10 thought-provoking art galleries and museums that share Indigenous stories

Posted April 06, 2022

Art installations that make you stop in your steps. Interactive displays that cause moments of deep reflection. Joyous discoveries of histories you thought you knew.

It’s all here in Manitoba as together we explore Indigenous attractions and adventure into a greater understanding of our shared histories and unique cultures.

A visit to Manitoba means travelling through Treaty 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 Territory and through communities who are signatories to Treaties 6 and 10. It encompasses the original lands of the Anishinaabeg, Anish-Ininiwak, Dakota, Dene, Ininiwak and Nehethowuk and the homeland of the Métis. To learn more about Manitoba's Treaty areas, click here.

From hurt to healing

For more than 60 years, the three-storey brick building near Portage la Prairie was home to one of Canada’s enduring shames—the residential school system. Now the Rufus Prince Building, named for a survivor of Portage La Prairie Indian Residential School who served in the Second World War and became chief of Long Plain First Nation, has been transformed from a place of hurt to a place of healing. Inside is the National Indigenous Residential School Museum, where artifacts and documents create a memorial to those who attended the schools and help survivors along on their healing journeys. Outside, a towering sculpture of a tree and an eagle stand above the beginnings of a healing garden and memorial wall to honour survivors.

Indigenous stories told

The Indigenous Perspectives Gallery at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is a dramatic space that tells the story of First Peoples. The dedicated gallery is complex, sometimes uncomfortable and always beautiful, but it’s not the only place where Indigenous stories are told. Throughout the museum, the history of colonial violations collides with stunning artworks and thought-provoking images to offer a modern and ever-evolving perspective of human rights. Give yourself some time here to do a deep dive into the diverse range of lived experiences by Indigenous peoples and prepare for unexpected revelations.

Contemporary Indigenous art lives here

Since 1996, the Urban Shaman Contemporary Aboriginal Art Gallery has been the place to get a first glimpse at contemporary First Nations, Métis and Inuit art. The artist-run centre hosts the bizarre and the beautiful, challenging people’s notions of Indigenous art. From exhibits focused on the history of birchbark scrolls to exploring traditional weaving as a storytelling medium, the gallery is the go-to for inspiring and surprising Indigenous art. For a preview, head to their website that offers information in Cree, Ojibwe, Dakota, Michif and Oji-Cree.

The world’s largest collection of contemporary Inuit Art

Its the largest public collection of contemporary Inuit art in the world. And simply a must see. Qaumajuq at the Winnipeg Art Gallery holds 14,000 carvings, drawings, prints and textiles that tell the story of the people of the North. It’s unmistakable white stone façade echoes the vastness of the landscape and inside, a three-storey glass vault filled with thousands of Inuit carvings greets visitors. Get a glimpse of what’s inside with the outdoor projections of contemporary Inuit artwork and imagery that dance across the exterior nightly.

Exploring the HBC Gallery

The province’s largest centre for the exploration of science and history is home to the HBC Gallery, a collection of artifacts that tell the story of the world’s oldest commercial enterprises, the Hudson’s Bay Company, and its complicated relationship with Indigenous Peoples. At least half of the artifacts are believed to have come through purchase, trade, ceremonial gift exchange and donations from fur traders and their families, illustrating the day-to-day workings of the fur trade era.

Timeless in Thompson

The log structures that house the Heritage North Museum adds to the authentic northern feel of the place, stocked with artifacts from the area’s fur trade history, a boreal forest diorama and even a caribou hide tipi. The outdoor blacksmith shop harkens to a time when things were made by hand, with care and craftsmanship. And don’t miss the gift shop—one of the best places in town to pick up souvenirs, including wild rice, fur products, Arctic Gold Honey and the work of local artists inspired by the aurora borealis, deep, dark forests and plentiful wildlife.

The northern town that boomed

Nearly a century ago, the town of Cranberry Portage was home to six stores, eight restaurants, two theatres, a hotel and a weekly newspaper. It was a quintessential boom town as prospectors went in search of treasures in the North. But even before that, it was a critical portage between the Grass and Saskatchewan River watersheds, used extensively by Indigenous travellers. These stories and more are told at the Cranberry Portage Heritage Museum, housed in the railway station that once served the community.

Itsanitaq: a must-stop in Churchill

The name means ‘things from the past’ in Inuktitut and here, at Itsanitaq in Churchill, you’ll find stunning Inuit carvings, clothing, tools, boats and some truly unique artifacts, like a tiny carving made from the teeth of the carver himself. The gift shop stocks an impressive collection of books featuring northern themes, along with postcards, jewelry and even fireweed jelly.

Explore the life of Louis Riel

He holds a special place in the history and hearts of Manitobans. And a visit to Riel House National Historic Site gives us an intimate look at the life of the Métis leader Louis Riel. The restored family home— where descendants of the Riel family lived until 1969—showcases the unique blend of Indigenous and European people that became the Métis Nation. Learn how Manitoba became a province, play traditional family games and explore the river lot farming system of the time. Best of all, it’s just 20 minutes away from downtown Winnipeg in St. Vital.

Following Riel’s steps

The spirit of Louis Riel looms large at St. Boniface Museum. It was here at the convent, hospital, orphanage and school hosted by the Grey Nuns that the leader of the Red River Resistance was a student. Sign up for a Moccasin Walk and learn about the Michif language and life of the Métis Nation. The cemetery tour includes exploration of western Canada’s oldest graveyard and one very important gravesite—Louis Riel’s.