Lance Cardinal is a 2-Spirit First Nations member of the Bigstone Cree Nation in Treaty 8 territory. His artist name is ᐊᐧᒐᐢᐠ, meaning wacask (Wa-chusk) or muskrat.
Last week was kind of a big deal for us at Unbelts. On June 1, we launched our latest collection — an Intrepid belt, upcycled bevvie sleeve, and cloth mask featuring original artwork by local artist Lance Cardinal.
Lance has been working for 30 years in the fine arts industry, and his resume is looooong, friends. He’s been a designer, director, producer, performer, miniaturist, illustrator, painter, photographer and philanthropist.
He took some time to chat with Unbelts’ founder, Claire, about the inspiration behind the design, his goals for the campaign, and where work like this sits in the broader, longer path towards reconciliation.
What inspired the design itself?
Claire: Thanks for being up for chatting today, Lance. Working on this collection together has been a dream come true for us; we’re all admirers of your work. To start off, could you share a little bit about what inspired the design itself?
Lance: The four hearts seen in the design represent the sash and flag of the Métis people, the drum of the First Nations and the inukshuk of the Inuit. The braids of the sweetgrass unite all people together as one Indigenous Nation.
I consider this design to be a modern-day petroglyph. It’s capturing a moment in time.
What are some of your goals for the campaign?
Claire: I love that idea of creating a snapshot, especially after a year when so much has changed about the world. We knew that for Indigenous History Month and Pride Month, we wanted to work with a local artist who had a message - but how about you? What made you say yes to this campaign, and what are some of your goals around it?
Lance: I think my main goal for this campaign was to find more ways to introduce positive and hopeful Indigenous ideals and values into the culture of our city. What we’re creating here is wearable art that celebrates the First Nations, Métis and Inuit people. It encourages our own people to love the nation we are from, and also welcomes love from those allies who support the Indigenous community. This campaign and its products are a great way for anyone of any culture to show their allegiance to the ideals of Indigenous people.
And as a member of the LGBTQ2S+ community, I am so thrilled that some of the proceeds are going towards the Edmonton 2 Spirit Society. It’s a way to celebrate Pride Month and do something that’ll help others. I’ll always be a part of projects that help bridge that understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people and find ways to come together with love and compassion.
I'm hoping this campaign will reach as many Indigenous people as possible, sharing the excitement and the celebration of who we are to communities near and far. I'm hoping that our people will see that there are many ways to be celebrated, even through non-Indigenous businesses or public art or community projects that bring people together. Seeing ourselves represented means everything to our people, and the more we can do that in a good way - especially hand in hand with those who support us - the more strides we’ll make towards reconciliation.
What kind of change do you want to see in the broader community?
Claire: One of the things that we talk about at Unbelts is change and the kind of change that we want to effect in the world - even if it’s through small actions. What kind of change do you want to see in the broader community?
Lance: Even though we’ve made great strides as a people to work towards a stronger and healthier Indigenous nation, we still face many struggles on a day-to-day basis. Racism, segregation, oppression and discrimination still exist for our people. We are on a very long and complicated journey to return to our traditional ways, to be a strong Nation again, free of lateral violence, intergenerational trauma, and cultural genocide.
But we’re a strong and resilient people. We’re learning to be confident again, re-discovering our language, our culture and our land-based teachings. We are learning to love each other again and bringing back our traditional family dynamics, free of Western ideals and colonial rules. We are learning to celebrate ourselves and work with others who want to celebrate us as well. And that's what this campaign is about, a celebration of Indigenous people and those who support us. It’s one little step towards reconciliation.
How can we support Indigenous businesses and Indigenous artists within our own communities?
Claire: This past year, I think there’s been a growing awareness of the responsibility that members of an oppressing race and/or class have in dismantling that oppression. Part of that is reallocating resources so that justice can be restored. I've seen a lot of people really start to be intentional with where they are spending their dollars, and wanting to support local businesses and creators.
Would you be willing to share your perspective on supporting Indigenous businesses and Indigenous artists within our own communities?
Lance: You know, I actually wrestled with the balance between respectful cultural representation and running my own for-profit business within this collaboration. There has been heavy news over the past couple of weeks (Editor’s note - Lance is referring to the tragic discovery of remains of 215 children at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia). Confronting deep trauma felt at odds with celebrating the release of what I wanted to be really fun, positive products.
In the middle of these feelings, I got my official business license in the mail. When I opened that thing up, I was totally overcome with the fact that I am officially a 2-spirit businessman, open for business in our community, and celebrating Indigenous culture. I realized how important it is to run this business as a counterpoint to all the trauma that’s been experienced. It’s progress, it’s reparation, and it’s representing who we are in an authentic way.
Supporting Indigenous-owned businesses like mine makes it possible for our voices to be heard. I strongly recommend the Indigenous Artists’ Market downtown and The Quilt Bag on Whyte Ave. They both have online presences and can serve customers anywhere, and The Quilt Bag has done incredible things to promote trans awareness and resources.
(Editor's note: If you are looking for Indigenous-owned businesses to support across Canada, Shop First Nations has created a handy directory. Unbelts will also be highlighting Indigenous creators and businesses throughout the month of June on our Instagram account).
When you are approached for a collaboration what are some of the things you look for in a collaborative partner?
Claire: As excited as we were to ask you to collab with us, we were also a little bit nervous - there’s always the possibility that an artist you admire will have other commitments, or just... won’t be that into you. We were so thrilled when you said yes. What do you look for in a collaborative partner?
Lance: One of the things I’ve loved most about the process of creating these products and this campaign was having an authentic Indigenous perspective as the primary approach. It’s important to really listen to what’s being said, to respect the process, and to value the teachings being delivered through the work. It’s another example of what reconciliation can look like: listening to Indigenous people so they can speak their true, authentic voice, in their own language if they want - then finding a place of honour to help make that voice stronger both behind-the-scenes and to customers.
I really hope everybody loves these products and the images of love and Indigenous culture that they present. I hope this campaign inspires Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to join in our efforts to bring our community together. I’ve really loved working with this team - you have my respect and gratitude.
Claire: Thank *you*, Lance, for bringing your creative vision and perspective to the table and for sharing both so generously with our staff and our friends.
You can keep up to date on Lance’s work on his Instagram and website. And, of course, you can shop the full Lance Cardinal X Unbelts collection here - proceeds from every sale in June benefit the Edmonton 2 Spirit Society.
You can learn more about Indigenous history from coast to coast here, and use this interactive map to find out what Indigenous land you live and work on. Here at Unbelts, we are on Treaty 6 Territory, which extends across present-day Alberta and Saskatchewan; a traditional meeting ground for many Indigenous peoples, in particular the Cree, Saulteaux, Blackfoot, Dene and Nakota Sioux, and the Métis Nation of Alberta Region 4; on whose territory we live, work, and stand.