Shirley Cheechoo (1952-)
Born in Eastmain, Quebec, in 1952. Shirley is a member of the James Bay Cree Nation. Her early childhood was spent in Moose Factory and Hearst, Ontario. She is married to award winning visual artist Blake Debassige, and has one son, Nanoshkasheese. They currently live on Manitoulin Island.
Memories of growing up within a warm family group have become the focal point for her expression through the medium of acrylic. Her paintings represent the personal documentation of the many experiences she shared with her large family in the north as well as those of other Cree families lived by trapping and fishing.
As a respected visual artist, her paintings have been exhibited worldwide. Her commissions include: Christmas cards for UNICEF, Amnesty International, The Ontario Native Women’s Association and the Hospital for Sick Children. Her works can be found in many private and public collections. Shirley is one of several second-generation artists to be inspired by the Woodlands School, a concept that was given birth by Norval Morrisseau. She was introduced to the concept of legend painting by Carl Ray and Daphne Odjig, at a summer school run by the Manitou Arts Foundation near Manitoulin Island.
Shirley’s talents are multiple. She is an actor, writer, producer, director and visual-artist. She is the first person from a First Nation to write, produce, direct and act in a feature length dramatic film in Canada. Ms Cheechoo is an award-winning actress having gained national attention in the theatre in 1992 with her play, “Path With No Moccasins”. The play gave her opportunity to speak about her life and the struggle to retain her identity, and Cree heritage. Her film directorial debut is the ward winning short film “Silent Tears”, in which Shirley chronicles the events of one harsh winter trip with her parents to a northern trap line when she was eight years old.
Ms Cheechoo teaches drama workshops to Native youth across Ontario, and is the founder of Debahjehmujig Theatre Group, a touring youth drama company now in it’s 24th year.
Her groundbreaking achievements make Shirley not only a mentor to many in the Native arts community but make her one of Canada’s most well-known and respected artists. In February 2008, Shirley was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award in the area of art by the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation.