Communication for Community: Andre Morriseau’s Incredible Journey
Originally from Fort William First Nation, Ontario, Andre was raised in Kenora. Where his father was one of the first Indigenous conservation officers on Lake of the Woods, Andre Morriseau has had a fascinating career path himself. After acting, doing standup comedy and working in hotels in Vancouver, Andre moved to Toronto and worked in the restaurant industry.
After spending time serving up culinary creations, life served up something new for Andre. He went from managing 360, the restaurant at the top of the CN tower, to now being the communications manager for the Ontario Native Women's Association (ONWA). His route between those roles was unexpected.
Andre’s family moved back to Fort William First Nation from Kenora in 1978, as the years progressed he felt the sting of disconnection from the Indigenous community. He wrote a letter to the Aboriginal Voices television show offering to volunteer because he wanted to build a connection to the Toronto Indigenous community. He ended up quitting his restaurant job and applying to be part of the Centre for Indigenous Theatre’s Indigenous Summer Theatre program. It’s what he wanted, but it wasn’t where he ended up.
The day after being accepted in the Theatre Program Aboriginal Voices Magazine invited him to join their radio project. At a crossroads, Andre had to choose between the two. Ultimately he picked the radio opportunity. “It was the greatest decision of my life,” he explained.
“My life path has taken me in directions where I really have learned how to say yes and how to be open and I've been very blessed by having people in my life who have given me that training.”
He went from being on the team at the Aboriginal Voices Radio (AVR) Network then onto the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation (Indspire), next to the Chiefs of Ontario (COO), the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB) before landing the job as Ontario Native Women's Association (ONWA) Communications Manager.
“Had I closed that door and said, ‘No, I’ll wait for the summer program’ I don't know what my life would have been, but all I know is the Creator told me to take that door, take door number one. And I did. And it was the greatest thing I ever did.”
Responsible for the Association’s magazine, She Is Wise, producing videos, all things communications related, Andre is kept busy with his work. “You know the old adage is if nobody else wants to do it, give it to communications. But it makes for a really exciting job. I love what I do,” Andre explains.
While he’s busy in communications, Andre is still an entertainer and a content creator in his own right. He co-emceed with Michaela Washburn the Two-Spirit Cabaret which included 15 minutes of stand up comedy, and another set the year before as part of a “Soulo” performance. He currently has a video production company and he even appeared in a Land Rover commercial at one point.
“I don't have a degree in this or that, but I've got more life experience packed into these 62 years and three quarters than the world can give.”
As far as education went, Andre explains, “I went to the school of hard knocks.” A Winnipeg high school graduate, Andre went on to study architectural drafting at Vancouver Community College. He was interested as an artist but quickly found it was mostly math and changed lanes. Even without formal education, Andre has found a way to carve out a life path for himself that he’s proud of.
“One of the things that I love about our Indigenous community is that the world has caught up with us and there's all these big opportunities out there, but often the barrier was if you didn't have a university education, if you didn't have that piece of paper, you weren't good enough. Well, it's changed in that life experience is respected now more so than ever. And I'm blessed for that.”
Andre’s advice for young people is nothing short of inspiring, “Do something that you're gonna want to get up in the morning to do. Do something that will make you happy. And don't be afraid to try a few different things. Don't be afraid to make changes and make mistakes. Do it while you're young and do it throughout your life. I've made lots of mistakes and I've made lots of choices. Don't sit around worrying about the past, sit around dreaming about the future.”
As a two-spirited man, Andre faced challenges in life but didn’t let them keep him down. “I always used my sense of humor and my art to open doors and to put up a shelter to create that safe space in my own world,” he explained.”
He faced his own journey of self-acceptance in a time when being gay was more controversial. Knowing his own journey and how helpful finding community is, Andre has a special part of his heart for two-spirited people in remote communities who might be facing isolation and stigma. Andre is a strong proponent of mental health, the value of therapy and connection with community, friends and family to maintain wellness.
“I never stopped learning because life is one big learning adventure.”
“Don't be so cautious. Be a little more freewheeling. Be more open. I have been a very cautious person in my life and I would have enjoyed life even more had I thrown a little more caution to the wind.” That’s advice Andre Morriseau would give his younger self if he could. A talented, accomplished and insightful two-spirited man, Andre Morriseau has so much wisdom to share with the world.
From his start in the hotel industry, the restaurant industry to communications, Andre helps people feel heard, seen and welcome. A life-long learner and bridge builder in the community with a fascinating story to tell, Andre's passion for learning and curiosity have made him an effective communicator, advocate and community member.
Thank you to Alison Tedford for authoring this blog post.
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