NEWS
12/24/2013 06:26 EST | Updated 02/23/2014 05:59 EST

Alanis Obomsawin's tradition of giving back at Christmas

Celebrated filmmaker AlanisObomsawin is best known for her documentaries but at this time of year, she's busy working on a different kind of production.  

Every Christmas, for over fifty years, Obomsawin has been making toys, dolls and blankets for children in need. 

​“It’s a lot of work but I enjoy every bit of it,” said Obomsawin.

​This year, she turned 80 years old and this Christmas she's giving over 80 gifts, mostly to children from her reserve of Odanak in Quebec.

“I’m very concerned about children and I like to know that they’re OK. It’s really a lot of fun when they open their presents to see their faces. It’s pretty special.”

Obomsawin is one of Canada’s most distinguished documentary filmmakers.

She’s a recipient of the Order of Canada and has made over 30 films highlighting the issues of Aboriginal people in Canada.

Her advocacy for First Nation children began when she would visit residential schools in the 1960s.

“I wanted to tell the children something else than what they were hearing about us. It was very simple, nothing complicated. I thought 'I have to be with the children and I have to tell them our history and tell them stories.'”

In 1971, Obomsawin made her first film Christmas at Moose Factory, a northern Ontario community that she recently returned to. 

“When I was there a couple of months ago there was a woman, I didn’t recognize her and she came to hug me and she was singing in my ear a song that I had taught her when she was a little girl and now her hair is all white and she is a grandmother," she said. 

Obomsawin's latest film Hi-Ho Mistahey! about the children of Attawapiskat and their fight for their right to education, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.

After decades of covering youth in action, Obomsawin says she's noticing a change in First Nation's youth.

"It’s more than hope, something else is happening … When I hear the young people talking and the responsibility that they are talking … Even though there are problems, when these young people realize and recognize who they are, nothing will touch them because of the strength that they are having now."

Jason Ryle, the executive director of the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival in Toronto says Obomsawin is coming full circle.

“At this stage in her career, in terms of the topic that she’s exploring in her latest films, it’s actually taking her back to her first passion which is children and children’s rights and their well-being and their dignity," he said. 

But Ryle says that passion is evident whether she is making a film or making toys for children in need.

"It’s really great to see her still have the craft of toy making as a very honest and beautiful and heartfelt medium in which to communicate that.”

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