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Tomson Highway

Award-Winning Indigenous Artist

A playwright, author, musician, and multilingual speaker Tomson Highway is an award-winning and multi-talented Aboriginal artist. Highway has also found time to complement these great accomplishments with his work as a social worker, native artistic director, adjunct professor, and world traveller.

Noelville, Ontario, Canada

Presentations

 Aboriginal literature
The place of Aboriginal literature and writing within the context of Canadian literature and writing as a whole, particularly within the last decade. And what Aboriginal writing has done not just for Aboriginal communities (particularly visa-vis, education) but for Canadian society as a whole.

Diversity in the workplace
The importance – the necessity – of diversity in the work-place. How it enriches and energizes the work-place, in the process, making Canadian society one of the most functional and healthy societies in the world.

Canadian drama both Native and non-native
The explosion of home-grown theatre on the Canadian, and Native-Canadian, scenes. What it has done both for Canadian society and for Aboriginal communities across the country.

Music
The remarkable (and unsung) importance of “musical literacy” in the life, and the work, of anyone and everyone, be they doctor, lawyer, or Indian Chief. The visionary “boost” it can give to any and all careers.

Native residential schools
Effectively “memoirs of a successful Native residential school survivor.” Or how I learned to stop complaining and celebrate my life.

Platform Plus

Panelist/In Conversation

Awards

2001
National Aboriginal Achievement Award

2000
Macleans | 100 most important people in Canadian history

1994
Order of Canada


  • Tomson was fabulous. The panel discussion went very well and exceeded my expectations. Our delegates got a lot out of it. Tomson, though, stole the show. He is being quoted all over CUPE because he stated” Union protect human dignity” This sentence made its way into our policy paper


    - CUPE
  • To him creating art-whether it is music or writing or painting-is an act of affirmation that 'is probably one of the greatest weapons' we have to save ourselves.

    - Globe and Mail

Summary Profile

Tomson Highway is the proud son of legendary caribou hunter and world championship dogsled racer, Joe Highway, and artist-in-her-own-right (as bead-worker and quilt-maker extraordinaire), Pelagie Highway. A full-blood Cree, he is a registered member of the Barren Lands First Nation, the village for which is called Brochet (pronounced “Bro-shay”) and which village is located in northern Manitoba where it meets Saskatchewan and what is now called Nunavut. Today, he writes novels, plays, and music for a living. Having studied music and English literature at the Universities of Manitoba (Winnipeg) and Western Ontario (London), as well as in England, he earned both his Bachelor of Music Honours (Piano Performance major, 1975) and the equivalent of a Bachelor of Arts (English major, 1976), both from “Western.”

For seven years, he immersed himself in the field of Native social work, working with children (and parents) from broken families, inmates in prisons, with cultural-educational programmes of one kind or another, with other Native social workers and activists, with Native visual artists, writers, healers, Elders, politicians, women, 2-Spirits, etc. For all this, he worked on reserves and in urban centres across Ontario and, later on, Canada, though he was based almost always at head offices in Toronto. Then he turned 30 and decided it was time to put all this extraordinary artistic training and this extraordinary Native social work experience together – he started writing music, plays, and, later, novels.

After many years working in the Toronto theatre, he achieved international recognition with his sixth play, the multi-award-winning “THE REZ SISTERS.” This was followed in 1989 by its companion play, the even more successful “DRY LIPS OUGHTA MOVE TO KAPUSKASING,” which not only was nominated for and won numerous awards but was the first Canadian play in the history of Canadian theatre ever to receive a full production and extended run at Toronto’s legendary Royal Alexandra Theatre (1990).

A playwright, author, musician, and multilingual speaker (Cree, French & English), Highway has also found time to complement these great accomplishments with his work as a social worker, native artistic director, adjunct professor, and world traveller.

Throughout his life, Highway has overcome incredible obstacles to find himself where he is today. He lived through the residential school system, faced prejudice, and struggled to have his work recognized. Along the way, he relied on music and art to heal and inspire himself and others around him.

A member of the Order of Canada and the recipient of five honorary doctorates, Highway has shaped the development of aboriginal theatre in both Canada and around the world. He is clearly one of Canada’s foremost aboriginal and creative voices.