On June 21st, the Royal Canadian Mint released a coin unlike any other: the National Indigenous Peoples Day circulation toonie. You might already have one in your pocket change, and at first you might be struck by its intricate design, or perhaps its vibrant colours.
But it’s also the first time that a circulation coin has featured the combined work of three artists in a single reverse design. This collaboration is a stunning art piece that honours and commemorates the heritages of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.
And it’s a unique opportunity to acknowledge National Indigenous Peoples Day, first established in 1996. “Our government is proud to honour the history, art, traditions, and cultures of Indigenous Peoples as we continue walking the path of reconciliation together,” said The Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance when the coin was released.
“It symbolizes a new season of life, a chance to start fresh and leave past burdens behind,” said Megan Currie, the coin’s First Nations artist.
The coin brings together three designs that honour the past and present. It also features rich artistic traditions like beadwork, sashes and music and acknowledge cultural identity and ancestry under the longest day of the midnight sun.
Here’s a closer look at each of the three designs:
Stages of the Grandmother Moon
Close to the outer ridge, the seven phases of the Grandmother moon celebrate the past, present, and future, and also honour the seven generations before and show commitment to the seven generations that follow.
The main design features a vibrant blossoming flower that supports an adult lifting up a child, while supporting other culturally significant plant and animal life. This connection with nature represents hope for the future.
- Forget-me-nots: memorializes previous generations who have passed into the spirit world, and honour victims of genocide, residential schools, and war.
- Four circles and berries: represents the four seasons, directions, and life stages, as well as thank Mother Earth.
- Butterflies: serves as symbols of change and transformation.
The artist: Megan Currie, a Dene woman from English River First Nation, is an “Indigenous design trailblazer.” Her diverse and celebrated work is rooted in visual sovereignty.
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Connection with Nature
This design celebrates the midnight sun, which provides extended light to Inuit people living in the far north. Colours that are often used in art and storytelling — yellows, oranges, and reds — illustrate the hues of the sun as it moves across the sky. The sun is flanked by ocean waves representing the Arctic Ocean, which has been used for hunting and travelling for millennia, as well as connecting families — from Alaska to Canada and Greenland to Siberia.
Tools and Clothing
The rest of the design incorporates key tools used for daily life and culturally significant adornments to parkas and other clothing.
- Ulu: used for sewing and cooking food; also known as a universally acknowledged Inuit symbol
- Inukshuk: symbolizes directions (e.g. where to drive caribou), connections with ancestors and their stories, bountiful harvests, an appreciation of nature, and a source of strength
- Delta Braid: geometric patterns traditionally created with natural pigments, often found on the trim of parkas, are used to share family stories and ancestral connections
- Tusks: a well-known design on Inuvialuit clothing symbolizes connections with Inuit across the circumpolar region
The artist: Myrna Pokiak (Agnaviak), an Inuvialuk from Tuktoyaktuk in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, is an artist, curator and business owner. Her art reflects her reverence for Inuvialuit culture and life lessons learned from the land and sea.
Iconic Métis symbols
This design features two well known Métis symbols: the Red River cart wheel, which helped commercialize the buffalo hunt and fur trading industry, and two entwined fiddles in an “Infinity Flag,” which recognizes the ongoing survival and united state of the Métis nation through fiddle music and jigs.
- Métis sash: worn just above the hip or across the shoulder, the sash has a variety of functions: holder, washcloth, bridle, saddle blanket
- Beaded five-petalled flower: Métis are known as the “Flower Beadwork People.” This design celebrates prairie roses and other flowers in beadwork.
- Spirit bead: In Métis beadwork the Spirit Bead represents humility and the acceptance of imperfection.
The artist: Jennine Krauchi is a beadwork artist and teacher, and clothing designer from Red River Métis. She has created clothing for dignitaries and artwork for both national and global cultural institutions, with the goal of passing on knowledge to the next generation.
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The 2023 National Indigenous Peoples Day commemorative $2 coin has a mintage of three million coins; two thirds are coloured: bright green with pops of red and orange. The limited series will be available as bank branches and businesses replenish their inventories of toonies. The pieces are also available in a 6-piece collector coin set.
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