Latest News & Press Releases

63rd MacDowell Medal to be Awarded to Abenaki Filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin

- April 3, 2023

Type: Press Releases, Artist News, Events, Artist Profiles

Alanis Obomsawin smiling slightly and gazing down in black and white

63rd Edward MacDowell Medalist Alanis Obomsawin (Scott Sevens photo)

Best-selling author Jesse Wente will introduce Medalist to crowd during free outdoor public celebration on July 23rd featuring open artist studios.

MacDowell will award filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin with the 63rd Edward MacDowell Medal on Sunday, July 23, 2023. MacDowell, the nation’s first artist residency program, has awarded the Medal annually since 1960 to an individual artist who has made an outstanding contribution to their field. Obomsawin, whose career as a filmmaker has spanned six decades, is known as a clear-eyed chronicler of the lives and concerns of First Nations people and explores issues of universal importance. She is the first woman filmmaker to receive the award.

“I am very honored,” said Obomsawin, reflecting on previous Medalists. “Obviously, these are people who have accomplished quite a lot and it is a distinct pleasure to be counted among such a magnificent group.” She joins a notable cohort of past Medal recipients, including Robert Frost (1962), Georgia O’Keeffe (1972), John Updike (1981), Stan Brakhage (1989), Toni Morrison (2016), David Lynch (2017), Rosanne Cash (2021), and Sonia Sanchez (2022).

Obomsawin, an Abenaki who was born in New Hampshire, has 56 films to her credit produced by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), including landmark documentaries like Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance (1993), documenting the 1990 Mohawk uprising in the villages of Kanehsatake and Oka, Quebec, and the groundbreaking Incident at Restigouche (1984), a behind-the-scenes look at Quebec police raids on a Mi’kmaq reserve. Obomsawin’s 2019 production Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger completed a seven-film cycle devoted to the rights of Indigenous children and peoples, which began in 2011 when she conducted her first interviews for The People of the Kattawapiskak River.

“As the Grand Dame of the Indigenous film world and the documentary field, Alanis Obomsawin’s exemplary 52-year body of work uplifting Indigenous stories and triumph inspired us with compelling and unequivocal enthusiasm to award her with the 2023 Edward MacDowell Medal,” said Bird Runningwater, member of the Medal Selection Panel and guide for the Sundance Institute’s investment in Native American and Indigenous filmmakers. “Even more special is that Alanis Obomsawin descends from the Abenaki People, and MacDowell’s residency program takes place in Wabanaki, the Dawnland, on the traditional homelands of the Western Abenaki. This marks the first time MacDowell honors someone from the Indigenous lands where the residency has historically taken place.”

Joining Runningwater on the selection panel were 2023 Selection Panel Chair and former head of the Sundance Film Festival Tabitha Jackson; MacDowell Fellows and filmmakers Natalia Almada, Rodney Evans, and So Yong Kim; MacDowell Board member and Fellow Julia Solomonoff; and board member Josh Siegel, who is a film curator at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.

Award-winning speaker and best-selling author Jesse Wente will introduce Obomsawin during the ceremony and speak to her impact on the documentary genre as well as her activism in support of Indigenous and marginalized people. Wente, who is board chair of Canada’s Council for the Arts and a former co-executive director of the Indigenous Screen Office, is an off-reserve member of the Serpent River First Nation. He is best known for more than two decades as a columnist for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s program “Metro Morning” and has curated film programs that have included Obomsawin’s works.

Obomsawin began her career as a singer, writer, and storyteller, but came to the attention of NFB and was invited to consult on Indigenous filmmaking at the public producer and distributor. She began making her own films in 1971, has received numerous international honors, and her work was showcased in a 2008 retrospective at MoMA. She is a Companion of the Order of Canada (C.C.), Grande Officière of the Ordre national du Québec (G.O.Q.), and a member of the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec (C.A.L.Q.), as well as holding other distinctions and honorary degrees.

Obomsawin, in addition to being the first woman filmmaker to be awarded the MacDowell Medal is the fifth filmmaker overall to be so honored. In addition to Brakhage and Lynch, the others are Chuck Jones (1997) and Les Blank (2007).

Obomsawin will receive the Edward MacDowell Medal from Madam Chairman of the Board, Fellow, and best-selling author Nell Painter during a free, public event on July 23, 2023. The presentation, which often draws more than 1,000 visitors from around the country to MacDowell’s 450-acre wooded campus, offers the public the opportunity to bring a picnic lunch or purchase one ahead of time and visit 31 open, working studios to see art being created and speak with its creators.

This event is made possible with the support of generous individual contributors and business sponsors including RiverMead Lifecare Community, Delta Dental, BCM Environmental and Land Law, Franklin Pierce University, Penguin Random House, Weekender Hotels, and the University of Nebraska Press. For more information or to become a sponsor, please visit

For more information on event sponsorship or tickets, contact Brett Evan Solomon

Find out about the history of Medal Day.

Over the last four years, MacDowell has been reexamining its core values and vision, making changes to outdated and exclusionary policies, acknowledging that its program takes place on un-ceded First Nations lands, and continuing to activate diversity, equity, inclusion, and access throughout the organization. One of the more recent ways MacDowell has done this is by continuing dialogues with artists from Indigenous, Black, Latinx, and Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, parents, international artists, and artists with disabilities through the Virtual MacDowell program.