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Alanis Obomsawin

Arts (1994)

As a child, Alanis Obomsawin learned the stories and legends of the Abeniki nation from her mother’s cousin. As a young woman, she retold these stories through song to audiences in Canada, Europe and America at museums, prisons, universities and folk festivals. Twenty-five years ago, Ms. Obomsawin was introduced to a new medium and since that time, she has used film to give an authentic and powerful voice to the Aboriginal people in Canada. Ms. Obomsawin was born in Lebanon, New Hampshire, but spent her early childhood on the Odanak reserve of the Abenaki nation, northeast of Montreal. In 1960, she launched a career as a singer in New York City, and for much of the sixties, traveled widely singing her own songs and those that she learned as a child. In 1967, National Film Board producers Wolf Koening and Bob Verall invited Ms. Obomsawin to serve as an advisor on a film about Aboriginal people. Though the NFB had produced films about Canada’s indigenous people, it was during this time that it was shifting its focus from recording Aboriginal society in a historical context to that of living culture. The first film that Ms. Obomsawin wrote and directed for the NFB, Christmas in Moose Factory (1971), brought the realities of Aboriginal culture to the rest of Canada. Since Moose Factory, Alanis has directed, produced or written 15 documentary films that reflect her dedication to the well-being and preservation of the cultural heritage of Canada’s Aboriginal people, including Incident at Restigouche (1984), Richard Cardinal: Cry from a Diary of a Metis Child (1986), Poundmaker Lodge: A Healing Place (1987) and Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance (1992). On every project, she provides training and employment opportunities for Aboriginal writers, performers, musicians and other film professionals. In 1983, Ms. Obomsawin received the Order of Canada, and in 1993 was presented with an honorary Doctorate of Laws from Concordia University. She is the president of the Native Women’s Shelter in Montreal. In 1992, she served on a special Aboriginal advisory committee to the Canada Council. Recently, she played a key role in the development of the New Initiatives in Film Program for Women of Colour and Women of First Nations at the NFB. Her film Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance won the Best Documentary Film at the 1993 Festival of Festivals. Alanis Obomsawin is recognized as one of Canada’s finest documentary filmmakers, and it is through her films that the language and stories and lives of Aboriginal people are portrayed with the dignity and authenticity that has long been their due.