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Honorary degree citation - Alanis Obomsawin

By: Thomas Waugh, June 1993

Mr. Rector, we have the honour to present to you Alanis Obomsawin, one of our most honoured multi-disciplinary artists and activists. A member of the Abenaki nation, Ms. Obomsawin has devoted her creative talents as a singer and filmmaker to documenting the lives, cultures, and struggles of First Nations Canadians.

Alanis Obomsawin a commencé à chanter dans les années 60 lors de tournées en Amérique du Nord et en Europe. Le point culminant de sa carrière musicale est certes la sortie de son album Bush Lady dans les années 80. La clarté et la puissance de sa voix continuent de séduire le public.

In the 1960s Alanis began to work at the National Film Board of Canada which was beginning to explore our Native heritage and the potential of using film as an agent for social change. Soon a director in her own right, Alanis' films began to appear: Christmas at Moose Factory (1971), Amisk (1977), Mother of Many Children (1977), the 1979 television series Sounds from our People; and, in 1984, one of her most distinguished films, Incident at Restigouche, an account of the confrontation between the Micmacs of the Restigouche region and the Sureté du Québec over fishing rights - an ironic questioning of the meaning of self-determination in Québec. Her next film was Richard Cardinal: Cry from the Diary of a Métis Child in 1986; Poundmaker's Lodge: A Healing Place, a 1987 tribute to the struggle against alcoholism through Native spiritual traditions. The 1988 No Address was closer to home - a portrait of homeless Native people on the streets of Montréal and a denunciation of the welfare system that perpetuates their despair.

Ms. Obomsawin was at Kanesatake in the summer of 1990. Her much anticipated documentary film on this historic challenge to our vision as Canadians and Quebeckers is about to be released as the fitting climax to a long and fruitful career, one which is far from over. Les films d'Alanis Obomsawin ont fait récemment l'objet d'une rétrospective organisée par le Musée des beaux-arts du Canada. Son oeuvre cinématographique se caractérise par une esthétique discrète et sans prétention, par une authentique et profonde émotion et par le recours à un langage filmique qui jette un éclairage direct sur les injustices occultées, imprégnant ses documentaires d'une force invisible.

Alanis Obomsawin is a respected and appreciated member of the First Nations community who has made contributions at the international, national and local levels. She is the founding president of the Montréal Native Women's Shelter; an Honourary Patron of Waseskun Native Halfway House; a valued supporter of the Montréal Native Friendship Centre; and Advisory Board member of the National Film Board's First Nations Studio and Studio D's New Initiatives in Film for Women of Colour and Women of the First Nations. But the extensive contribution she has made on these and many other Boards, Commissions and Programmes is small in comparison to her role in encouraging, teaching, mentoring and providing access for young First Nations artists singers, filmmakers, painters, musicians; her support and concern for First Nations' children, elders and those at risk - battered women, inmates, the homeless; her generosity, humanity and commitment.

Mr. Rector, it is a privilege to present to you, on behalf of the Senate and by the authority of the Board of Governors, Alanis Obomsawin also known as "Ko-li-la-wato", she who makes us happy - so that you may confer on her the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa. Chi' meegwetch.

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