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Abenaki filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin to receive prestigious award for 'outstanding contribution'

A black and white photo of a woman looking down and smiling.
Scott Stevens
/
MacDowell, Courtesy
Alanis Obomsawin will receive the prestigious MacDowell Medal for her filmmaking.

For the first time, the New Hampshire-based MacDowell program is honoring an artist from the Wabanaki lands where the residency takes place.

In 1990, Abenaki filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin heard the news about an armed standoff at Oka, on Mohawk lands, between protestors, Quebec police and the Canadian army.

She documented the conflict in her 1993 award-winning film Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance. It's one of the 56 films Obomsawin has made with the National Film Board of Canada.

“I felt it's my duty, it has to be documented by one of us, what’s going to happen here," Obomsawin says in a trailer for the film.

Now Obomsawin’s contributions as a filmmaker are being honored with an Edward MacDowell Medal. It's the award's 63rd year, and in the past it's gone to people such as Toni Morrison, Georgia O'Keeffe and Robert Frost for their "outstanding contribution to their field."

“I am very honored,” Obomsawin said. “Obviously, these are people who have accomplished quite a lot and it is a distinct pleasure to be counted among such a magnificent group.”

Bird Runningwater, a member of the panel selecting this year's MacDowell Medal awardee, called Obomsawin the "Grand Dame of the Indigenous film world and the documentary field."

"Obomsawin’s exemplary 52-year body of work uplifting Indigenous stories and triumph inspired us with compelling and unequivocal enthusiasm to award her with the 2023 Edward MacDowell Medal," Runningwater said. "Even more special is that Alanis Obomsawin descends from the Abenaki People, and MacDowell’s residency program takes place in Wabanaki, the Dawnland, on the traditional homelands of the Western Abenaki. This marks the first time MacDowell honors someone from the Indigenous lands where the residency has historically taken place.”

More fromBrave Little State: Odanak First Nation's Mali Obomsawin tells Indigenous stories through music

Obomsawin was born in New Hampshire and lived for a time on reserve at Odanak First Nation, based in southern Quebec.

In addition to being the first Abenaki artist to receive the award, she’s also the first female filmmaker.

MacDowell will present the award to Obomsawin in July.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send digital producer and reporter Elodie Reed a message:

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Elodie is a reporter and producer for Vermont Public. She previously worked as a multimedia journalist at the Concord Monitor, the St. Albans Messenger and the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, and she's freelanced for The Atlantic, the Christian Science Monitor, the Berkshire Eagle and the Bennington Banner. In 2019, she earned her MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Southern New Hampshire University.