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Author Information: Tomson Highway



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Tomson Highway was born...on a remote island on Maria Lake away up in northern Manitoba, where it meets the borders of Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories. Maria Lake is about 100 miles north of the reserve Tomson belongs to -- Brochet, Manitoba -- which is located 76 miles...northwest of the mining town of Lynn Lake, Man., northern end of the CN rail line. He was born in a the middle of a snowbank on December 6, 1951...

For the first six years of his life [Tomson] lived an exquisitely beautiful nomadic lifestyle among the lakes and forests of remote northwestern Manitoba, trapping in winter, fishing in summer. Cree was the only language spoken and to this day, the older brothers and sisters don't speak English, though they do speak Chipewyan as well as Cree. Tomson learned to speak English at six years and became comfortably fluent in the language only in his late teens.

Tomson was sent to a Roman Catholic boarding school at the Guy Hill Indian Residential School in The Pas, Manitoba, at the age of six. He stayed there until age 15, when he finished grade nine. During these years at school Tomson was able to visit home for only two months every summer. Then he was sent to Churchill High School in Winnipeg where he lived in a series of white foster homes. He graduated in June 1970.

After high school, Tomson spent two years at the University of Manitoba Faculty of Music studying piano...Tomson then spent a year in London, England, studying to be a concert pianist...He then returned to the University of Manitoba for one year, followed by a move with his piano teacher and mentor to the University of Western Ontario in London, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Music Honors in May 1975. Tomson stayed an extra year to complete the English courses required for a Bachelor of Arts degree. This is where he met -- and worked with -- James Reaney, perhaps one of English Canada's most respected playwrights/poets. Tomson also saw his first Michael Tremblay play at this time.

Once out of university, Tomson went to work for seven years with Native organizations and Native people at The Native Peoples' Resource Centre (a cultural center) in London, Ontario, and The Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres in Toronto. During these years he worked with cultural programs, Native inmates in correctional centers and prisons, children's recreational programs, and other Native enterprises...

Then he turned 30 and decided it was time to put all this "training" and preparation together. Tomson started writing plays. If he couldn't put Chopin and "the rez" together, then he would write plays about "the rez," just as Michael Tremblay wrote about "The Main."

His first plays were performed to mostly Native audiences on reserves and in urban community centers. In addition to his writing, Tomson has worked with other Native theater companies -- notably in Sioux Lookout, Ontario, and West Bay, Manitoulin Island -- in various capacities (actor, musical director, director), touring Indian reserves far and wide.

Tomson has served as Artistic Director of Native Earth Performing Arts Inc., Toronto's only professional Native theater company and one of only a small handful of such organization in North America. A large part of the company's mandate is the development of Native playwrights and the establishment of a Native dramatic literature.

Tomson Highway's ambition in life is to make "the rez" cool, to show and celebrate what funky folk Canada's Indian people really are.



©Steven Jeffery /, 2017
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