The Children Have to Hear Another Story: Alanis Obomsawin
Alanis Obomsawin filming Richard Cardinal: Cry from a Diary of a Métis Child, 1986. Courtesy National Film Board of Canada and the artist.

The Children Have to Hear Another Story: Alanis Obomsawin

Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, BC - To Aug 7

by Robin Laurence

At the April 7 opening of this solo exhibition, Alanis Obomsawin, the Abenaki filmmaker, visual artist, singer, songwriter, storyteller and activist, projected a youthful energy and enthusiasm that belied her age. (She will be 91 in August.) She seemed, too, to be surrounded by an aura of accomplishment, acclaimed as she is for her groundbreaking achievements as an NFB documentarian, her commitment to education, her social justice advocacy, and the voice she has given to Indigenous peoples over the decades.

Co-curated by Richard Hill and Hila Peleg, The Children Have to Hear Another Story surveys Obomsawin’s multi-disciplinary career from the 1960s to the present, with a special focus on her films but also including prints, drawings, educational materials and archival papers. The show’s title cites a resolution the artist made as a teenager: that children across all cultures and backgrounds needed to hear the stories of Indigenous peoples as a counter-narrative to the racist and hate-filled beliefs promulgated by the education system and popular culture of that time. Obomsawin herself had suffered extreme bullying and abuse as the only Indigenous student in her Trois-Rivières public school class. “I thought, if the children could hear the stories that I hear,” she told Hill and Peleg, “maybe they would be behaving differently.”

Through this show, we come to understand how Obomsawin has been able to achieve what she did; we also become aware of the changes her art and activism have helped to bring about. Her subjects range from the roles of women in Indigenous communities to the suicide of a Métis boy, the Kanehsatake Resistance at Oka, Quebec, an Indigenous healing lodge in Edmonton, and the great Haida artist Bill Reid. No matter how bright or dark her subjects seem to be, Obomsawin’s love of her people and their stories pulses throughout. “Our people are so beautiful,” she tells us. “I know that if you hear and see them, you will realize the knowledge they bring to the rest of the world.”

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