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Alanis Obomsawin

  • Mentor 2009
  • Alumni
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Former chair of the board of directors
Native Women's Shelter of Montreal

    Alanis Obomsawin, a member of the Abenaki Nation, is one of Canada's most distinguished documentary filmmakers. She began her career as a singer, writer and storyteller, but dove into filmmaking in 1967 with Christmas at Moose Factory, which she wrote and directed. Since then, she has made over 30 uncompromising documentaries on issues affecting Aboriginal people in Canada. For almost 40 years, she has directed documentaries at the National Film Board (NFB) with strong social content, inspired by the desire to let the voices of her people be heard.
    As a singer/songwriter, Alanis Obomsawin has toured Canada, the United States and Europe performing for humanitarian causes in universities, museums, prisons and art centres, and at folk art festivals. Her 1988 album Bush Lady features traditional songs of the Abenaki people, as well as original compositions.

    For over 25 years, she has worked as an engraver and print-maker, 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. She is the subject of the first-ever book on Native filmmakers, Alanis Obomsawin: The Vision of a Native Filmmaker, by Randolph Lewis, published in 2006 by the University of Nebraska Press. In May 2008, Alanis Obomsawin received a special retrospective 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.

    In 1983, she was made a member of the Order of Canada, in recognition of her dedication to the well-being of her people and the preservation of the First Nations' heritage through her filmmaking and activism. Her many honours 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 October 2007, Alanis Obomsawin received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Western Ontario. She has also been honoured with a fellowship from the Ontario College of Art, an Honorary Doctor of Letters from York University, an Honorary Doctor of Laws from Concordia University and an Honorary Doctor of Literature from Carleton University. She has taught at the Summer Institute of Film and Television in Ottawa.

    She 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, Alanis Obomsawin is also a Member of the Board for the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) in Vermont and National Geographic International.