Allan J. Ryan

Associate Professor

Degrees:B.G.S. (Brandon), M.A. (Arizona), Ph.D. (British Columbia)
Phone:613-520-2600 x 4035
Office:1202 Dunton Tower

Allan J. Ryan


A long time ago, in my final year at the Ontario College of Art, I wrote and performed political satire on CTV’s public affairs show, W5. Not long after, I cut a catchy little ragtime number about Pierre Trudeau for Capitol Records, which won a big silver trophy. And not long after that, I recorded an equally catchy tune — to my mind at least — about leaving my body to medical research when I die, on an album for CBS Records. In hindsight, it is not surprising that I later developed a close affinity for the Native American Trickster as both muse and subject/object of research when I embarked on doctoral studies in Anthropology at UBC, exploring the role of humour and irony in contemporary Aboriginal art. When the research was completed, UBC Press published it as an elegant book. The book’s favourable reception, and the many friendships and insights I developed while conducting my research, eventually led me to my present position as New Sun Chair in Aboriginal Art and Culture at Carleton University. Here, I get to work with students in Art History and Canadian Studies, teach courses on Aboriginal issues and visual arts, screen films by Canadian Aboriginal film makers for students in countries like China and Brazil, and host an annual Aboriginal arts conference. The opportunities afforded me have been countless. It has been a remarkable journey for a kid from art college taking a break from the music business. And the journey continues…

And now…a more formal Biography

I have been a faculty member at Carleton University since 2001 when I was appointed New Sun Chair in Aboriginal Art and Culture, the first position of its kind in Canada. I hold a joint appointment as Associate Professor in the School of Indigenous and Canadian Studies and the Department of Art History in the School for Studies in Art and Culture. I teach both undergraduate and graduate courses on Indigenous topics, with a special interest in contemporary Indigenous issues and identities and their aesthetic manifestation in literature, film, music and the visual arts. Since 2002 I have organized the annual New Sun Conference on Aboriginal Arts, which celebrated its 16th anniversary in 2017, and is currently on temporary hiatus. I am also interested in postcolonial theory, comparative indigenous minorities, cultural representation in museums, and the field of humour studies. Many of these interests were brought together in my book The Trickster Shift: Humour and Irony in Contemporary Native Art (UBC Press/U Washington Press), which won an American Book Award for its contribution to multicultural literature. This led to post-doctoral research on Native American cartoonists at Simon Fraser University. In 2005, I co-curated the exhibition About Face: Self-Portraits by Native American, First Nations and Inuit Artists at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I currently use the catalogue to this exhibition for an interactive course on Indigenous self-portraiture where students get to create their own self-portraits. I have also lectured on Canadian Indigenous art and cinema in China (twice) and Brazil. In former lives I have worked as a graphic designer, television satirist, singer-songwriter, and recording artist. In academia, such an eclectic mix is called “interdisciplinarity.” In recent years I have been privileged to receive the inaugural Alumni of Influence Award for Distinguished Educator from the Ontario College of Art and Design University (2015); the Distinguished Alumni Award for Career Achievement from Brandon University (2016); and the Alumni Association Award for Professional Achievement from the University of Arizona (2017). In 2016, I was also inducted into the Ancaster High School Hall of Distinction. (Very cool!) See:, and facebook.

Current Research Interests

  • Contemporary Indigenous expressive arts; Aboriginal film makers
  • Collaborative initiatives in the preservation of ethnic identities in Canada, China and Brazil
  • Indigenous Pedagogy
  • Aboriginal cartoonists; humour in art

Recent Courses

CDNS 5101: Aboriginal Peoples, Canada and the North (Canadian Studies)
ARTH 4005: Topics in Contemporary Aboriginal Art (Art History)
ARTH 2006: Art of the First Peoples: Northwest Coast, Southwest and Arctic (Art History)
ARTH 2005: Art of the First Peoples: Southeast, Woodlands, Plains and Subarctic (Art History)
CDNS 4901: Issues in Contemporary Canadian Aboriginal Cinema (Canadian Studies)
INDG 3000: Indigenous Representation in Contemporary Canada (Canadian Studies, current)
CDNS 2011: (INDG 2011) Framing Contemporary Aboriginal Issues (Canadian Studies)

