Highway, a survivor of Canada's infamous residential school system, has garnered popular and critical acclaim for his work.
“He comes from humble and challenging beginnings,” said Judi Straughan, as she was presenting Highway to Thorneloe Chancellor Barbara Bolton. “He was born on a snowy night in a tent in Manitoba, the 11th of 12 children ... Like many First Nations he was sent to a residential school where he was introduced to the piano. He and pianos formed a lifelong bond.”
“Thank you so much for this,” said Highway, who already holds degrees in music and English. “And thank you for having me.”
Highway has explored the identity of First Nations in Canada in his work, include “The Rez Sisters” and “Dry Lips Outa Move to Kapuskasing.” He recently performed in the Jazz Sudbury Festival, showcasing his piano skills. He spends half his time in a cottage on a lake just south Sudbury, while keeping warm in the winter in a seaside apartment in the South of France.
After the convocation ceremony, he celebrated with the faculty, staff, students and others who received awards.
Thorneloe University confers honorary doctorates “upon persons of academic, professional or community standing who have been recognized for their outstanding contributions to the promotion of understanding, justice, peace and respect for all persons in the incarnate human community,” according to the university's website.
Selected works by Tomson Highway
“The Rez Sisters” (1988) His first published work is set in the fictional Wasaychigan Hill reserve on Manitoulin Islan,d and is partially inspired by Michel Tremblay’s “Les Belles Soeurs.” It toured nationally and was nominated for a Governor General's Award; won Dora Mavor Moore Award for Best New Play 1986-87
“Dry Lips Outa Move to Kapuskasing” (1989) is a play set in the same fictional reserve on Manitoulin and has also won several awards.
“Kiss of the Fur Queen” (1998) Highway's first published novel touches on the issues of Canada’s past in residential schools and is a fictionalized account of he and his brother René’s childhood.
“Rose” (2003) is the third play in Highway’s “Rez Cycle” and is again set in fictional Wasaychigan Hill. It features male and female characters from the first two plays, along with several additional characters, as they all prepare for the opening of the biggest casino in the world.