According to Roberta Jamieson, President and CEO of the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation, this year’s awards show went off so well that it may have put some well-known American awards programs to shame.

When asked if she thought it might have been a better show than the Oscars, she responded, “Well, I only watched the first hour of the Oscars, but from what I saw, absolutely! This is just my opinion right but absolutely.” She did say this while roaring with laughter.

This year’s show, which was filmed in Edmonton on March 11, saw Smoke Signals stars Adam Beach and Evan Adams reunited to host the gala. And of course, just because they could, the two actors began the show by lampooning their original characters. They had a little help as the show’s script was written by playwright powerhouse Drew Hayden Taylor.

Jamieson said the chemistry between Beach and Adams was just about on fire but that adding Hayden Taylor and his impeccable sense of timing made for the entire show “come off beautifully”.

This year’s program fittingly paid homage to horse culture because, as Jamieson explained, it not only acknowledged the Aboriginals of the plains but is something that unites the Indigenous around the globe. The opening musical sequence blended a combination of modern dance set to the traditional music of Alberta and then, keeping it global, the traditional music of Mongolia.

“Tune in for the opening number because that theme of horse culture really connects Indigenous people around the world,” said Jamieson.

In terms of this year’s 14 career award recipients, Jamieson said so many of them really stood out. What she was really proud of though was the fact that for the first time in history, eight of this year’s recipients were women.

Of these eight remarkable women, Jamieson said Audrey Poitras, a Métis leader from Alberta who was honoured in the Politics category, had to be at the top of her list.

“Poitras has been elected now to an unprecedented fifth term and she is just the most humble, effective bridge builder. She has built an endowment fund for financial support for Métis students and just launched a training institute done in collaboration with the university out there. This is a woman who has been quietly effective in building and building and building,” said Jamieson.

Executive Director of the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society of Canada Cindy Blackstock of the Gitksan Nation First Nation in British Columbia who was honoured in the public service category also came to mind for Jamieson.

“She has taken on a human-right challenge on the issue of equitable funding for Aboriginal children and so she stands out,” said Jamieson.

Dr. Duncan Cree, a Mohawk from Kanehsatake, Quebec, was also extremely memorable to Jamieson for his contributions to the technological world. Receiving the honour for Technology & Trades, Cree possesses three degrees in engineering, one of which is a doctorate of philosophy in mechanical engineering.

Cree was one of only 10 participants from Canada chosen to attend the annual Space Studies Program offered by the International Space University held in Beijing, China. He has contributed nationally and internationally in the engineering sector for his research in ceramic materials for use in both aeronautical and aerospace industries.

Jamieson said the person who probably stood out most to many of those taking in the show was Culture, Heritage & Spirituality Award recipient Annie Paingut Peterloosie, an Inuit from Nunavut who is described as a human archive of Inuit culture and heritage.

“Peterloosie is a national treasure in Inuit culture and spirituality. She is relied upon by the people in the region for her knowledge in Inuit culture and language,” said Jamieson.

Not only does Peterloosie teach young people how to build houses out of sod in the summertime and igloos in the winter, she also tans hide and is known for being able to perform a type of Inuit acting that the people would often engage in during the winter months to entertain themselves. She also does a great deal of storytelling.

Quebec’s other major winner at this year’s Awards was Jean LaRose, an Abenaki from Odenak who is currently the CEO of APTN.

While LaRose has a background in communications and previously worked in that domain for the Assembly of First Nations, his honour stemmed from what he has been able to do for the TV network, taking it from a $5.5 million deficit to a world-class station in a few short years.

It is because of LaRose’s contributions that APTN has seen such a rapid financial turnaround but also moved on to be the first TV channel to broadcast the Olympics in eight different Indigenous languages. Under his leadership the station made the jump to HD and LaRose is also responsible for the creation of the Indigenous Television Network which is a brand-new international organization.

This year’s Lifetime Achievement Award and Special Youth Award recipients were also women.