Selected Publications

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The Trickster Shift: Humour and Irony in Contemporary Native Art, the University of British Columbia Press and the University of Washington Press, 1999.  304 pages. * Recipient of the American Book Award for excellence in multicultural literature, 2000. Honoured by The Association of American University Presses for excellence in book design and production, 2000.  Recipient of an Alcuin Society Award for excellence in book design in Canada, 2000.

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Curatorial essay, with Zena Pearlstone, for About Face: Native American, First Nations and Inuit Self-Portraits, Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2006. pp. 1-44. Exhibition catalogue, 186 pages.

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“Classical Aboriginal Reflections.”  Catalogue essay, Jim Logan: The Classical Aboriginal Series, Yukon Arts Centre, Whitehorse, Yukon, 1994.

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“Celestial Connections: Sacred Space, Cyberspace, Exhibition Space.”  Catalogue essay for House Made of Stars, an exhibition by Lakota artist Colleen Cutschall, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Winnipeg, Manitoba, September – December 1996. pp. 8-17. Catalogue, 44 pages.

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“Carl Beam: An Appreciation,” in The Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts, Ottawa: Canada Council for the Arts, 2005. pp. 10-21.

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“One Big Indian,” essay on Mohawk artist, Bill Powless, in Me Funny, editor, Drew Hayden Taylor, Douglas and McIntyre, 2006. pp. 5-22.

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“Tracing Raven: A Few Fleeting Thoughts on Transformation in Contemporary Northwest Coast Art.” Catalogue essay in Changing Hands: Art Without Reservation, Part II, Contemporary Native American Art from the Prairie, Plains, Plateau and Pacific. Museum of Arts and Design, New York, 2005. pp. 232-234. Catalogue, 261 pages.

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“Riel Benn’s ‘Best Man’: An Unlikely Successor to Iktomi’s Trickster Legacy.” American Indian Art Magazine, Spring 2010, pp. 46-53, 71.

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Visual Voices: A Festival of Canadian Aboriginal Film and Video
. Online Study Guide. National Film Board of Canada/Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, 2006. In English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. (English, pp. 1-26, 114 pages in total.) Sections also translated into Mandarin for booklets published in conjunction with the “Canada-China Forums on Aboriginal (Ethnic) Identity: Cultural Preservation”, Northwest University for Nationalities, Lanzhou, Gansu Province; Qinghai Nationalities University, Xining, Qinghai Province, China. 2007.

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“Writing Survivance: A Conversation with Joseph Boyden.” In Survivance: Narratives of Native Presence, editor, Gerald Vizenor, University of Nebraska Press, 2008. pp. 297-311.

Entry on Aboriginal Art, Oxford Companion to Canadian History, Oxford University Press, 2004.

“I Enjoy Being a Mohawk Girl: The Cool and Comic Character of Shelley Niro’s Photography.”  American Indian Art Magazine 20:1, 1994.

“Gerald McMaster — Maintaining the Balance.”  Catalogue essay, The cowboy/Indian Show: Recent Work by Gerald McMaster,  McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg, Ontario, February – April, 1991. pp. 8-18, plus excerpts from interview with the artist, pp. 22-53.

“Postmodern Parody:  A Political Strategy in Contemporary Canadian Native Art.”  Art Journal 51:3, 1992. pp. 59-65.

Review article, Acorn Soup: Drawings and Commentary by L. Frank, Berkeley: Heyday Books, 1999. News from Native California, Winter 2000/01. pp. 36-38.

Biographical entries on Bob Haozous, pp. 210-11, George Littlechild, pp. 310-12, and Bill Powless, 469-70, in The St. James Guide to Native North American Artists, Detroit: St. James Press, 1997.

