or to be successful.


Q: You’re a man of many artistic talents. How and where did the creative journey start for you? 

Lance: I was a child of ‘80s television. I grew up with Mr. Dressup, Sesame Street, The Muppet Show. I was inspired as a kid to be creative, and I didn’t like the same things that other boys liked. I am 2Spirit, so I was already sort of an outcast, besides being oppressed as an Indigenous person. 

I feel like that isolation created a bubble for me to build who I was as a creative person. I wanted to create experiences or feelings for people to feel good, happy, positive. I wanted to make people feel good—because I felt so useless and unseen, that I promised myself that I would never let anyone else in my circle feel that way.


Lance Cardinal stands next to a beaver painting in the middle of 104 Street.
Lance Cardinal shows off one of his paintings on 104 Street in downtown Edmonton.


Q: How does it feel to share your artwork with others? 

Lance: Some days, it's overwhelming to feel how important these moments are. I come from a very small town and faced adversity all my life. My family has faced poverty, we've faced violence, alcoholism, and oppression, and to start to emerge out of that darkness and be celebrated with the non-Indigenous community is profoundly humbling for me. To be representing our people is a journey of my own healing. 

I worked for so many years as an artist and cultural advisor, where we were brought into situations to voice our opinion, but it was always secondary.

Now [companies] say: “Hello, Lance, we’d love you to create a piece. What would you like to create to represent your people?” And I say: “Here’s what we are.” Then they say: “Wonderful. We accept your story.” That’s the difference. There’s more respect of how to ask and I think that’s the big change.