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Shoshana Wasser

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Choreographer, dancer and community arts practitioner Penny Couchie honoured with the 2023 Ontario Arts Council Indigenous Arts Award

August 24, 2023

Penny Couchie
Penny Couchie is the recipient of the 2023 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, Penny will receive $10,000, a framed certificate and an Indigenous-designed blanket.

The award will be presented on Friday, August 25, at the Big Medicine Studio on Nipissing First Nation, during the end-of-term celebration for the 2023 Aanmitaagzi Summer Arts Program. In this program, Indigenous youth aged 15 to 30 receive training from Indigenous arts professionals in areas such as storytelling and creation, performing arts (acting, dance, music), visual and installation art, and customary Indigenous arts practices and cultural teachings.


Penny Couchie is an arts leader, dancer, actor, choreographer and community-engaged artist of Anishinaabe ancestry from Nipissing First Nation. For more than three decades, she has been committed to developing excellence within her own artistry, while also supporting and providing opportunities for others.

                         Penny Couch 2016 Dance Award Winner
from the 2016 K.M. Hunter Artist Awards 
Courtesy of the K.M. Hunter Charitable Foundation and Bernie Laroux.

She is the co-artistic director of Aanmitaagzi – an Indigenous multidisciplinary arts organization based in her home community. Aanmitaagzi – which means “he or she speaks” – was co-founded by Penny and her partner, Sid Bobb, to foster a return to art-making in the everyday lives of the community. Today, the organization combines art-making, education, professional development and social activism through contemporary and customary arts, nurturing historic Indigenous arts practices and exploring how these practices can be carried forward in a meaningful contemporary context.
Dances of Resistance - Year One
Video of Dances of Resistance,
Aanmitaagzi’s multi-year intergenerational
community-engaged arts project

Penny is an accomplished performer, having toured nationally and internationally both as a dancer and as an actor performing in principal roles. She also has extensive experience in choreography, direction and production. Recent choreography highlights include Misdemeanor Dream (in collaboration with Spiderwoman Theater at LaMama, New York, N.Y., 2022), The Unnatural and Accidental Woman (co-production by the National Arts Centre English Theatre and Indigenous Theatre, Ottawa, 2019), The Serpent People (presented at The Citadel, Toronto, 2017), Material Witness (in collaboration with Spiderwoman Theater at LaMama, New York, N.Y., 2016), and When Will You Rage? (for Planet IndigenUS, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto, 2015).

Serpent People at The Citadel 2017
Video of The Serpent People
Performed by Aanmitaagzi at The Citadel (Toronto)

Penny trained as a dancer and instructor at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre and earned an Honours Bachelor of Arts in Aboriginal studies and drama from the University of Toronto. From 1998 to 2003, she participated in the Aboriginal Dance Project at the Banff Centre for the Arts as a student, choreographer and teacher.    

Over the past 20 years, Penny has guest-taught at schools throughout Canada and the United States – including at the Centre for Indigenous Theatre, where she has been a faculty member and choreographer since 1998. From 2002 to 2010, she was also co-director of Earth in Motion, which produced seven Aboriginal choreographers’ workshops in Toronto. 

In 2016, Penny received the K.M. Hunter Artist Award for Dance – recognizing an Ontario artist for their original artistic voice within an artistic tradition. 


The assessors were unanimous in choosing Penny Couchie as the 2023 laureate. As they stated, “Throughout her career, Penny has nurtured deep, long-lasting and rich partnerships which have benefited the Indigenous community in both Nipissing and Toronto. She is an inspirational leader and artist, whose grounded approach to dance and creation centres community in all her projects.”


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. Penny has selected multidisciplinary and land artist Paige Linklater-Wong as this year’s emerging laureate.


Paige Linklater-Wong is a member of Attawapiskat First Nation and Waskaganish First Nation. She grew up in Moosonee, Ontario, and now resides in North Bay.

Paige’s arts practice explores relationships with the land, water, animals and Indigenous folklore. This includes her work as part of the Mushkegowuk Arts Collective, which helps raise awareness of the importance of the James Bay wetlands.

Paige has contributed to several Aanmitaagzi stage performances, including by co-authoring stories and scripts, and assisting in the creation of set pieces. 

Paige earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Nipissing University, majoring in Native studies and minoring in fine arts. She then received a Masters of Environmental Studies at Nipissing University in 2022. Paige is also a proud mother to two children.
Birch Woman by Paige Linklater-Wong
          Birch Woman by Paige Linklater-Wong         


The Ontario Arts Council Indigenous Arts Award is a $12,500 award program: $10,000 is awarded to the laureate, $2,500 to the emerging artist or arts leader. 

Jurors for the 2023 award were visual artist Mary Anne Barkhouse (Minden), theatre creator Sarah Gartshore (Sudbury) and composer, performer and sound designer Olivia Shortt (Toronto). 

Previous laureates include Shirley Cheechoo (2022), Barbara Nolan (2021) and Mary Anne Barkhouse (2020). Click here for a full list of past recipients