|Born||6 December 1951|
|Occupation||Playwright, novelist, children's author, pianist|
|Alma mater||University of Western Ontario|
|Notable works||The Rez Sisters , Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing , Kiss of the Fur Queen|
|Notable awards||Dora Mavor Moore Award, Floyd S. Chalmers Award|
Tomson Highway, CM (born 6 December 1951)is an Indigenous Canadian playwright, novelist, and children's author. He is best known for his plays The Rez Sisters and Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing , both of which won him the Dora Mavor Moore Award and the Floyd S. Chalmers Award.
Highway has also published a novel, Kiss of the Fur Queen (1998), which is based on the events that led to his brother René Highway's death of AIDS.He also has the distinction of being the librettist of the first Cree language opera, The Journey or Pimooteewin.
Tomson Highway was born north of Brochet, Manitoba in 1951to Pelagie Highway, a bead-worker and quilt-maker, and Joe Highway, a caribou hunter and champion dogsled racer. Cree is his first language. He is related to actor/playwright Billy Merasty.When he was six, he was taken from his family and sent to Guy Hill Indian Residential School, returning home only during the summer months until he was fifteen.
Despite the terrible experiences of many children forced to attend residential schools, Highway has said that "Nine of the happiest years of my life I spent it at that school," crediting it with teaching him English and to play piano, and saying that "There are many very successful people today that went to those schools and have brilliant careers and are very functional people, very happy people like myself. I have a thriving international career, and it wouldn't have happened without that school."
He obtained his B.A. in Honours Music in 1975 and his B.A. in English in 1976, both from the University of Western Ontario.While working on his degree, he met playwright James Reaney. For seven years, Highway worked as a social worker on reserves across Canada, and was involved in creating and organizing several indigenous music and arts festivals. Subsequently, he turned the knowledge and experience gained by working in these places into novels and plays that have won him widespread recognition across Canada and around the world.
In 1986, he published the multiple-award-winning play The Rez Sisters . The Rez Sisters became a hit across Canada and went on to the Edinburgh International Festival in 1988. In 1989, he published Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing , which received the distinction of the being the first Canadian play to receive a full production at Toronto's Royal Alexandra Theatre. Both of these plays focus on the native community on a fictional reserve of Wasychigan Hill on Manitoulin Island. The Rez Sisters depicts seven women of the community planning a trip to the "BIGGEST BINGO IN THE WORLD" in Toronto and features a male trickster, called Nanabush; while Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing depicts the men's interest in ice hockey and features a female trickster. Rose , written in 2000, is the third play in the heptalogy, featuring characters from both of the previous plays.
He was artistic director of Native Earth Performing Arts in Toronto from 1986 to 1992,as well as De-ba-jeh-mu-jig theatre group in Wikwemikong.
Frustrated with difficulties presented by play production, Highway turned his focus to a novel called Kiss of the Fur Queen .The novel presents an uncompromising portrait of the sexual abuse of Native children in residential schools and its traumatic consequences. Like his plays, Kiss of the Fur Queen won a number of awards and spent several weeks on top of Canadian bestseller lists.
After a hiatus from playwriting, Highway wrote Ernestine Shuswap Gets Her Trout in 2005. Set in 1910, the play revolves around the visit of the "Big Kahoona of Canada" (then Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier) to the Thompson River Valley.
In 2010, Highway re-published The Rez Sisters and Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing in Cree. Highway stated that "the Cree versions [...] are actually the original versions. As it turns out, the original ones that came out 20 years ago were the translation."
His most recent work, The (Post) Mistress , premiered as a cabaret titled Kisageetin in 2009before being developed into a full musical, which has since been staged across Canada in both English and French versions. A soundtrack album for the play was released in 2014, and garnered a Juno Award nomination for Indigenous Album of the Year at the Juno Awards of 2015.
He currently divides his time between residences in Noelville, Ontarioand in France with Raymond Lalonde, his partner of 29 years.
Highway has been awarded nine honorary degrees, from Brandon University, the University of Winnipeg, the University of Western Ontario (London), the University of Windsor, Laurentian University (Sudbury, Ontario), Lakehead University (Thunder Bay, Ontario), l'Universite de Montreal, University of Manitoba, and the University of Toronto. In addition, he holds two "equivalents" of such honours: from The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto and The National Theatre School in Montreal.
In 1994, he was made a member of the Order of Canada. In 1998, Maclean's named him as one of the 100 most important people in Canadian history. In 2001, he received a National Indigenous Achievement Award, now the Indspire Awards, in the field of arts and culture.
