The National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation has annouced the names of its latest batch of National Aboriginal Achievement Award recipients. The foundation hands out the awards each year to recognize the contributions of exceptional Aboriginal people.
Chief Jim Boucher of Fort McKay First Nation in northern Alberta is being honoured with an achievement award in the business and commerce category for his efforts to ensure his community benefits from oil sand developments in the region. Recognizing the opportunities afforded to Fort McKay due to the community's proximity to the Athabasca oil sands, Boucher has worked to develop partnerships with industry and government, and has helped pave the way for creation of a number of successful First Nation owned companies. The Fort McKay Group of Companies, which operates seven companies and is fully owned and operated by the First Nation, is a prime example of the fruits of Boucher's efforts, boasting annual revenues of more than $50 million.
Another National Aboriginal Achievement Award recipient for 2008 is Hubert Skye of Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, who will be honoured in the culture, heritage and spirituality category. When the residential school was operating in Moose Factory, Ont., Skye secretly worked to help children enrolled at the school maintain their languages. Skye is an Elder, a Faithkeeper in the Cayuga Longhouse, and works to assist a number of cultural and educational organizations in his community.
The award in the education category will be presented to Mi'kmaq academic Dr. Marie Ann Battiste. A respected expert in the area of Aboriginal education, Battiste has authored numerous papers and books dealing with subjects such as protection of Aboriginal knowledge, language and culture, and decolonization of education. Battiste is currently the academic director of the Aboriginal Education Research Centre and a professor in the department of Educational Foundations within the college of education at the University of Saskatchewan, and co-director of the Aboriginal Learning Knowledge Centre.
The National Aboriginal Achievement Award in the health category will be presented to Dr. Jeff Reading of Tyendinaga First Nation, who is being recognized for his work to improve the health of Aboriginal people across Canada. Currently the scientific director of the Institute of Aboriginal People's Health, Reading played a lead role in development of the Aboriginal Capacity and Developmental Research Environments networks that exist across the country to help build capacity in Aboriginal health research.
Paul Andrew, from Tulita in the Northwest Territories, will receive the award in the media and communications category. Andrew has been a broadcaster for both CBC TV and CBC Radio for many years, and helps to promote the Dene language and culture through his broadcasts.
The award in the politics category will be handed out to Métis educator and politician Joseph Leon Handley from Meadow Lake, Sask., who has dedicated his career to public service, most recently as premier of the Northwest Territories. Handley served in that position from December 2003 to October 2007, choosing not to run for re-election following one term in office.
Before entering politics, Handley worked as an educator, serving as a teacher and vice-principal at schools in Saskatchewan, a school division trustee and superintendent in Manitoba, an assistant professor at universities in British Columbia and Manitoba and a lecturer at a teacher training college in Ghana.
Sylvia B. Maracle, from Tyendinaga First Nation, has been chosen as the 2008 award recipient in the public service category, in recognition of her work with Aboriginal organizations at both a national and local level. Her efforts have resulted in positive changes for urban Aboriginal people in the areas of health, justice, employment and housing.
The National Aboriginal Achievement Award in the sports category will be presented to Reggie Leach from Berens River First Nation in Manitoba, who spent 14 years playing in the National Hockey League. His achievements on the ice earned him a spot in the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame and the Philadelphia Flyers Hall of Fame. Currently, Leach is working to pass his hockey skills and knowledge onto a new generation of young Aboriginal players and gives presentations on alcoholism education.
Shirley Cheechoo of Eastmain, Que. will be presented with the award in the arts category. Cheechoo is a successful writer, director, producer, actor and visual artist who works to give back to the community by supporting the work of other Aboriginal artists. She is co-founder of the De ba Jeh Mu Jig Theatre Company, co-owner of an art gallery that promotes Aboriginal artists, co-owner of the Spokensong film production company that focuses on producing works dealing with Indigenous culture, and is founder of the Weengushk Film Institute that works to promote Aboriginal involvement in the film industry.
The award in the environmental and natural resources category will go to Elizabeth (Tshaukuesh) Penashue, from Kanekuanikat, Labrador, who has spent decades fighting to protect her Innu homeland and the traditional lifestyle of her people. Her efforts began in the 1980s, when she helped lead protests aimed at putting an end to low-level flying by NATO forces over Innu land. She has also worked to promote the traditional Innu way of life by organizing and, for many years taking part in, a 150-mile trip by snowshoe through Innu territory, and a month-long canoe trip along the Churchill River.
David C. Nahwegahbow, from Whitefish River First Nation in Ontario, has been chosen as the 2008 National Aboriginal Achievement Award recipient in the law and justice category. Nahwegahbow is senior partner of an Aboriginal law firm and has worked as a lawyer in private practice for 25 years. He is a founding member of the Indigenous Bar Association and works to promote Indigenous rights both in Canada and abroad. He also volunteers his time to speak to students about the importance of the law and to help build positive relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.
Bernard McCue from Beausoleil First Nation in Ontario will receive the award in the technology and trades category. McCue completed his post-secondary studies in chemistry by taking extension courses while working full-time, then went on to make significant contributions in his field of expertise. He is the holder of three U.S. patents, helped aid in the development of synthetic jet aircraft lubricants, and developed methods that improved the colour on television sets produced by RCA Ltd.
The 2008 Youth Award recipient will be Boyd Wesley Benjamin of Vuntut Gwitch'in First Nation in the Yukon. Benjamin is fulfilling his childhood dream of being a pilot, having earned both his pilot and helicopter licenses.
The Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented posthumously to world-renowned artist Norval Morrisseau from the Red Rock band in Ontario., who passed away on Dec. 4. Credited for the creation of the Woodland school of art, Morrisseau painted for close to half a century and has inspired many other Aboriginal artists who are following in his footsteps.
The awards will be handed out in Toronto on March 7 and will be hosted by Cree actor and former MuchMusic VJ Search contestant Larissa Tobacco. The gala will be taped, and will air on APTN and Global at a later date.