Alanis Obomsawin: Abenaki filmmaker in Montreal (1932-) | Biography, Facts, Information, Career, Wiki, Life
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Alanis Obomsawin
Abenaki filmmaker in Montreal

Alanis Obomsawin

Alanis Obomsawin
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Abenaki filmmaker in Montreal
Is Film director Artist Actor Screenwriter Singer Songwriter
From Canada
Field Arts Film, TV, Stage & Radio Music
Gender female
Birth 31 August 1932, New Hampshire
Age 91 years
Alanis Obomsawin
The details (from wikipedia)


Alanis Obomsawin, OC GOQ (born August 31, 1932) is a Canadian filmmaker of Abenaki descent. Born in New Hampshire, and raised primarily in Quebec, she has written and directed many National Film Board of Canada documentaries on First Nations issues. Her best known documentary is Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance, about the 1990 siege at Oka, Quebec.

Film career

Obomsawin directed her first documentary for the NFB, Christmas at Moose Factory, in 1971. As of November 2016, she has directed 49 films with the NFB, with 50th film scheduled to be released shortly: a documentary film on a school in the community of Norway House Cree Nation in Northern Manitoba.

Her latest completed film is the 2016 documentary We Can't Make the Same Mistake Twice, exploring a human rights complaint filed against the Canadian government over discrimination against First Nation children, which had its world premiere on September 13 at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival. The film is the 49th that she has directed for the National Film Board of Canada—with her 50th, Norway House, in production.

Obomsawin's 2014 documentary Trick or Treaty? was the first film by an indigenous filmmaker to screen in the Masters programme at the Toronto International Film Festival. Obomsawin began conceptualizing the film in 2010 when she was invited by Stan Louttit, Grand Chief of the Mushkegowuk Council, to film a conference the band was hosting about Treaty No. 9.

Obomsawin's 2013 documentary Hi-Ho Mistahey!, about a teen First Nations education activist, premiered at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.

Her 2012 documentary The People of the Kattawapiskak River on the Attawapiskat housing crisis was conceived when Obomsawin was present in the community in 2011, working on another film for the NFB.

In 2010, she completed a short drama When All the Leaves are Gone, about her experiences attending public school in Quebec.

In 2009, she completed the documentary Professor Norman Cornett: "Since when do we divorce the right answer from an honest answer? looking at the dismissal of unorthodox McGill University religious studies lecturer Norman Cornett, which will have its world premiere at the Hot Docs film festival.

Obomsawin's recent credits include Gene Boy Came Home, about Aboriginal Vietnam War veteran Eugene Benedict. In 2006, she completed WABAN-AKI: People from Where the Sun Rises a look at the people and stories from her home reserve of Odanak. In 2005, Ms Obomsawin completed her short drama Sigwan, following a young girl who is aided by the animals of the forest. Her 2003 NFB documentary Our Nationhood, chronicles the determination and tenacity of the Listuguj Mi'gmaq First Nation to use and manage the natural resources of their traditional lands. The Mi’gmaq of Esgenoopetitj (Burnt Church), New Brunswick were the subject of her 2002 documentary, Is the Crown at war with us?, exploring a conflict with the Department of Fisheries and non-native fishers over fishing rights.

The 2000 NFB release Rocks at Whiskey Trench was Obomsawin's fourth film in her series about the 1990 Oka crisis. The first, Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance (1993), was a feature-length film documenting the 1990 Mohawk uprising in Kanehsatake and Oka, which has won 18 international awards. It was followed by My Name is Kahentiiosta (1995), a film about a young Kahnawake Mohawk woman who was arrested after the 78-day armed standoff, and Spudwrench – Kahnawake Man (1997), profiling Randy Horne, a high-steel worker from the Mohawk community of Kahnawake.

Obomsawin’s films also include: Incident at Restigouche (1984), a powerful depiction of the Quebec police raid of a Micmac reserve; Richard Cardinal: Cry from a Diary of a Métis Child (1986), the disturbing examination of an adolescent suicide; No Address (1988), a look at Montreal’s homeless; as well as Mother of Many Children (1977).

Obomsawin first came to the attention of the NFB in the mid-1960s, when she held fundraising concerts to pay for the construction of a swimming pool in Odanak. Children in her community were no longer able to swim in the Saint Francis River, but were not allowed to use a pool in a neighbouring community, which was for white residents only. Obomsawin's success in raising funds for a construction of a pool for Odanak children was the subject of a half-hour program CBC-TV, which was seen by NFB producers Joe Koenig and Bob Verrall.

"It was from there the National Film Board (NFB) saw it and I was invited by some producers to talk to some of the filmmakers there," said Obomsawin. "I discovered that they had a studio that only catered to [the] classroom, with educational film strips."

They invited the singer/storyteller to the Film Board to work as an advisor on a film about Aboriginal people. She went on to direct films of her own, while continuing to perform and fight for justice for her people.

