Alyssa Wapanatâhk is an Indigenous-Canadian actress, director and writer.

Alyssa Wapanatâhk is an Indigenous-Canadian actress, director and writer.

Alyssa Wapanatâhk is an Indigenous-Canadian actress, director and writer. She is most recently known for her role as Tiger Lily in the Disney film "Peter Pan & Wendy" (2023).

Born in Fort McMurray on January 15, 1998, Alyssa was raised in Conklin, Alberta. She is a member of the Bigstone Cree Nation, whose reserve is located in Wabasca, southwest of Fort McMurray, in Treaty 8 territory.

Shy by nature, she admits she hated the idea of acting when she was a child. But that changed when she auditioned for a documentary that needed actors for re-enactments. The shoot, which lasted three days, quickly won her over. She then began participating in her school's plays and local theater productions.

She made her big screen debut at 16, in the short film "Pure Love" in 2018, quickly followed by "Robo Games" (2018), "Pookmis" (2018) and "Swansong" (2019).

Alyssa is also an aspiring filmmaker. In 2019, she was selected to create a short film through Storyhive's Indigenous Storyteller program, a Telus-funded program focused on independent filmmakers in Alberta and British Columbia.

She received a $20,000 grant to help her write, produce and direct her first short film, entitled "Napes Kasêkipatwât - The Boy & The Braid", which tells the cultural journey of an indigenous boy who grows up with braided hair.

After 2 years without work, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, she returns to the big screen, with the film "Bones of Crows" (2022). The film tells the story of Aline, a Cree woman who survives boarding school and becomes a coder during World War II. Alyssa plays the role of Perseverance Spears, Aline's sister. Her performance impressed the public and the critics. She should reprise her role in several episodes of "Bones of Crows: The Series", currently in post-production.

Additionally, in 2022, she appeared in the film "Rehab". The following year, she made her television debut as Lizzo in an episode of the series "Riverdale". It is this same year that success smiled to her, thanks to the new Disney live-action "Peter Pan & Wendy" in which she plays the famous character of the Indian and warrior princess Tiger Lily. 

Unlike the original (1953) animated film, which had a very controversial depiction of indigenous people, the filmmakers of the 2023 live-action film wanted to honor this culture and ensure that it was accurately and authentically represented. This involved consulting with Dawn Jackson (of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe) and Dr. Kevin Lewis (of the Ministikwan Lake Cree Nation) during the development phase of the film and throughout the filming and post-production process. They provided extensive guidance on the proper use of Cree culture in clothing, hairstyles, tribal markings, props and sets to ensure the authenticity of each creative choice, including feather work, Lily's saddle, and canoes created by Cree artists and craftsmen.

Alyssa's Cree heritage also served as inspiration for the character and for her people in the film to ensure their authenticity and uniqueness. In an interview with Native News Online, the actress said that "the filmmakers were looking for somebody who was obviously authentic (and) who actually comes from Native lineage — somebody who's actually Indigenous. They wanted to correct things to make things right. When I saw that, that was like a really big point for me, I realized I wanted to be part of this. I want to help out and be that person to  help correct this thing that's going on in the world."

The filmmakers were originally going to represent another tribe in the film, but over time they asked her if she wanted to incorporate her Cree history and culture. "Once I saw them bringing Cree culture into the film, I thought this is really everything for me. And it's gonna be everything for people to see this". Dr. Lewis' presence on set was helpful to the young actress, whose character speaks both English and a Cree dialect in the film. "He was there basically the whole time and he helped me with the Cree language because I don’t speak Cree fluently. I was also able to reach out to my grandmother and my adopted grandfather who helped me with the Cree language".

This role has also given her a lot of personal insight into who she is as a person. "I'm so in a place where it's like so deep in my heart, where I hold this character, and this film was one of the biggest things that ever happened to me and that ever came into my life. The reason for that is because I think as you're in your healing journey, you go through a lot of trials, a lot of tribulations and this was something that kind of brought me out of that. That deep, the loneliness. It brought me right out of it, and I was in my element. And I noticed that that had a lot to do with my healing because I was able to find myself and even though I was playing a different character, I found out who I am, I found out that I have a voice that I matter. All of these things came together and it's like you when you're talking to that little girl, or that little boy inside of you, and you're holding their hand and you're going through it together. That's why it meant so much to me because I know that a lot of other youth are going to see this though and they're going to maybe have those same feelings."

Besides her acting career, Alyssa has also been a model. She has done several photoshoots and has been featured in various magazines and publications.

Alyssa has also worked as a brand ambassador for several companies, including indigenous-owned companies.

Very devoted to her culture, which she continues to discover and honor every day, she changed her name in 2020. Previously named Alyssa Alook, she (re)becomes Alyssa Wapanatâhk, which is her birth Cree name. As she explains herself on Instagram, "This has been a long term career move that I have been waiting to make for quite some time. I’ve always resonated with my name Wapanatâhk. This translates to 'first star in the sky' or 'morning star'.I was given this name at birth and it feels very right to change my name to this now." (© JustJared)

She has also given her daughter, born in the spring 2019, a Cree name, Nitanis, and hopes to be able to pass on this culture and speak the language with her. "It feels very right to change my name to this now. I have so much love and respect for my culture and nehiyawewin, the Cree language. It is a part of my goal in this world to bring our language back, and to learn it day by day." (© Huffpost)


Interviewed in March 2023 by Fort McMurray Today magazine, she speaks out about the representation of minorities in the industry. "There’s a huge wave of representation. Native people are just getting started, but there’s also representation from the LGBTQ+ community. We’re also seeing more representation from Black, Asian, South Asian and BIPOC creators as a whole.

Everything is becoming more diverse and that’s beautiful to me. To see the world opening up feels so right and even in the next 10 to 20 years there will be more. I’m excited to see what my daughter will experience when she’s older.

I hope we can get the message out to the youth of our communities that anything is possible. They can do big things and it’s OK to want big things. Sometimes it’s hard to realize that."


Article by Julie Henry Poutrel for Adama Toulon