CBC Digital Archives

Alanis Obomsawin the activist

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When the St. Francis River became too polluted for swimming, the Quebec town of Pierreville built a pool for its children. But kids from the adjacent Odanak reserve, who also used the river, weren't welcome at the pool. That drove Alanis Obomsawin, a daughter of the reserve who was making a living as a folksinger and hairstylist, to raise funds to build a pool for her people. In this 1966 profile on CBC-TV's Telescope, Obomsawin sings traditional songs, shares her memories of growing up and recalls the insults she endured when her family moved off the reserve.
• Alanis Obomsawin went on to become an acclaimed documentary filmmaker. Two filmmakers at the National Film Board had seen this 1966 Telescope profile and invited her to consult on a film they were making about activists. She then directed and wrote her first film for the NFB, the 13-minute 1971 documentary Christmas at Moose Factory.

• Obomsawin was born in New Hampshire in 1932. When she was six months old her family moved to the Odanak reserve near Sorel, Que. Théophile Panadis, the elderly man seen in this clip, was her mother's cousin and taught her the songs and stories of the Abenaki Nation. At age nine she was uprooted to Trois-Rivieres, Que. Having grown up speaking only the Abenaki language, she had to learn French and, as the only aboriginal child at school, was taunted and beaten regularly.

• As a young woman she learned English and trained as a beautician before moving to Montreal and becoming a folksinger and storyteller. Once she started to work with the NFB, she continued making films with a strong focus on social justice and aboriginal people. Her most acclaimed work was the 1993 documentary Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance, about the 1990 Oka crisis.

• In 2009 Obomsawin was selected to be honoured with a retrospective of her work and an outstanding achievement award from the Hot Docs documentary film festival in Toronto. 

Medium: Television
Program: Telescope
Broadcast Date: Feb. 10, 1966
Guest: Alanis Obomsawin
Host: Fletcher Markle
Duration: 22:51

Last updated: August 8, 2014

Page consulted on August 8, 2014

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