Shirley Cheechoo

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Shirley Cheechoo
Born 1952 (age 61–62)
Eastmain Quebec
Occupation Actress, Writer, Producer, Director & Visual artist
Spouse(s) Blake Debassige

Shirley Cheechoo (Cree: ᔒᓕᒋᒍ born in Eastmain Quebec, in 1952) is an award winning Cree actress, writer, producer, director, and visual artist, probably best known for her solo-voice or monodrama play Path With No Moccasins, as well as her work with De-Ba-Jeh-Mu-Jig theatre group. Her first break came in 1985 when she was cast on the CBC's first nations TV series Spirit Bay, and later, in 1997, she found a role on the CBC's TV series The Rez.

The De-ba-jeh-mu-jig years[edit]

Shirley founded De-ba-jeh-mu-jig theatre, which developed out of the children's theatre. After starting the theatre company, partner Blake Debassige, a visual artist, served on the board of directors and as president of the board during the early years of De-Ba-Jeh-Mu-Jig theatre group.

During her time at Debaj, Shirley fulfilled the role of artistic director, president of the board of directors, as well as fulfilling much of the administrative roles, actor, and playwright.

Shirley is the first First Nations woman to "write, produce, direct, and act in a feature length film from Canada".[1]

Plays, films and other artistic works[edit]

Shirley first gained national attention with Path With No Moccasins. Her directorial debut was with a short film called Silent Tears, which won several film festival awards for Best Short Film and was "screened at the 1998Sundance Film Festival.".[2]

Her first feature film was Backroads, a journey into the harsh contemporary life of Cree women. The movie was financed and executive-produced by Offline Entertainment Group.[3]

Shirley realized that she could "ease a pain or raise an issue with her film work" and so dedicated herself to creating film by enrolling in writing classes, director's labs, acting workshops and film schools[4]

Much of her art is based on biographical elements. Path With No Moccasins gave Shirley the opportunity to "speak about her life and the struggle to retain her identity, and Cree heritage".[5] Silent Tears chronicles the events of a "harsh winter trip with her parents to a northern trap line when she was eight years old".[5]

In order to promote Aboriginal artists, Shirley and Blake Debassige co-own Kasheese Studios art gallery. She is also the president of Spoken Song film production company and founded the Weengushk Film Institute on Manitoulin Island that will train, develop and guide independent filmmakers.[4]

Her artwork is inspired by Woodlands School, which is a concept given birth by Norval Morrisseau. Her art has been exhibited around the world, and her commissions include:

  • Christmas cards for UNICEF
  • Amnesty International
  • The Ontario Native Women's Association
  • The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto

Cultural work[edit]

She is a mentor to many in the Native arts community and one of Canada's most well-known and respected artists. She visits other communities and schools and holds workshops. On the topic of visiting schools to host acting and playwrighting workshops, Shirley has said

the kids that come into the theatre, into the drama workshops, are the kids that I pick. I feel that they need some kind of self-esteem, and drama does it. Anything in the arts gives these kids a lot of self-esteem ... the arts are really important for children and they're not taught in the schools

Shirley is concerned with Indigenous people's complacency with "small advancements and the slight changes that appear when it comes to equality and respect" and believes that "We must continue to fight in the most positive way to try and find a level playing field for Indigenous people to work, live, and create in the main".[4]

Writings and appearances[edit]


  • Path With No Moccasins (1991)
  • Tangled Sheets (1994)
  • Your Dream Was Mine (2005)


  • Johnny Tootall (2005) Director, writer
  • In Shadow (2003) Director
  • Shadows in Deep Water (?) Director
  • Pikutiskaau (Mother Earth) (2003) Director
  • Tracks in the Snow (2001) Productor, Director
  • Backroads (aka Bearwalker) (2000) Director, writer
  • Silent Tears (1998) Director, writer

Media Appearances[edit]

  • M.V.P - Mrs. Lemonde (2008)
  • Christmas in the Clouds (2001)
  • Johnny Greyeyes (2000)
  • Backroads (2000)
  • Silent Tears (1998)
  • Song of Hiawatha (1997)
  • The Rez (1996)
  • Medicine River (1993)
  • Spirit Bay (1984)


  • Best Short Film - Silent Tears
  • Telefilm Canada/Television Northern Canada Award for Best Canadian Aboriginal Language Television Program - Silent Tears (1998)
  • Best Director. Reel World Film Festival (Toronto 2000)
  • Lifetime Achievement Award in the area of art (2008). Given by National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation (Naaf).
  • CTV Fellowship Award
  • Eagle Spirit Award
  • Independent Filmmaker of the Year (Arizona International Film Festival) (2002).
  • Best Film for Johnny Tootall at the 2005 American Indian Film Festival.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ See Whetung Ojibwa Arts and Crafts Gallery at
  2. ^ Whetung Ojibwa Arts and Crafts Gallery at
  3. ^ Aleiss, Angela. "Making War Bonnets Old Hat: Native American Filmmakers are Forging into Hollywood with Projects Involving Real Human Concerns," Los Angeles Times, August 15, 1999.
  4. ^ a b c
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^

External links[edit]