Dr. Lillian McGregor, who Jamieson believes is about 86 but McGregor refuses to confirm, was honoured for her many contributions to both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities. A registered nurse originally from the Whitefish Reserve in Ontario, McGregor moved to Toronto several decades ago where she is still an advisor and Elder-in-residence to many organizations. She was the first one ever at the University of Toronto First Nations House and received a Doctor of Laws degree, in recognition of her outstanding contribution.

McGregor was one of the founders of the Native Canadian Centre in Toronto, which was one of the earliest Friendship Centres in the country, and has been relied upon by four successive Chiefs of Police in Toronto for advice and guidance. On her long list of accolades, she is a recipient of the Queen’s Jubilee Award.

This year’s Special Youth Award Recipient was Teyotsihstokwáthe Dakota Brant, a 23-year-old from Six Nations of the Grand River.

“Brant is Miss Indian World and is quite accomplished academically, earning for the first time in the world a degree in Indigenous Environmental Studies from Trent University,” said Jamieson.

Brant is also proficient in speaking her own language, is an award-winning artist in the Haudenosaunee art of Raised Beadwork, a volunteer firefighter and a traditional dancer.

“We call them recipients or honourees because it is competitive but honestly, there are so many worthy people throughout Canada that this is sort of like the Kennedy Center Honors in Washington where you select a number of people each year that are entirely worthy of being honoured,” said Jamieson.

While Jamieson couldn’t go through the entire list of award winners in the space of time she had to speak with the Nation, here is some information on the other recipients.

Arts Award recipient Corrine Hunt of the Komoyue and Tlingit First Nations

British Columbia was acknowledged for her contributions to the contemporary art world, producing works reflects the themes and traditions heritage. Having created more 2000 designs, her work is displayed at the Hilton Hotel Whistler, The Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) in Vancouver and she designed the magnificent logo for the prestigious 2006 World Peace Forum. She is best known for co-designing the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic medals.

Joseph F. Dion of the Kehewin Cree Nation in Alberta was the 2011 Business & Commerce Award recipient as the Founder of Dion Resources Inc. The company networks in the areas of oil and gas development, wind power, forestry development, international finance and a variety of other business developments. He is also the founding Chairman and President of the Indian Resource Council of Canada.

This year’s Education Award went to Dr. Margo L. Greenwood, a Cree from Alberta who was honoured for her work in post-secondary education intended to better the health and well-being of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children, families and communities. Besides devoting two and a half decades to early childhood education, Greenwood has made contributions advising the UN and UNICEF and been an expert on a series of other national and international organizations.

The 2011 Environment & Natural Resources Award went to Ronald Edward Sparrow

of the Musqueam First Nation in British Columbia in recognition of his many years of hard work in fighting for Aboriginal fishing rights. He engaged in a protest against the restrictive framework prescribed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and took the case, known as the Sparrow Case, all the way to Supreme Court of Canada.

Dr. Marcia Anderson DeCoteau, a Métis from Manitoba, was the 2011 recipient in the category of Health for her contributions as a medical doctor. She was the youngest ever Aboriginal graduate from the Faculty of Medicine in Manitoba at the age of 24 and Dr. Anderson-DeCoteau is the youngest president of the Indigenous Physicians Association of Canada (IPAC).

Roger Jones of the Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nation in Ontario was honoured as this year’s Law & Justice Award recipient. Jones plays a critical role in key legal and political developments internationally and in Canada. This includes the development of the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples, the Canadian constitution negotiations, the Federal Crown First Nations Political Accord in 2005, and the Ipperwash Inquiry in Ontario. He was also the founding president of the Indigenous Bar Association, and the former Vice-Chair, Native Law section of the Canadian Bar Association.

Frederick G. Sasakamoose of the Ahtahkakoop First Nation in Saskatchewan was the 2011 honouree for Sports, having been the first Aboriginal and Treaty Cree person to play for the National Hockey League, playing for the Chicago Blackhawks from 1953-1954. His contributions in the NHL resonated within his community for generations afterwards, having used the opportunity to create hockey schools for less fortunate children and the development of several sports programs.

On behalf of the Nation magazine, congratulations to all of the 2011 recipients!