Tomson Highway is an Indigenous Canadian playwright, novelist, and children’s author. Highway was born in Brochet, Manitoba, in 1951. His mother, Pelagie Highway, was a bead-worker and quilt maker, and his father, Joe Highway, was a caribou hunter and champion dog sled racer. Highway spoke Cree as his first language. At the age of six, Highway was taken away to the Guy Hill Residential School and returned to his family at age 15. While many Indigenous children had horrible experiences while forced to attend residential schools, Highway credits his education in English and piano to his time at school, Following his time at residential school, Highway obtained his B.A. in Honours Music and B.A. in English in 1975 and 1976 respectively from the University of Western Ontario. Highway then worked as a social worker for several years on reserves across Canada, organizing indigenous music and arts festivals.
Highway’s first major success came from his 1986 play, The Rez Sisters, which was nominated for a Governor General’s Award and won a Dora Mavor Moore Award for Best New Play. In 1989, his play Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing, became the first Canadian play to have a production at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre. Highway worked as the artistic director of Native Earth Performing Arts in Toronto from 1986-1992, and at the De-ba-jeh-mu-jig theatre group in Wikwemikong. Highway took a hiatus from playwriting to write novels. He wrote Kiss of the Fur Queen, a novel about the sexual abuse of Indigenous children in residential schools, which won numerous awards and was a bestselling Canadian novel.
Highway returned to playwriting in 2005 with Ernestine Shuswap Gets Her Trout, a play about Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier’s visit to Thompson River Valley. In 2010, Highway re-published The Rez Sisters and Dry Lips Oughta Move in Kapuskasing in Cree. In 2009, Highway began developing The (Post) Mistress, a full musical which has been staged in both English and French across Canada. The album for The (Post) Mistress garnered a Juno Award nomination for Aboriginal Album of the Year in 2015.
Tomson Highway has been given nine honorary degrees from universities across Canada. In 1994, he was made a member of the Order of Canada and named one of the 100 most important people in Canadian history by Maclean’s magazine in 1998. Highway received a National Indigenous Achievement Award in 2001 for his contribution in arts and culture. Highway is considered to be one of Canada’s most important playwrights and a champion of Indigenous representation in theatre. Highway currently divides his time between Noelville, Ontario, and France, with his partner Raymond Lalonde.
More about Tomson Highway