Joane Cardinal-Schubert

Joane was born in Red Deer, Alberta, on August 22, 1942.

Her father, Joseph Trefly Cardinal, worked as a game warden for the Alberta Game Branch and was from the Kainai (or Blood Tribe) Nation. Her mother, Frances Magarete Rach, was of Métis decent and worked as a nurse. The couple had eight children: Douglas, Ron, Ken, Joane, Carole, Robert, Bryan, and David. Her brother, Douglas Cardinal, is one of Canada’s most influential contemporary Indigenous architects.

After moving around Red Deer a couple of times, the family settled on an acreage, that was also a mink farm, just north of the city. Joseph even moved a small house onto the property for his parents to live in.

Joane’s new home would influence her future paintings. The lilies on the lake would be referenced in her paintings along with many star paintings. She would love to lie on the grass at night and watch the star constellations. The family also owned the Cardinal Motel, that was located next to the Bluebird Motel, on 3421-Gaetz Ave from 1954 to 1960.

Joane would say that she was “taught to believe that there is always something good to be found in bad.

She attended St. Joseph’s Convent in north Red Deer where she had to deal with the harsh Nuns. Assuming she had lice because of her heritage, Joane was scrubbed down with a long-handed broom, in a very hot shower. The Nuns were obviously not aware that Joane’s mother was a nurse and was very thorough about cleanliness.

The poor sanitary conditions of the school often made Joane sick, and her father finally decided to remove Joane from St. Joseph’s when she was in the fourth grade. She was transferred to a public school where she thrived. She loved to make her own clothes and read. By the time she was eleven, she had read all the books in the children’s section of the Red Deer Library – her favorite being Anne of Green Gables.

When she attended Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School, she met her future husband, Eckhart Schubert, who she called Mike (which he is still known as to this day). They would marry in 1965 and have two sons together – Christopher and Justin.

Her father enrolled her in the Alberta College of Art, now called the Alberta University of the Arts, in 1962, but due to her shyness and “low imagination,” Joane only completed two years with below average grades. She later returned and studied from 1996-1997.

After her youngest son was two and a half, Joane enrolled in Fine Arts at the University of Alberta, then transferred to the University of Calgary. She graduated in 1977 with a BFA in printmaking and painting. Right after graduation, Joane became the assistant curator of the Nickle Arts Museum from 1979-1985, and also earned a certificate in arts management at the Banff Centre School of Management in 1983.

Joane Cardinal-Schubert

Joane Cardinal-Schubert (2009)

In her early childhood, Joane and her siblings had limited, direct interaction with their Indigenous culture. Eventually she became interested in her traditional culture, researching the history and the negative impact of colonialism. This would influence her art; her works often addressed contemporary political issues such as Indigenous sovereignty, cultural appropriation, and environmental concerns. She went on to become a huge supporter of other Indigenous artists. As a curator and activist, she questioned methods of displaying historical and contemporary Indigenous artworks.

Joane was also extremely critical of the practices of Western art galleries and museums where they tended to cut Indigenous peoples off from their history and culture and by turning their art into artifacts. She was not afraid to get vocal and once stated, “What kind of possessions do Native people have of their grandparents, and great-grandparents? None. They’re all in Ottawa, in the museum drawers.”

Joane’s art references several topics such as residential schools, mental/physical health, substance abuse, environmental degradation, and racism. Her work also touches on education and power, while integrating past and present Indigenous culture and motifs with western art materials. Her work has appeared in both solo and group exhibitions all over the world. This included Expo 1986 at the Canadian Embassy in Sweden and a trip to Japan and Korea in 1984 with the Alberta Society of Artists for the show, Sharing Visions.

“A writer, curator, lecturer, poet and Aboriginal arts activist, Cardinal-Schubert inspires and enables Native artists across the continent to challenge and reclaim their creative identities. She created a home for Native art in Canada that is respected, highly regarded and continues to break new ground.” – Indspire.ca

Joane Cardinal-Schubert, War Shirt for the Earth, 1980, mixed media. Collection of the Red Deer Museum + Art Gallery

The Alberta Society of Artists also developed a posthumous retrospective of Joane’s work that included hand-tinted prints, paintings, drawings, and mixed-media works. The retrospective was presented by the Alberta Foundation for the Arts Travelling Exhibition Program and was held at the Red Deer Museum + Art Gallery in 2014. Masters’ Gallery in Calgary still represents her work, and her work can be viewed in collections across Canada.

Other achievements and acknowledgements included being the fourth woman inducted into the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts (1985), receiving the Commemorative Medal of Canada (1993), honorary doctorate from the University of Calgary (2003), and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2005. The next year she was awarded an Alumni Award of Excellence from the Board of Governors of the Alberta College of Art and Design.

Then in 2007, Joane was awarded the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation (now the Indspire Awards). Her writings have been published internationally in art magazines, catalogues, and books. University courses and art colleges across the country now study the works of Joane Cardinal-Schubert in Art History. Joane passed in 2009. A new high school in Calgary, AB, opened in 2018. In her honor it was named Joane Cardinal-Schubert Highschool (JCS).

Joane Cardinal-Schubert Highschool (JCS)

“Gone but not silenced, for her powerful voice continues to resonate. Indeed, although she died less than ten years ago, her legacy is already undeniable. Joane Cardinal – Schubert is studied in university courses and art colleges across the country. Her life and work is the subject of an academic dissertation, scholarly books, and articles. Her art is in major collections across Canada and Elsewhere.” – Monique Westra, Writing on the Wall

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