Review article on Indi’n Humor: Bicultural Play in Native America by Kenneth Lincoln, Oxford University Press, 1993. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research 9:2, 1996.

“The Accidental Academic: Or What Can You Do With a BGS Degree?” Ecclectica, Brandon University online journal, Fall, 2002. The Accidental Academic

Conference Presentations

“Something Else Again!: the New Sun Conference on Aboriginal Arts,” 16th Biennial Meeting of the Native American Art Studies Association, Norman, Oklahoma, October, 2009.

Discussant’s remarks, Contribution to the session, “Alaska Native Visual Arts in the 20th Century.” 107th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, San Francisco, California, November, 2008.

Presentations on the film series, Visual Voices, to three conferences on the theme, “Géopolitiques des altérités.” Universidade Federal de Goiás, Goiania, Brazil; Universidade Federal de Uberlândia, Uberlandia, Brazil; Universidade Federal da Bahia, Salvador, Brazil, September, 2008.

“Cinematic Diplomacy: Tracing the Travels of a Canadian Aboriginal Film Festival.” Contribution to the session, First Nations Diasporas: An Emerging Form of Transnational Citizenship, Canadian Anthropology Association Conference, Ottawa, May, 2008.

“Riel Benn’s ‘Best Man’: An Unlikely Inheritor of Iktomi’s Trickster Legacy.” Contribution to the session, Contemporary Art Practices. 15th Biennial Meeting of the Native American Art Studies Association, Fairbanks, Alaska, September, 2007.

“Subtitled in Mandarin: How NFB Films by Canadian Aboriginal Directors Find a Global

Audience – the Visual Voices Project”, Indigenous Film and Media in an International Context,

Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, May, 2007.

“Cultural Preservation through Personal Reflection: the Powerful Self-Portraits of Canadian Aboriginal Artists.” Also, discussant on Aboriginal cinema in Canada. Canada-China Forums on Aboriginal (Ethnic) Identity: Cultural Preservation; Northwest University for Nationalities, Lanzhou, Gansu Province; Qinghai Nationalities University, Xining, Qinghai Province, China. March, 2007. Sponsored by DFAIT Canada.

“Aboriginal Interface: Up Close and Personal.” Opening plenary presentation. Colloquium on Violence and Religion: “Mimesis, Creativity and Reconciliation.” St. Paul’s University, Ottawa, May, 2006.

“About Face: Interweaving Communities in Native American, First Nations and Inuit Self-Portraits,” 5th Annual New Sun Conference on Aboriginal Arts, Carleton University, March, 2006.

“The Trickster Shift: Remembering Carl Beam (1942-2005).” Contribution to the session,  Trickster as Social Practice in Native American Art. 14th Biennial Meeting of the Native American Art Studies Association, Tempe, Arizona, October, 2005.

“Coyote Was Walking Along: Trickster Mischief in Canadian First Nations Art.” Institute for Canadian Studies, University of Upper Silesia, Sosnowiec, Poland, April, 2005.

“About Face: An Exhibition of Native American Self-Portraits,” Keynote address for the 25th Conference of the American Indian Workshop, Leuven, Belgium, May, 2004.

“Beach Blanket Brave: Aboriginal Self-Representation in a Changing World,” Contribution to the session, At the Cutting Edge: Indian Humor and the Politics of Survival, 102nd Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Chicago, November, 2003.

“Talking Pictures: Visualizing Voice in Canadian First Nations Art,” Contribution to the session, Read Me: Text and Image in Contemporary Native Art, 13th Biennial Meeting, Native American Art Studies Association, Salem, Massachusetts, November, 2003.

“Beyond the Pale: Post-Colonial Parallels in Contemporary Canadian and Australian Aboriginal Art.” 12th Biennial Conference of the Native American Art Studies Association, Portland, Oregon, October 24-27, 2001.

