Tomson Highway - an internationally renowned Indigenous voice and member of the Order of Canada – drew a large crowd to Showplace Performance Centre on Thursday, October 12 as he delivered this year’s W.L. Morton Lecture as part of the University’s 50th anniversary celebrations for the School for the Study of Canada.
‘An Evening with Tomson Highway,’ featured Highway taking on the role of raconteur as he told of his upbringing in northern Manitoba. His colourful and moving tale included early life with a nomadic caribou-hunting family, attending residential school, the hardships of his childhood and the power of music and art to heal as he went on to become an internationally acclaimed playwright, author, musician and multilingual speaker (Cree, French and English).
The evening was part of Trent University’s 50th anniversary celebrations for the School for the Study of Canada, which is committed to meaningful and challenging discussions about what it means to be Canadian.
"The Morton Lecture is one of the few events in Peterborough that deliberately tries to bring in significant Canadians, on an annual basis, to speak to both the University and the community," said Dr. Heather Nicol, director, graduate director and program coordinator for the School.
"What's fascinating is that Canadian Studies is 50 years old and we have not fallen by the wayside as a discipline of study that is no longer useful," she continued. "Did we achieve what [founding president THB] Tom Symons set out to achieve? Is Canada in every course, in every field, and every discussion? Yes. But there is also a need for a program and a curriculum and research on Canada itself, where it's going, what we as Canadians need to know. And that is really what the Morton series is about. Bringing Tomson Highway here is a really great example, particularly with the conversations we've been having over the last few years, recognizing the tragedy of Residential Schools and Truth and Reconciliation."
According to Tomson, the Morton Lecture allows for different Canadian perspectives to be shared with the community.
"I think that we [the Cree] have a unique perspective on the world, and on life," he explains. "We are from the North. We are Northern people. We have a very specific perspective on life in the North and life in Canada. We have a long history on this continent. Our languages go back thousands of years. I hope to bring that to this talk."
The event – this year’s W.L. Morton Community Lecture - was presented by The School for the Study of Canada, Champlain College, Catharine Parr Traill College, The Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies and the Department of History. The annual lecture is named in honour of W.L. Morton, the Canadian historian and former Master of Trent's Champlain College, and is endowed through the generous support of community donors.
Highway, a registered member of the Barren Lands First Nation, achieved international recognition with his award-winning play The Rez Sisters (1986), followed by his even more successful play Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing (1989). As a playwright, trained concert pianist, author and talented lecturer, he birthed a national Indigenous literary and theatre movement, which, to this day, continues to play a fundamental role in the advancement of Indigenous literacy and education across the globe.