Even if you don’t yet know the name Lance Cardinal, it’s almost impossible not to know his work. The trailblazing artist has recent ties to the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Riverhawks, IKEA Edmonton, Edmonton Public Library, and the TELUS World of Science, with much more on the horizon.
One of Edmonton’s early exposures to Lance’s artistic ventures was when he was only 17, cast in a musical production of Oliver! at the Citadel Theatre. He later travelled to L.A. and then to Vancouver in pursuit of singing, acting, and theatre, even establishing his own production company and winning awards for set design.
While in Vancouver, Lance noticed a public connection to Indigenous arts and cultures, which was much more prominent than in other cities like Edmonton. When he eventually moved back, he was determined to see that change.
Lance is a member of the Bigstone Cree Nation in Treaty 8 territory and was drawn to the arts at a young age. “I was always kind of on the fringes of things. I was on the outside, I was an outcast,” shares Lance. “I was a Two-Spirited, chubby little white boy in a reserve town. I had no place to find beauty, which I wanted in my life.”
He now wants Indigenous children in particular to see themselves represented not only in the world, but in local public spaces. “I put this art filter in front of me, like laughter or beauty or creativity. That would be the first thing people would think about me, so they wouldn’t see how unhappy I felt, or how ugly I felt, or unworthy or unloved,” he says. “I want kids to not have to have a filter. I want them to look at themselves, of who they are, and love who they are right then in that moment.”
With a fake-it-til-you-make-it mentality when he returned to Edmonton in 2020, Lance launched his own YouTube channel, partially in homage to his childhood art hero, Mr. Dressup. Each episode shared a Cree Word of the Day and the steps for kids to make their own version of a craft. “Indigenous Art Adventures with Lance Cardinal” became a regular segment on CTV Morning Live, and will soon be available across Canada.
The next stage launched in August 2022 with APTN—the world’s first national Indigenous broadcaster—in Winnipeg. With a fancy new set and exciting new intro, 12 episodes will air on APTN Kids and the APTN Lumi streaming services. His dream of becoming Indigenous Mr. Dressup is coming true. “I know that the best place for me to share culture, especially to non- Indigenous people, is through the kids,” says Lance. “They will be shaped by that. They will break the cycles.”
You may recognize some of the other ways Lance has been sharing Indigenous culture with both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.
In partnership with Lance and his Soulflame Creative Services team, IKEA Edmonton became the first in the world to unveil an Indigenous Family Showroom and their 40-foot mural, called The Seven Sacred Teachings of the Cree People. The IKEA showroom features real cultural items from Samson Cree Nation and Montana First Nation borrowed from a family living near Maskwacis. “I had a family tell me that they sat in that Indigenous family room for two hours, and just felt that they were experiencing something where they were celebrated,” says Lance. It was so well received that a similar showroom was installed in the Halifax IKEA in partnership with Mi’kmaw educators.
While working as an Indigenous consultant for the Edmonton Oilers hockey team, Lance designed a new special logo, incorporating the Oilers logo into the body of a turtle—which represents creation, wisdom, and creativity in Cree lore—along with stylized eagle feathers and traditionally significant colours representing the four elements. The local NHL team launched it in October 2021 as part of their Turtle Island Logo Collection.
The public spotlight made both his name and his work recognizable, and his work at IKEA in particular caught the attention of the TELUS World of Science—Edmonton. The science centre was undergoing vast renovations that included a new Indigenous Traditional Room. They wanted a visual land acknowledgment to greet guests and thought Lance’s artistic style was a perfect fit. “We talked about the Seven Sacred Teachings and how those are so important and really speak about who we are. And I wanted to represent something that would also talk about Indigenous science, to represent those land-based teachings. So we chose the beaver,” says Lance. The beaver represents wisdom, as does the featured Elder, a Knowledge Keeper, who is telling stories under the stars.
“These big spaces are important to have these representations for us. In the non-Indigenous way, in the Western way, status positioning is important. It equals value,” he explains. “For us, it’s different. Our value comes from traditions and teachings, and our human relationships.”
A focus on pre-colonized life and traditional teachings is evident through most of Lance’s work, and he often speaks with local Elders about what they want represented and to ensure they follow protocol.
His most recent mural was in collaboration with the Edmonton Riverhawks at RE/MAX Field. The venue’s location within the river valley and its connection to Rossdale and the sacred burial site inspired Lance to represent the area pre-contact.
“I thought it was important to talk about the animals. Specifically the hawks. So this piece has five different local hawks that live in the area, as well as an Elder who is there blessing the land,” says Lance. “It’s important, especially for that space, which holds so much history—Indigenous history, ceremonial history.”
Lance is increasing the representation of Indigenous arts and cultures in Edmonton one project at a time. “That’s how you do it: you manifest, you work hard. You fake it til you make it, and you create the space,” explains Lance. “I always try to tell our young Indigenous entrepreneurs and people who are in our community: we’re creating new spaces. There’s no one to look to. We’re inventing these things.”
Additional upcoming projects include a 12-shoe collection in collaboration with Kunitz shoes, currently in development. The wearable art pieces, set to feature Cree language and cultural images designed by Lance, should be on the market before Christmas!
Follow Lance on Instagram @lancecardinal75 to watch as more adventures and inventions unfold.
This article by Tamara Aschenbrenner appears in the September/October 2022 issue of Info Edmonton Magazine.