“Saving Face/Changing Face: The Many Self-Portraits of Carl Beam.” 12th Biennial Conference

of the Native American Art Studies Association, Victoria, British Columbia, October, 1999.

“A Tricky Mix: Creating a Book on Humorous Native American Art,” 1999 ISHS International Humor Conference, Oakland, California, June-July, 1999.

“A Comic Perspective: The Critical Insights of Native American Cartoonists,” Native American Journalists Association Conference, Tempe, Arizona, June, 1998.

“A Comic Perspective: Visual Self-Representation in Aboriginal Print Media,” 11th Biennial Conference of the Native American Art Studies Association, Berkeley, California, October, 1997.

“Colleen Cutschall’s House Made of Stars: Exploring Celestial Connections,” 1997 Plains Indian Seminar, Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming, September, 1997.

“Canadian Aboriginal Artists and the Church.”  Biennial Conference of Christians in the Visual Arts, Montreal, Quebec, June, 1997.

“The Comic Vision in Canadian Native Art: More than Meets the Eye.”  First Nations Art Forum: First Visions/Re-Visions, Brandon, Manitoba, April-May, 1994.

“I Enjoy Being a Mohawk Girl: The Cool and Comic Character of Shelley Niro’s Photography.”  9th Biennial Meeting of the Native American Art Studies Association, Santa Fe, New Mexico, November, 1993.

“Humour/Irony and the Construction of Canadian Native Indian Identity.” College Art Association Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington, February, 1993.

“Trickster Discourse and Contemporary Canadian Native Art.” Annual Meeting, Native Art Studies Association of Canada, Victoria, British Columbia, November, 1992.

“Postmodern Parody:  A Political Strategy in Contemporary Canadian Native Art.”  10th International Humor Congress, Paris, France, July, 1992.

“Humour  Irony  Politics  Praxis:  Contemporary Canadian Native Art.”  2nd International Conference on Humor in Art, Missillac, Brittany, France, July, 1992.

“Gerald McMaster and the Evolution of a Playful Perspective.”  8th Biennial Meeting of the Native American Art Studies Association, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, September, 1991.

“As Sharp as a Feather: The Critical Edge of Contemporary Canadian Native Art.”  9th International Conference on Humour and Laughter, St. Catharines, Ontario, June, 1991.

“Uneasy Laughter:  An Exploration of the Critical Use of Humour by Contemporary Canadian Native Artists.” Annual Conference of The Native Art Studies Association of Canada, Montreal, Québec, October, 1990.

“Irony in the Work of Contemporary Canadian Native Artists.”  12th International Summer Institute for Semiotic and Structural Studies, Toronto, Ontario, June, 1990.

“Contemporary Native American Art — The Irony of It All!”  7th Biennial Meeting of the Native American Art Studies Association, Vancouver, B.C., August, 1989.

“Indian Art, How Ironic?”  16th Annual Meeting of the Canadian Anthropology Society, Ottawa, Ontario, May, 1989.

Graduate Supervisions:

Johnny El-Alam, “Representing National Traumas: Alternative Histories, Experimental Art Practices and Narratives by Transnational Artists from the Lebanese War Generation.” MA thesis. Art History. (2010)

Erin Strachan, “Listen, Laugh and Learn: Humour’s Disarming Role in Aboriginal Pedagogy.” Research essay. Canadian Studies. (2010)

Mallory Whiteduck, “‘But it’s our story. Read it.’: Stories My Grandfather Told Me and Writing for Continuance.” Research essay. Canadian Studies. (2010)

Victoria Tenasco, “Debwewin (Truth): A Contribution to Indigenous Scholarship.” Research essay. Canadian Studies. (2010)

Molly Blyth, “Tricky Stories are the Cure: Contemporary Indigenous Writing in Canada.” PhD dissertation. Canadian Studies (Trent University). (2009)

Johanna Foot, “Eskimo Chicks and Word Warriors: Creative Cultural Space in the Work of Elisapie Isaac and Taqralik Partridge,” Research essay. Canadian Studies. (2008)

