Watch Q&A with Alanis Obomsawin as a part of our DAFilms Conversations series:
Few artists in recent years have influenced the way we think about Native Americans as much as documentary filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin. In several dozen of her films, which have won widespread critical acclaim at festivals all around the world, she re-evaluates Canadian national mythology and highlights the role that descendants of the Inuit, Cree, Métis, Mi’kmaq, Mohawks, or Ojibwe people play in it.
Obomsawin's ancestors were the Abenaki, and it was on Abenaki territory in New England where she was born in August 1932. She first raised awareness of her fellow Indigenous Canadians as a worker for the Community Education Center. She travelled around the country and introduced young people to the importance of Indigenous culture and history. Her songs, poems, and stories, which she used to try get the public in North America and Europe actively involved, also had an educational dimension to it. She has performed at universities, museums, and prisons in order to highlight systemic racism and the need for reform. In 1965, the television film Alanis was made about her, which described her efforts of staging a charity concert to help raise money for the construction of a swimming pool at the Odanak Reserve. The reason she started the initiative was because children from the reservation were not allowed to use white people’s sports facilities due to segregation. The documentary caught the attention of the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), a leading Canadian film institution where Obomsawin was later employed as a consultant on Indigenous issues. Joining the NFB in 1967 marked the beginning of her film career.
For nearly fifty years now, Alanis Obomsawin has been using her engaging and openly political films to call out systemic racism against First Nation peoples, the occupying of sacred land, and the Canadian government's involvement in human rights abuses. Several of her many films are considered among the greatest films produced in Canada, and continue to be held up as a model for documentary filmmaking the world over. She continues to ensure that the lives and concerns of these people are not masked from the light by authority and that the voices of Canada’s Indigenous people can be heard loud and clear.