For her unstinting dedication to chronicling the lives and concerns of First Nations people and exploring issues of importance to all Alanis Obomsawin has been selected by TheWIFTS Foundation to receive the 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award (Film).
Alanis Obomsawin, a member of the Abenaki Nation, is one of Canada's most distinguished filmmakers. For over four decades, she has directed documentaries at the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) that chronicle the lives and concerns of First Nations people and explore issues of importance to all.
Ms. Obomsawin's latest film is the 2013 NFB documentary Hi-Ho Mistahey!, which takes viewers into the heart of Shannen's Dream, a national campaign to provide fair access to education for First Nations youth.
Alanis Obomsawin was born in New Hampshire on Abenaki Territory. When she was 6 months old, her mother returned to the Odanak reserve north east of Montreal where Alanis lived until she was 9. Théophile Panadis, her mother's cousin, initiated Alanis 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.
Obomsawin began her career as a singer, writer and storyteller, and made her professional debut as a singer in New York City (1960). When Canada's National Film Board producers Joe Koenig and Bob Verrall saw Obomsawin on TV, they invited her to work as an advisor on an NFB film about Aboriginal people. Obomsawin dove into filmmaking in 1967 with Christmas at Moose Factory, which she wrote and directed even as she continued to perform and fight for justice for her people.
Since then, Obomsawin has made more than 30 uncompromising documentaries on issues affecting Aboriginal people in Canada. Her other films include: Incident at Restigouche (1984); Richard Cardinal: Cry from a Diary of a Métis Child (1986); No Address (1988); Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance (1993); My Name is Kahentiiosta (1995); Spudwrench – Kahnawake Man (1997); Is the Crown at war with us? (2002), a powerful and painstakingly researched look at the conflict over fishing rights; Our Nationhood (2003), which chronicles the tenacity of the Listuguj Mi'gmaq people to use and manage the natural resources of their traditional lands; and the award-winning feature documentary Waban-Aki: People from Where the Sun Rises (2006); among many other powerful and insightful productions.
Obomsawin's many honors include the Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts, the Luminaria Tribute for Lifetime Achievement from the Santa Fe Film Festival, the 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.
In 2002, Obomsawin was named an Officer of the Order of Canada, following her investiture as a Member of the Order of Canada in 1983.
In September 2010, Ms. Obomsawin was inducted to the Canadian Film and Television Hall of Fame. In 2008, she was honored with the Governor General's Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, and in May of that same year, she was the subject of a special retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
On November 16, 2013, the Royal Society of Canada announced that Alanis Obomsawin would be its Honorary Fellow for 2013. Also in November, the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television named Obomsawin as the recipient of its Humanitarian Award (Film and TV) for Exceptional Contributions to Community and Public Service, to be presented in March 2014 at the 2014 Canadian Screen Awards.
Courtesy of National Film Board of Canada. Photo credit: Linda Dawn Hammond