Animators of Cree Series ‘Wapos Bay’ Recognized For Promoting Aboriginal Language, History, Culture

By Clint Buehler

In a rare move, the jury for the 2009 National Aboriginal Achievement Awards selected the husband and wife team of Dennis and Melanie Jackson to jointly receive the award for arts. This is a logical and deserved decision given how intrinsically they are involved in the projects they create together, and the influence of their family and home life on their work.

Over the past decade, Dennis Jackson has worked as a producer/director/writer/videographer on numerous video documentary productions, and even as animation director for an episode of the hit comedy series, Corner Gas.

However, it is his work as president of Wapos Bay Productions Inc. and co-creator, producer, director and writer of the Cree language stop-motion animated television series Wapos Bay that has brought him the most satisfaction and numerous awards, including three Gemini Awards.

Through this series, and other productions, Dennis has exhibited his passion for presenting Aboriginal people and communities in a positive light while preserving and promoting Aboriginal language, history and culture in an entertaining way.

Dennis’s formal education includes a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Film & Video Production from the University of Regina, programs at the Banff Centre for the Arts, a CTV Fellowship and National Screen Institute Programs, including an Aboriginal Cultural Trade Initiative to New Zealand and Australia.

He encourages Aboriginal youth to explore film and video—particularly animation—as an art form and career, with workshops and information sessions in community schools and learning institutions, sparking the enthusiastic interest in this field for children and youth with whom he connects.

On the career side, Dennis has made a concerted effort to provide opportunities for Aboriginal people to work in all aspects of his productions.

Melanie Jackson’s contributions and influence extend beyond her significant participation in Wapos Bay and other productions that she and her husband create, to Saskatchewan communities and provincial and national Aboriginal organizations.

With Dennis, and on her own, Melanie has received numerous awards for productions she has been involved in, as well as for her other contributions to the Aboriginal community.

In addition to her film and video production achievements, Melanie is an accomplished visual artist in painting, sculpture and fabric arts.

Her life and career have been greatly influenced by her pride in her identity as a Saulteaux woman with ties to the Sakimay First Nations Reserve near Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan, and the teachings of her mother and Cree mother-in-law.

From birth, Melanie was taught the protocols of the Saulteaux women within the family unit. She has great respect for the Aboriginal culture and spiritual traditions of both the Saulteaux and Cree people, and articulates both dynamically, with the words respect, honour and humility frequently figuring into her speech.

Melanie is able to live her cultural and spiritual beliefs daily, integrating tradition with her career and personal activities.

As important, if not more important, to her than her career achievements, are her roles as a wife, mother to two teenage sons, and as an Aboriginal woman.

The Jacksons are instructing their teenage sons in their faith and culture, and the boys have already received their spiritual names in ceremony. Like their parents, the sons have exhibited a talent and interest in cinematography—the next generation to bring tradition to the urban scene.