May 22nd to 24th marks Aboriginal Awareness Week in Canada. Celebrated annually, this week offers Canadians an opportunity to learn more about the history of Canada as well as Aboriginal culture today. Buffy Saint-Marie, Tomson Highway, and Adam Beach are three Aboriginal Canadians today who are internationally recognized for their respective work in music, writing and acting.
In 1970 she wrote and sang the title song for the movie “Soldier Blue” which vividly and unapologetically depicted Native American genocide at the hands of the colonial Americans. The New York Times called the movie “among the most significant, brutal, liberating, and honest American films ever made”. Unfortunately the movie was quickly removed from theatres due to its “controversial nature.” Most recently, Buffy Saint-Marie was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame and released her eighteenth studio album “Running for the Drum” for which she was awarded her third Juno.
Tomson Highway is a celebrated Canadian Cree playwright, novelist and children’s author. He has been awarded 8 honorary degrees, a National Aboriginal Achievement Award, and was the first Aboriginal writer to be given the Order of Canada. The inspiration for much of Highway’s work comes from his traumatic experience in the Residential School System where he was sexually abused as well as the stories of those he worked with as a Social Worker on reserves across the country.
Highway has been called Canada’s foremost voice in Aboriginal Theatre. His first play, The Rez Sisters speaks about the two opposing forces shaping Aboriginal women’s lives, modern and traditional, and was nominated for a Governor General’s Award. In addition to writing plays, Tomson has published three children’s books including Caribou Song, which was selected as one of the Top 10 Children’s Books by the Globe and Mail in 2001. Caribou Song tells the story of three young Cree brothers and their magical experience with the caribou they are following. Today Highway is at work on his second novel.
Adam Beach is a Canadian Saulteaux actor best known for his performances in North 60, Flags of our Fathers and Arctic Air. Beach has won three Best Actor awards from the American Indian Film Festival, the First American in the Arts, and the San Diego World Film Festival. In 2008 Beach was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for his work in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.
As one of the most recognizable Canadians in television and theatre today, Beach is also active in politics and in 2006 ran for the leadership of his Lake Manitoba First Nation. In an interview with Canadian Living, Beach commented on how few Aboriginal actors there are, “It’s time for the stories of Indians to be told by their own people.” Last year Beach played the title role in “Tommy Prince: Devil with a Heart” about First-Nations war hero Tommy Prince who gained reputation as one of Canada’s most celebrated soldiers in World War II and the Korean War.
Over the next four days, National Aboriginal Awareness Week is a time for all Canadians to reflect and celebrate the culture and achievements of Aboriginal peoples.