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The Future, Past and Present of Big Bear 1885

The Future, Past and Present of Big Bear 1885

Posted in: MAG Collection History

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The Future, Past and Present of Big Bear, 1885

by Frederick R. McDonald

The Future Past and Present of Big Bear 1885 by Frederick R McDonald

In honour of National Indigenous Peoples Day we wanted to share with you a painting in the MAG's collection by Indigenous Artists Frederick R. McDonald. Here are his word to explain the meaning of "The Future, Past and Present of Big Bear, 1885".

“This painting deals with the future that Big Bear saw as inevitable. Big Bear was a leader of one of the largest groups of Plains Cree at the time of first contact with the new government of the Dominion of Canada.  He was in contact with a lot of people and Aboriginal leaders, he had been told disturbing news of this government of white people and he knew that he needed to get the best plot of arable land for his people; land with plenty of animals.  No matter how hard he tried he never did get the land he wanted. This is not the flag that was the symbol for the [D]ominion of Canada at that time, instead I replaced it with our present flag because I believe that what Big Bear saw back then as the future of his people, is still prevalent today. The Future is symbolized by the maple leaf, the Past is the cross, which is an Aboriginal star, symbol for hope and the present, of 1885, is the Christian cross of the Crusaders of Europe.  Under or behind the flag, I placed the icons for the warrior, the spirit horses and also tipis, representing the Aboriginal home.  These things are to show that no matter how difficult life was for the Aboriginal people, the government could not take away their culture and spiritual beliefs.  First Nations people are still under the influence of the government and are still fighting for our inherent rights to the land and for our inherent right of self determination. The spirit of Big Bear is here to lead us into the future.” - Frederick R. McDonald, March 19, 1998

Artist:  Frederick R. McDonald, MFA 
Title: The Future, Past and Present of Big Bear, 1885
Medium: acrylic on Masonite
Purchase of Waskasoo Museum Foundation, Dr. Kathleen Anderson Swallow Bequest and the Canada Council for the Arts.

Links about Big Bear:

Cree Nations Heritage Centre

Virtual Museum of Canada

About Frederick R. McDonald from

"I relate my story by showing the strength and character of our leaders, past and present, by exploring the symbols and icons used by artists since time immemorial and by portraying my family, showing a way of life that still exists for a few of my people." Frederick R. McDonald is a Woodland Cree artist, born in Ft. McMurray, Alberta, the oldest of six children.

In his early years they lived along the Athabasca River following the traditional way of life of his ancestors. Hunting and trapping was an important part of his life until finishing high school. He then worked in the oil industry and after many years left his home to travel and to pursue an Arts degree at the University of Calgary. Frederick's work is concerned about the written and visual history of his people in Canada; he believes it is time the Aboriginal people tell their own story. Frederick's culture recognizes, honours and respects Creation and its wonders of colour. His work is a mixture of styles and expressions; this allows him greater opportunities to have a discourse within many segments of our Canadian mosaic. He uses colours and symbols to capture the experiences, the characteristics and the spirituality of his people and he paints in a style he refers to as .... "the colour of my people".

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