|Photo: Richard Stamelman|
Ms. Obomsawin was born in Lebanon, New Hampshire. Her parents moved back to Odanak, the Abenaki reservation northeast of Montreal, when she was six months old and then, when she was nine, relocated to Trois Rivières, a town 30 miles to the north. Growing up in Three Rivers was challenging. Ms. Obomsawin spoke only Abenaki and, as the only Native child in her French-speaking Catholic school, she had, nearly everyday, to face racist insults and physical attacks. "I made my stand there," she later told an interviewer.
And "making a stand," as well as standing up for the sovereign rights of First Nations peoples, has been the achievement of her life's career: first, as a professional singer and storyteller of traditional Abenaki tales and then as a filmmaker and social activist. Since 1967 as a staff member of the National Film Board of Canada in Montreal she has made over twenty internationally acclaimed films. The Canadian government has honored her with its highest award, the prestigious Order of Canada. From Edmonton to James Bay, from Montreal to New Brunswick she has filmed—with passion, empathy, compassion, and fairness—the acts of resistance by which Native tribes, like the Cree, the Abenaki, the Mi'kmaq, and the Mohawk, have struggled to proclaim their ancient rights to land and water against efforts by the federal and provincial governments to annul those rights.
In order to make her most famous and most honored film—Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance (1993)—and the three subsequent films that grew out of the over 250 hours of footage she had filmed, Ms. Obomsawin lived among the Mohawk activists who in 1989, to protest the construction of a golf course on their sacred land, stood their ground for seventy-eight days against the provincial police of Quebec and then the Canadian army. The protesters and Ms. Obomsawin were threatened with acts of violence and by the real possibility that the standoff would end in a massacre. The film won the award for the "Best Canadian Feature Film" at the 1993 Toronto Film Festival.
Last Updated: 2/17/12