Although Highway is considered one of Canada's most important playwrights,in recent years both theatre critics and Highway himself have noted a significant gap between his reputation and the relative infrequency of his plays actually being staged by theatre companies. According to Highway, theatres frequently face or perceive difficulty in finding a suitable cast of First Nations actors, but are reluctant to take the risk of casting non-Indigenous performers due to their sensitivity around accusations of cultural appropriation, with the result that the plays are often simply passed over instead. In 2011, director Ken Gass mounted a production of The Rez Sisters at Toronto's Factory Theatre. As part of an ongoing research project into the effects of colour-blind casting on theatre, he staged two readings of the play — one with an exclusively First Nations cast and one with a colour-blind cast of actors from a variety of racial backgrounds — before mounting a full colour-blind stage production.
Northern Ontario is a primary geographic and quasi-administrative region of the Canadian province of Ontario, the other primary region being Southern Ontario. Most of the core geographic region is located on part of the Superior Geological Province of the Canadian Shield, a vast rocky plateau located mainly north of Lake Huron, the French River, Lake Nipissing, and the Mattawa River. The statistical region extends south of the Mattawa River to include all of the District of Nipissing. The southern section of this district lies on part of the Grenville Geological Province of the Shield which occupies the transitional area between Northern and Southern Ontario. The extended federal and provincial quasi-administrative regions of Northern Ontario have their own boundaries even further south in the transitional area that vary according to their respective government policies and requirements. Ontario government departments and agencies such as the Growth Plan for Northern Ontario and the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation define Northern Ontario as all areas north of, and including, the districts of Parry Sound and Nipissing for political purposes, while the federal government, but not the provincial, also includes the district of Muskoka.
Kapuskasing is a town on the Kapuskasing River in the Cochrane District of Northern Ontario, Canada, approximately 92 kilometres (57 mi) east of Hearst. The town was known as MacPherson until 1917, when the name was changed so as not to conflict with another railway stop in Manitoba.
Daniel David Moses was a First Nations poet and playwright from Canada.
René Highway (1954–1990) was an Aboriginal Canadian dancer and actor of Cree descent from Brochet, Manitoba. He was the brother of playwright Tomson Highway, with whom he frequently collaborated during their time at Native Earth Performing Arts in Toronto, and the partner of actor and singer Micah Barnes.
Native Earth Performing Arts is a Canadian theatre company located in Toronto, Ontario. Founded in 1982, Native Earth is Canada's oldest professional Indigenous theatre company. Native Earth is dedicated to developing, producing and presenting professional artistic expressions of the Indigenous experience in Canada.
Theatre Passe Muraille is a theatre company in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing is a play by Tomson Highway, which premiered in 1989 at Theatre Passe-Muraille in Toronto.
The Rez Sisters is a two-act play by Cree Canadian writer Tomson Highway, first performed on November 26, 1986, by Act IV Theatre Company and Native Earth Performing Arts.
Kiss of the Fur Queen is a novel by Tomson Highway. It was first published by Doubleday Canada in September 1998.
Billy Merasty is an Aboriginal Canadian actor and writer of Cree descent.
Carlos del Junco is a Cuban-Canadian harmonica player.
Shirley Cheechoo is a Cree actress, writer, producer, director, and visual artist, best known for her solo-voice or monodrama play Path With No Moccasins, as well as her work with De-Ba-Jeh-Mu-Jig theatre group. Her first break came in 1985 when she was cast on the CBC's first nations TV series Spirit Bay, and later, in 1997, she found a role on the CBC's TV series The Rez.
Rose is a play by Tomson Highway, which premiered on January 31, 1999, at the University of Toronto.
Cara Gee is a Canadian film, television, and stage actress. She is known for her roles in the television series Strange Empire and The Expanse.
The (Post) Mistress is a musical play by Tomson Highway. The play has also been staged in a French version titled Zesty Gopher s'est fait écraser par un frigo and a Cree version titled Kisageetin, although The (Post) Mistress, a predominantly English show which retains some French and Cree lyrics, is the most widely produced version.
Cris Derksen is a two-spirit Juno Award–nominated Cree cellist from Northern Alberta, Canada. Derksen is known for her unique musical sound which blends classical music with traditional Indigenous music. Her music is often described as "electronic cello" or classical traditional fusion.
Indigenous peoples of Canada are culturally diverse. Each group has its own literature, language and culture. The term "Indigenous literature" therefore can be misleading. As writer Jeannette Armstrong states in one interview, "I would stay away from the idea of "Native" literature, there is no such thing. There is Mohawk literature, there is Okanagan literature, but there is no generic Native in Canada".
Patricia Cano is a Peruvian Canadian singer from Sudbury, Ontario, most noted for her musical theatre performances in the stage musicals of Tomson Highway. She graduated from the University of Toronto in Spanish Literature and Theatre.
Melanie Florence is a Canadian author of Cree and Scottish heritage.
Falen Johnson is a Mohawk and Tuscarora playwright and broadcaster.