The University of Calgary's Nickel Arts Museum's new exhibit isn't a well-known renaissance painter or even a collection of ancient artifacts, it's a showcase of the life and work of cartoonist Everett Soop.
The Soop exhibit runs from Jul. 6 to Sep. 29. Soop was a political cartoonist, a journalist and helped found the Kainai News, an aboriginal newspaper in southern Alberta and one of the first in Canada.
"I think cartoonists are artists and they reflect society in the same way that art does," said Native Centre director Shawna Cunningham. "What's unique about Everett's work is it reflected not just society but it's got a historic aspect to it that reflected some of the important political issues facing aboriginal people in that time."
The Kainai News focused on a range of local issues within the reserve and around southern Alberta as well as looking at national issues such as the Indian Act, the Whitepaper and Bill C-31. Exhibit curator Heather Divine explained the Kainai News was not only a vehicle for communicating the truth to both native and non-native people but to provide a native perspective on issues.
"Up to the time of the 1960s anything that native people read about themselves was generally written by a non-native person who may or may not have understood their culture, their heritage or the individual circumstances affecting any kind of event that took place at the reserve," said Divine. "People were getting stereotypic, inaccurate and negative impressions of aboriginal culture."
Divine believed that Soop used humor to point out social ills and to suggest things needed to be changed. From the time of his youth Soop lived with muscular dystrophy. As his disease progressed Soop focused less on journalism and became more of an activist in the aboriginal disabilities community and was awarded a Meritorious Service Medal posthumously in 2001.
"Everett Soop cannot be understood unless you understood his community, his family and also his disability," said Divine. "A lot of his cartoons and a lot of the anger that comes out in his satire is also in response to his struggles with his disability and being a native person with a disability."
Cunningham believes the Kainai News was instrumental in the history of Aboriginal journalism in Canada and still sets the standard for today's Aboriginal media. Cunningham is happy to see many small newspapers popping up regionally but would like to see an aboriginal paper go national.
"[Kainai News] presented some very community-based reading material," she said. "Everett was very controversial in that he was very honest in a satirical way about aboriginal governance. He challenged the whole concept of journalism, aboriginal people and challenged the status quo. He was highly creative and his comics received national recognition."
Soop is the only Aboriginal artist whose work is shown in the Canadian Caricature Museum.