Family history

Obomsawin was born in New Hampshire on Abenaki Territory. When she was six months old, her mother returned to the Odanak reserve north east of Montreal where she lived until she was 9. Théophile Panadis, her mother’s cousin, initiated her into the history of the Abenaki Nation and taught her many songs and legends. Obomsawin and her parents then left Odanak for Trois-Rivières, where they were the only Native family. Cut off, speaking little French and no English, Obomsawin held fast to the songs and stories she had learned on the reserve. She has one child, daughter Kisos Obomsawin, born in 1969.

Non-film work

In 1960, Obomsawin made her professional debut as a singer-songwriter in New York City. As a performer Obomsawin has toured Canada, the United States and Europe performing for humanitarian causes in universities, museums, prisons and art centres, as well as at folk art festivals. She also managed her own stage at the Mariposa Folk Festival in the 1960s. Her 1988 album Bush Lady featured traditional songs of the Abenaki people, as well as original compositions.

For over 25 years, Obomsawin has worked as an engraver and printmaker, with exhibitions in Canada and Europe. Mother and child imagery is prominent in her work, which also combines material from her own dreams with animal spirits and historical events. Her work was exhibited at the Maison Lacombe in Quebec in 2007.

Personal awards and honors

In November 2016, she received the Clyde Gilmour Award from the Toronto Film Critics Association, which called Obomsawin "a significant architect of Canadian cinema and culture." Also in 2016, she received two of Quebec’s highest honours when she received the prix Albert-Tessier for contributions to the cinema of Quebec in November, and was named a Grand Officer of the National Order of Quebec, in June of that year.

In October 2015, she received a lifetime achievement award from Chile's Valdivia International Film Festival. In February 2015, the Montreal-based arts peace advocacy group Artistes pour la paix presented her with its lifetime achievement award. In March of that year, she was among the first 35 people named to the inaugural Ordre des arts et des lettres du Québec.

Obomsawin was named an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada for 2013. In January of that year, the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television announced that Obomsawin would receive its Humanitarian Award for Exceptional Contributions to Community & Public Service, presented at the 2nd Canadian Screen Awards. At the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, she was a recipient of a Birks Diamond Tribute to the Year’s Women in Film.

In 2010, she was named to the Playback Canadian Film & Television Hall of Fame. In the spring of 2009, Obomsawin was honoured with a special retrospective at Hot Docs and received the festival's Hot Docs Outstanding Achievement Award. A retrospective her work was also held from May 14 to 26, 2008 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. That same month, she was honoured with the Governor General's Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, Canada's highest honour in the performing arts, at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

In March 2001, Obomsawin received a Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts. An Officer of the Order of Canada, Obomsawin’s many honours also include the Luminaria Tribute for Lifetime Achievement from the Santa Fe Film Festival, International Documentary Association’s Pioneer Award, the Toronto Women in Film and Television’s (TWIFT) Outstanding Achievement Award in Direction, the Canadian Native Arts Foundation National Aboriginal Achievement Award, and the Outstanding Contributions Award from the Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Association (CSAA). The latter marks the first time that the CSAA has honoured someone who is not an academic in the field of sociology and anthropology.

Obomsawin also received a fellowship from the Ontario College of Art, an Honorary Doctor of Letters from York University, an Honorary Doctor of Laws from Concordia University, an Honorary Doctor of Literature from Carleton University, an Honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Western Ontario (October 2007), Honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of British Columbia (May 2010), as well as an Honorary Doctor of Laws from Dalhousie University (April 2016). She has taught at the Summer Institute of Film and Television in Ottawa.

Obomsawin has chaired the Board of Directors of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal and sat on the Canada Council’s First People’s Advisory Board. She was also a board member of Studio 1, the NFB’s Aboriginal studio, and a former advisor to the New Initiatives in Film, a Studio D program for women of colour and women of the First Nations. As a member of the board of Aboriginal Voices, she was part of an initiative to obtain a radio licence for the organization. A lifetime member of the board of directors for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Obomsawin is also a member of the board for Vermont Public Television and National Geographic International.

Partial filmography

  • 1986 - Richard Cardinal: Cry from a Diary of a Métis Child - Director/Writer
  • 1993 - Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance - Director/Writer/Producer
  • 1995 - My Name is Kahentiiosta - Director/Writer/Producer
  • 1997 - Spudwrench – Kahnawake Man - Director/Writer/Producer
  • 2000 - Rocks at Whiskey Trench - Director/Writer/Producer
  • 2002 - Is the Crown At War With Us? - Director/Writer/Producer
  • 2003 - For John (dir. Dale Montour) - Producer
  • 2003 - Our Nationhood - Director/Writer/Producer
  • 2005 - Sigwan - Director/Writer/Producer
  • 2006 - Waban-Aki: People from Where the Sun Rises - Director/Writer/Producer
  • 2007 - Gene Boy Came Home - Director/Writer/Producer
  • 2012 - People of the Kattawapiskak River - Director/Writer/Producer
  • 2013 - Hi-Ho Mistahey! - Director/Writer/Producer
  • 2014 - Trick or Treaty? - Director/Writer/Producer
  • 2016 - We Can't Make the Same Mistake Twice
  • Upcoming - Norway House

Secondary literature

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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