Annie Turner, “Delicious Resistance, Sweet Persistence: First Nations Culinary Arts in Canada.” MA Thesis. Canadian Studies. (2006)

David Promane, “Changing Technology and the Rise of the Canadian Rock Recording Industry.”  MA Thesis. Canadian Studies. (2006)

Lana Whiskeyjack, “Navigating by our Grandmothers: Reading Contemporary Native Women’s Art.” Research essay. Canadian Studies. (2006)

Maike Worringer, “Crossing the Divide: Indigenous Rights and Self-Determination for Canadian First Nations and Fenno-Scandinavian Sámi.” Research essay. (2006)

Larry McDermott, “Knowing the Past – Building the Future: Self-determination by Aboriginal peoples who are not formally recognized by Canadian legislation or treaties.” Research essay. Canadian Studies. (2005).

Margaret Imrie, “Aurora College: Agent of Empowerment or assimilation?” Research essay. Canadian Studies. (2005)

Sarah Hurford, “An Inter-disciplinary Examination of the Availability of Information Relating to residential School Attendance at the Library and Archives of Canada.” Research essay. Canadian Studies. (2005)

Carol Hodgson, “Stealing in by the window: Ojibway-Government Relations in the Quetico.” MA thesis. Canadian Studies. (2003)

MA thesis co-supervision:

(With Peter Hodgins, Canadian Studies)
Ashley Sisco, “Becoming a Qallunologist: One Qallunaa’s Journey Remembering Marble Island.” MA thesis. Canadian Studies. (2009)

(With Andrea Laforet, Canadian Museum of Civilization)
Kaitlin McCormick, “’Neither One, Nor the ‘Other’: The Unique Oeuvre of Freddie Alexcee.” MA thesis. Art History. (2010)

(With Clealls/John Medicine Horse Kelly, Journalism)
Barbara Halsig, “The Role and Challenges for Aboriginal Newspapers as Participants in Native Language Revival Strategies.” Research essay. Canadian Studies. (2006)

(With Ming Tiampo, Art History)
Crystal Parsons, “The Museum, Gallery and Other Institutions in Contemporary Canadian First Nations Art.” MA thesis. Art History. (2006)

(With Ming Tiampo, Art History)
Carla Taunton: “Lori Blondeau: High-Tech Storytelling for Social Change.” MA thesis. Art History. (2006)


External doctoral committee member for Carolyn Butler Palmer. “I Won’t Play Primitive to Your Modern: The Art of David Neel,” PhD dissertation. Art History, University of Pittsburgh. (2006)


Come on up to Canadian Studies

Words and music © Allan J. Ryan, 2007. Written for the 50th anniversary celebration of the Department of Canadian Studies. For photos see: and facebook.


Come on up to Canadian Studies,
Come on up, you can do it here
Come on up to Canadian Studies
Come on up, you can do it here

(Repeat twice)

You can study public policy and postcoloniality
Music from the Maritimes and branding on the web
You can theorize identity, and say “epistemology”
and scrutinize the leadership of people who are dead

So (chorus)

You can study conservation and Quebec conciliation
and women in the media, and gender-bendin’ folk
Look at regional disparity and theatre as therapy
And deconstruct the humour in a hundred Newfie jokes

Really? (chorus)

You can study immigration and the colours of the nation
and the spread of population over home and Native land
You can even do a practicum on paintings in the atrium
and party up in parliament with members of the band

So (chorus)

And now for all the grad students – past, present and future

(to the tune of Spirit in the Sky)

I’m goin’ up to the tower in the sky
That’s where I’m gonna go when I write
My comprehensive exams in Canadian Studies


With fifty years of history, we’ve built a lasting legacy
Of scholarship and leadership, the two go hand in hand


Come on up to Canadian Studies,
Come on up, you can do it here
Come on up to Canadian Studies
Come on up, you can do it here