Helping others in need is actor's life's work
By Jane Brown
with permission from
Tom Jackson's personal guiding light allows no room for compromise. He is dedicated to the poor, the homeless, the hungry, victims of natural disaster and those who may have contemplated suicide.
All profits from That Side of the Window will go directly to the Canadian Association of Food Banks. Video royalties from the singles "That Side of the Window," "Dance with the Devil" and "Home This Christmas" are donated to the Calgary Inter-Faith Food Bank.
Anyone who pays careful attention to the message conveyed in his latest album will know where Jackson is coming from. If they happen to miss it, the singer/songwriter makes it clear in his introduction.
"The creative process has been a valuable and challenging experience and, throughout it, I've been reminded that our strengths and weaknesses are universal despite different circumstances," he said. "Once the words and music took form, I watched a team of talented artists get excited about the chance to create change in their world."
The son of a Cree mother and an English father, Jackson was born on the One Arrow reserve near Batoche and raised in Winnipeg. He struck out on his own at an early age and after dropping out of school before age 15, he voluntarily lived life in the city's back streets until he was 22.
Jackson has accomplished, and continues to accomplish, so much that it's difficult to imagine when he sleeps. On television, he is known for his role in the long-running CBC drama, North of 60. Children will know him from the successful Shining Time Station, which features the actor as a regular cast member. He also worked on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Nominated for a Juno award this year, he has many albums to his credit. In Prince Albert on March 19, he domonstrated his vocal talent at V.I.P. Night, the public's first glimpse of the new Northern Lights Casino.
Jackson often says that many people inspire him but his heart is with the people who live on the street. While music is his first love, Jackson considers charity work his true career. The Huron Carole is the benefit series that Jackson describes as the joy of his life and the thing that makes him tick. In 1997, The Huron Carole Tour raised more than $300,000, all of which went to the food bank. During the 10 years of its existence, the Huron Carole tour has raised more than $1 million for the food bank association.
"When I moved back to Winnipeg 10 years ago, I heard that the Winnipeg Harvest Food Bank was in jeopardy," he said. "There was not even enough money for rent. The Huron Carole project got its own life."
When he mounted the Red River Relief Benefit in March 1997, Jackson displayed his ability to attract others to his efforts. His family and several friends risked losing their homes through epic flooding of the Red River. Jackson gathered a group of Canadian talent together to perform in Calgary and Winnipeg. The benefit was broadcast live to national television audiences. Organized in less than two weeks, the two day tour raised about $3 million for flood relief in Manitoba.
When fellow North of 60 cast member, Mervin Good Eagle, committed suicide in October 1996, it exposed Jackson to the devastating effects of suicide in Native communities. In response, he initiated the Dreamcatcher Summer Tour. Indian and Northern Affairs, Health Canada and several major corporations contributed to this 16-stop tour that delivered the message of empowerment to communities suffering the loss of young lives to suicide. Due to Dreamcatcher's tremendous success, a second tour will take place in early summer of this year.
"I speak about empowerment," he said. "The community has to take responsibility to organize leaders, whether they be the mayor, the chief or the father. They have to put pressure on to make a start and discuss, not the issue, but the empowerment of interaction -- suicide intervention."
"The actual success of the project is one of those things you have to have faith in. You can't tell if you're successful. But we have a lot of documentation. We've had letters as a result of last year's tour and participants have written to each other. We're doing it again this year. It has to be carried on." This year's Dreamcatcher Tour for Suicide Prevention begins May 15.
When Jackson was awarded the C.F. Martin Humanitarian Award during Canadian Country Music Week in Calgary in 1996 he was embarrassed. He didn't use star status to negate his role as a spokesman. He was doing what he was doing long before North of 60, he said.
This year, in March, he lent a hand and a voice to Toronto's Kids First Easter Seal Telethon. He hosted this year's National Aboriginal Achievement Awards in Toronto with acclaimed actor and friend Graham Greene and helped raise funds for the people affected by this year's ice storms in eastern Canada.
On March 22, Jackson was a nominee at the Juno Awards. Later, he headlined the True North Concert at the Whitehorse Concert Hall which will be broadcast on CBC Television on July 1. Still, there's time left over to work on two big projects in the works for television.
"We're writing the first script for a TV move, Warriors, which we hope will become a series," he said. "And Stories from the Long House, a kids' show, will be in production by the end of the year."
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