The life and works of Shirley Cheechoo

With the beginning of the 2015-16 school year also came the announcement that the next chancellor of Brock University would be Shirley Cheechoo. Cheechoo is an artist, actor, director, writer and social activist of Canadian Cree Heritage.

It’s a huge ideological step for Brock University to select an artist in comparison to the long history of chancellors who have been businessmen, lawyers and doctors, primarily. Although, Brock’s previous chancellors have included Dr. Raymond Moriyama, an architect, and Dr. Charles A. Sankey, a symphony musician, music lover and scientist.

Not only is she the first career artist to be chosen but she will also be the first female chancellor and the first chancellor who is identified as Aboriginal.

In honour of her appointment scheduled for October 17, let’s take a look at some of the works and achievements of Shirley Cheechoo.

Shirley Cheechoo’s big break into the acting industry came in 1984 when she was cast to act on the show “Spirit’s Bay”, an Aboriginal family television show by the CBC that focused on the lives of townsfolk on an Ojibwe reservation tocheechoown. This role later led her to her 1997 role on the CBC’s show “The Rez”, which chronicled life in a First Nations community.

Cheechoo first began her theatre career with the play Path With No Moccasins in 1991. This play later lead Cheechoo further into the theatre industry with the plays Tangled Sheets” in 1994 and Your Dream Was Mine in 2005.

Her works in the film industry began with her directorial debut in the 1998 short film Silent Tears, which she also wrote, that played at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival. This led her into her lengthy and celebrated career in film directing and writing. She later wrote and directed the full length feature film,

Backroads in 2000 and her successful film career was well under way. Among other achievements, Cheechoo was also the first woman ofFirst Nation descent who wrote, directed, produced and acted in a full length feature film in Canadian history. Over the course of her career, she has been involved in the production of eight films, the most recent being Moose River Crossing in 2013, which she both wrote and directed.

Artistic achievements aside, Cheechoo is also a proud advocate for the equal treatment of Aboriginal peoples in Canada. This can be seen in her many artistic endeavours, which largely involve her own life stories and struggles as she has had to fight to keep her Cree heritage alive. She mentors other Native artists, visiting schools and communities and holding workshops for young artists. To that end, she also is a co-owner of Kasheese Studios art gallery, is the president of Spoken Song film production company and also founded the Weengushk Film Institute on Manitoulin Island for independent filmmakers.

Cheecho is also an activist, fighting against the inequitable treatment of Aboriginals that seems to be addressed by the Canadian government ineffectually. She believes that must continue to fight for a level playing field and not just accept the slow rate at which progress is currently being made.

Cheechoo’s life and works have yielded to her many opportunities to be awarded for her achievements. She is among Canada’s most well-known and respected artists, something that she definitely has earned. She was also awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award in the area of art by the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation in February of 2008, and she was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Award in 2013 to recognize her outstanding commitment to education.

Brock University has made an excellent choice for their next Chancellor. Cheechoo is a wonderful symbol of Brock University’s devotion to social work and artistic development as well as their commitment to creating an equitable Canada as a whole.

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