Shirley Cheechoo honoured with 2022 OAC Indigenous Arts Award
Shirley Cheechoo is the recipient of the 2022 Ontario Arts Council Indigenous Arts Award. This award, created in 2012, celebrates the work of Indigenous artists and arts leaders who have made significant contributions to the arts in Ontario.
In recognition of this honour, Shirley will receive $10,000, a framed certificate and an Indigenous-designed blanket. The award will be presented on Sunday, July 10, during this year’s edition of the Weengushk International Film Festival, which Shirley founded, taking place in Aundeck Omni Kaning on Manitoulin Island.
About Shirley Cheechoo
- Shirley Cheechoo grew up immersed in her Cree culture on the eastern shores of James Bay, before being taken into the residential school system. Those experiences – along with her frustration with the many challenges faced by Indigenous people and communities in Ontario and Quebec – inspired her to create change through theatre, film and television.
- In 1984, she co-founded the Debajehmujig Theatre Group. Dedicated to representing an Indigenous worldview and reflecting the reality of Indigenous life, the organization continues to produce a variety of works, while also training artists and cultural animators, and supporting community development in northern Ontario.
- Shirley gained national attention as a playwright, notably for her theatre work Path with No Moccasins, based on her residential school experience.
- Shirley began directing films in 1998, and her directorial debut, the short film Silent Tears, was screened at the Sundance Film Festival. It was also awarded the Telefilm Canada and Television Northern Canada Award for Best Canadian Aboriginal Language Program.
- Since then, she has written, directed and/or produced 11 films, including feature films, shorts and documentaries. She also completed training with the Canadian Film Centre, the Sundance Institute and the Banff Centre.
- In 2002, Shirley founded the Weengushk Film Institute (WFI), the only Indigenous-led media arts training organization in Canada. What began as a series of community-based weekend workshops has grown into a four-year training and creation program for aspiring, emerging and professional artists alike.
- Shirley’s most recent initiative is the Weengushk International Film Festival. Taking place each summer on Manitoulin Island, it spotlights films that emphasize Indigenous voices, human rights, social issues and the environment.
- She has received numerous awards – both for her own artistic work, and in recognition of her contributions to arts practice throughout Ontario. These include a National Aboriginal Achievement Award (now the Indspire Awards) (2008), the Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts (2012), the Reelworld Film Festival Visionary Award (2020) and the Women in Film and TV Toronto Special Jury Award of Distinction (2021).
- Shirley served as Chancellor of Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont. from 2015 to 2020 – the first woman and the first Indigenous Canadian to hold this position. She was named a member of the Order of Canada in 2018 and holds an honorary doctorate of letters from Laurentian University.
The assessors were unanimous in choosing Shirley Cheechoo as the 2022 laureate. As they stated, “With her distinguished career and outstanding impact, this is Shirley’s time to be honoured. She has achieved international reach with her artistic works, while also pouring herself into community work with generosity and selflessness. Her amazing work passing on skills to the next generation through the WFI is especially noteworthy.”
Emerging Artist Laureate
The Ontario Arts Council Indigenous Arts Award also honours emerging arts leadership: each year, the award recipient is invited to nominate a rising Indigenous artist or arts leader to receive a $2,500 prize. Shirley has selected writer and producer Carla Robinson as this year’s emerging laureate.
About Carla Robinson
- Carla Robinson is Haisla and Heiltsuk and grew up in Bella Bella and Kitamaat Village in British Columbia. She is now based in Six Nations, Ont.
- Carla was one of the first Indigenous journalists to become a national news anchor in Canada, working with CBC Toronto from 1998 to 2012. She also hosted various documentary programs for APTN, including All Our Relations.
- Carla now develops film and TV projects through her company Wassum Productions Inc. In 2020, she was a producer on the feature film Monkey Beach, and also served as a creative consultant on the television series Trickster.
- Carla holds an Advanced Diploma in Film and Television from Sheridan College, a Master’s degree in Journalism from the University of Western Ontario, and an Honours Bachelor degree in Mass Communications from Carleton University.
About the Award