Three thousand Indigenous people came together for the 19th Annual National Aboriginal Achievement Awards gala held in Vancouver Feb. 24.
The evening was dedicated to outstanding individuals who have given their time and skills to transforming the health, arts, political, business and environmental spheres for Indigenous people in Canada.
Every year the awards attract hundreds of nominees who are then deliberated upon by a board comprised of 10 former Aboriginal Achievement Award recipients. From those nominations 15 recipients—I including two youth and one lifetime achievement award honoree—were selected based on merits.
“We are being welcomed here tonight by our host, the Indigenous peoples of British Columbia who have played such an important role in Canada’s history,” said National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation president, CEO and awards show executive producer, Roberta Jamieson.
During the ceremony, Jamieson unveiled a new brand for the foundation, which will now become Indspire, and the awards the Indspire Awards.
The Indspire Awards mandate is to promote self-esteem and pride for Indigenous communities.
Inspiring youth was a theme woven into the gala event, as participants stressed the importance of encouraging young Indigenous minds to reach their full potential.
“Our nations are in a profound period of transition,” said BC Regional Assembly of First Nations Chief Jody Wilson Raybould. “ We are building on our success [and] implementing our hard-fought-for Aboriginal and treaty rights to improve the quality of life for our people and to ensure practicing and thriving cultures,” she said.
Addressing the recipients, Wilson acknowledged their contributions to their fellow Indigenous peoples of Canada.
“I can’t help but be inspired by what this amazing group of people have accomplished, both personally and for our nation.
Congratulations,” she said. “Your achievements demonstrate how potential can become reality through hard work, dedication and support.”
Steven Point, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, also expressed his pride in the honorees.
“They are role models, not just for Aboriginal people but for all Canadians. Awards like this are important, not just as a chance to recognize the outstanding work of our people, but to inspire others. I believe we all have a personal obligation to pass on this spirit of excellence to our children,” he concluded.
Violet Ford, 2012 Recipient of the ‘Law and Justice’ award, said she was humbled by the acknowledgement.
“I feel honored. I hope this award draws continued attention to the work that I’ve been focused on related to intellectual property rights, traditional Indigenous knowledge and where the legal challenges are in the existing intellectual property rights system,” she said.
The first woman of Aboriginal ancestry in Newfoundland and Labrador and the first Inuit woman in Canada to become a lawyer, Ford has devoted much of her life to protecting and advancing the rights of Indigenous people. As vice-president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council she was the leading legal policy advisor and negotiator on international, environmental and natural resource issues. Ford also assisted in drafting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.
Other 2012 recipients include journalist Richard Wagamese [Media & Communication’ recipient/ Ojibwa Nation], Grand Chief Edward John [‘Politics’recipient/ Tl’azt’en First Nation], Wheelchair athlete Richard Peter [‘Sports’recipient/Cowichan Tribes] and ‘Youth’ award recipient, Candace Sutherland, Métis.
During the evening, awards show co-hosts, actor Carmen Moore and former professional Canadian hockey player, Theo Fleury, showered the audience with the perfect amount of humor and wit.
“It was definitely different but I think we were a great team, we had great chemistry and we had a lot of fun,” Fleury said of his first time co-hosting experience.
“I think it [the foundation and awards gala] is probably the most important fundraiser that we do as Indigenous people. It involves everybody- Inuit, Métis, everybody’s here,” added Fleury, who is Métis.
“It was such a huge thrill to be asked to do this,” he added while describing the night as ‘inspirational.’
“It was such an exciting night, I feel so, so honored to be here,” agreed Moore.
“It is important to celebrate the achievements of Indigenous people across Canada,” she said. “There isn’t anything else like this out there.”
Also, “when you do something good for your community it is important to be recognized for those accomplishments otherwise we don’t know how important we are,” she said.
Throughout the awards ceremony, award recipients and guests were treated to a bevy of musical and visual talents. From the opening performance of local First Nations coastal drumming, dance and song, to renowned national Aboriginal treasures, performers Chantelle Kreviazuk, Robbie Robertson and Derek Miller.
As well as a fresh crop of rising Indigenous artists were on hand to share their gifts.
“It’s an opportunity for anyone outside the Aboriginal community to learn about what the achievements are in our community, said local Indigenous songstress, Inez Jasper, of the awards.
“It’s also so much about the arts. It’s an opportunity for art in the Aboriginal community to move forward, whether based in the traditional Aboriginal style of art or contemporary art,” she explained.
Inez, 30, of the Sto: lo First Nation in BC, says that Aboriginal youth can be successful in the arts if they remain open to advice and adopt the business savvy necessary for the industry.
“Be active in the community and always share your art and your talent. Always have an open mind to learn and also learn about business because in the industry it’s 10 per cent talent and 90 per cent business,” Jasper explained.
“Get all kinds of positive feedback so you can continue to grow and flourish” she added.
“I feel so close to where I want to be. I feel so connected,” said rising Cree singer Niska Napoleon at the awards after party. “Finally to be a part of the Native industry, the Native community,” she acknowledged.
The vibe was upbeat throughout the evening, as the Queen ElizabethTheatre was bursting at the seams with people dressed to impress and anxious to party.
Before and after the awards ceremony guests dined on hors d’oeuvres of salmon and mini quiche, enjoyed oysters in the half-shell, sweetened their palate with pastries and sipped on spirits while mingling in the VIP tent adjacent to the theatre.
Calling the evening ‘astounding’, actor and singer/songwriter Andrea Menard, also expressed the importance of the event.
Menard, a Métis actor on the Gemini award-winning television series Blackstone, said she would never miss the opportunity to pay tribute to Aboriginal achievement.
“I’m extremely honored to be here….I’m here with bells on,” she said at the post gala VIP party. “This is the awards show that I will always make time to clear my schedule and be here for because it honors our people who are out there making a difference,” she said.
“The recipients are people who are out in the communities, unrecognized a lot of the time, living in the shadows [and] making a difference in our communities.
We have awards shows for actors and singers and musicians and we pat ourselves on the back a lot but the people in the communities are unrecognized and they’re the ones that deserve the shining light and the glory because they’re doing the work,” she said.
“People are blown away by this show. They are filled with pride,” she added.
Menard says the award ceremony truly sheds light on the many talented individuals we have in our Indigenous world.
“People are like ‘wow,wow!Ö I didn’t know there was this, I didn’t know Native people did that.’ They’ve always known we’re political,” she said. “But do they know we’re political and healthy and beautiful and sexy and educated and positive and all those things?” she asked.
A 90-minute version of the Indspire Awards is produced and broadcast nationally by two select television networks, Global Television and Aboriginal Peoples Television (APTN). The 19th Annual National Aboriginal Achievement Awards will air on Friday, April 13 at 7:30 p.m. EST/PST. For more information on the Inspire Awards and a list of 2012 recipients, visit www.indspire.ca
Photo caption: The 19th Annual National Aboriginal Achievement Awards gala was held in Vancouver Feb. 24. The awards show co-hosts, actor Carmen Moore (left) and former professional hockey player, Theo Fleury, with National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation president and CEO Roberta Jamieson (right).
Photo: Kelvin Claveria
Derek Miller's photo by Rob Kruyt