Allen Sapp was born in 1928 on the Red Pheasant First Nation near North Battleford, Saskatchewan. He is a direct descendant of Chief Red Pheasant, after whom the reserve is named. When Sapp was eight, he was given the Cree name Kiskayetum, meaning “he perceives it” or “he knows it” during a traditional Cree ceremony. Sapp’s grandfather, Albert Soonias, was a Cree Elder who raised cattle, seeded hay and produced wheat. As a child, Sapp worked on his grandparents’ farm, and spent a lot of time with them, especially as his mother was away from home for several years recovering from tuberculosis. She passed away when he was quite young. Sapp also struggled with many health concerns throughout his childhood.
Sapp attended the residential school at Onion Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan for three years, leaving when he was about 12. He didn’t learn to read or write, but he drew with a passion, using bits of charcoal, pencil stubs, wood, bark, leather and scraps of paper. His grandfather removed him from school so that he could work as a farm labourer, and his grandmother Maggie Soonias continued to encourage his drawing and painting.
Sapp married Maggie Paskimin of the Sweetgrass First Nation. In the early sixties, the couple moved into North Battleford, where Sapp’s art practice was based for most of his life. As his renown grew, his work was shown throughout Canada and internationally.
Sapp is an Officer of the Order of Canada, a recipient of the Saskatchewan Order of Merit and recipient of Lifetime Achievement awards from both the Indspire Awards and the Saskatchewan Arts Board. His paintings have illustrated children’s books written by David Bouchard, including The Song Within My Heart, which depicts Sapp’s childhood. This title won the Governor General’s Literary Award for its illustrations. He has also received an honourary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Regina. He passed away in December 2015.