Indian Time - A Voice from the Eastern Door

By Sesi King 

Actor, Artist and Dancer...Brandon A. Oakes


Brandon Oakes' roots are in Ahkwesahsne, a son of Larry Cook and Patricia Oakes. His late grandparents are Abe Cook and Josephine Swamp Cook as well as Alec Oakes and Irene (Conners). He presently lives in Toronto, Ontario and has traveled to many other areas with his career as an actor, dancer and artist. Brandon has appeared in many movies with other actors whose work he had always admired. To his credit he earned both their respect and their friendship in the process. His career has spanned about 17 years so far.

Brandon was always a visual artist at heart, along with the influence of his uncle Alex Oakes Jr. He watched and learned from Alex who was ten years older than him. Brandon admired the enormous talent that Alex Jr. had while growing up, and soon that talent was nurtured in Brandon. He began to set his own goals as well and proceeded to try his hand in the Arts at a young age. He had to begin somewhere while realizing that he also had to support himself. At 19, while living in Toronto, Brandon worked as a fashion designer's apprentice as well as becoming a hair stylist before entering art school at the Ontario College of Art and Design. A random act of violence change his life. "I hadn't been further than Detroit, and I wanted to see more." He left school that year and hitchhiked across Canada. After a two year trip throughout the west coast he returned to Toronto where not long after he received a random phone call asking him to join the company Kanata Native Dance Theatre. After a short yet intensive four months he was auditioned and hired by Red Thunder Dance Theatre. These opportunities were Brandon's first encounter of what was to follow. He began to get involved in making films and music videos. He travelled making invaluable connections in the industry in front of the camera and behind the scenes. His love for traditional and contemporary dance still ran strong. A large touring production had lost their lead dancer, and in a frantic search, found Brandon who took over the role in "Spirit-the Seventh Fire," a show that opened the Native American Smithsonian, during the March on the Mall in Washington DC. The show toured for eight months. "For the most part non-native people of North America have no idea who we are, we might as well be unicorns," he said jokingly. "I am proud to stand in front of them and tell them where I am from. We are still here. Alive and very relevant."

This year Brandon performed in the award winning film "Rhymes for Young Ghouls" directed by Jeff Barnaby. The film was set in a 1970's Mi'kmaq reservation.

Looking back to his experiences, Brandon said, "It has been a hard life at times, especially in the beginning." Once he had experienced more in the worlds of art, acting and dance, Brandon realized he could express himself and pour out his emotion through the creativity of these arts. He discovered more of himself and wished he could do it all. There have been life changing experiences for him while working in the US and in Canada. In Los Angeles and Philadelphia, he did some acting and shared good times with some of the best such as Charlton Heston, Gary Farmer, Adam Beach and many more. This business can be taxing and takes so much time away from home and family. Brandon mentioned he feels he missed out being with his family following his career. He grew up in his work and now he wishes to share his world of acting, artistry and dance to the younger people of Ahkwesahsne. He would like them to know there are many opportunities out there in these areas of the art world and film industry.

Brandon found out first hand, "You can't be afraid to ask." He also said, " I love my career but, also have so many things I can fall back on for work."

He has been making plans to come back to Ahkwesahsne to visit and to help young people and to encourage them and show the opportunities out there in the industry. He felt a big loss when his grand father Alex H. Oakes passed away. He left for Los Angeles shortly after, recently moving back to Toronto to be close to family, where his Mom still resides. His future ambitions are to inspire other emerging First Nation actors, writers and directors to write in their voices. Brandon has read many scripts about "Native" people written by a non-native people. Ultimately they end up sounding false. If given the opportunity, Brandon will talk to the writers or directors about a possible different approach. There is a lack of understanding of the issues affecting and ingrained in our nations.

The film RHYMES FOR YOUNG GHOULS written and directed by Jeff Barnaby (Mi'kmaq) was shot in Montreal and Kahnawake. A dark dramatic story following a native family on a Mi'kmaq reservation in the 1970's. It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and is being mentioned as one of the top ten of the festival. Brandon suggested watching Aaron Huey's selections on his research about Native American people in his travels. Aaron Huey, a non-native photographer and documentarian makes strong points as he speaks about problems faced by native peoples in America. Pointing out injustices done to us by the government. Check out "Aaron Huey - Honour the Treaties."

I hope you have enjoyed reading about Brandon Oakes and his career. He sincerely wants to come home to Ahkwesahsne to help inspire our young people. If anyone is affiliated with any programs that could invite Brandon to our territory, please email us and we will connect.

It takes courage and determination to pursue a career in the arts. If a person is passionate about this area and has a creative mind, then a theatre profession can be very rewarding. Hard work and commitment will produce for you.

Niawenko:wa Brandon for this interview.

Sesi King


Reader Comments

wackytrainride writes:

Yes. Great article. 100% awesome n ddg.@g.

Awesome writes:

Awesome! My name is Brandon A. Oakes!


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