Winners’ descriptions were written by the Foundation but edited by the Nation for length.
Mankind has always strived to achieve. Legends and historical stories are full of heroes and heroines who make their mark upon the world through strength, courage and intelligence. In today’s world we continue this oldest of traditions in many ways. The armies use medals to recognize outstanding individuals, as do sporting events. The Nobel Prizes honour those who achieve greatness in physics, chemistry, peace, medicine, economics, and literature.
In the Aboriginal world we have the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards each year. They are relatively new, having started in 1993 to coincide with the first United Nations International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. It is interesting to look at the winners and what they have achieved either for their First Nations or Aboriginal Peoples across Canada. Who knows? We may see some Crees from Eeyou Istchee accepting an award next year. You just have to nominate them and see what happens.
Any Aboriginal or Canadian may nominate individuals who are of First Nations, Inuit or Métis heritage. The nominees must demonstrate outstanding career achievement, be of any age (youth achiever nominees must be 15-24 years of age) and a permanent Canadian resident or Canadian-born.
You may nominate someone in the following categories: Agriculture, Arts and Culture, Business and Commerce, Community Development, Education, Energy, Environment, Fisheries, Forestry and Natural Resources, Health Services, Heritage and Spirituality, Housing, Law and Justice, Lifetime Achievement, Media and Communications, Medicine, Public Service, Science and Technology, Social Services, Sports and Youth.
The deadline to receive nominations is in September. See www.naaf.ca for more information.
Jim Sinclair, Lifetime Achievement
Jim Sinclair is a founding member of both the Native Council of Canada and the Métis National Council and is the current president of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples of Saskatchewan. He launched the first-ever lawsuit against a sitting prime minister to get the Métis into the First Conference on Aboriginal Constitutional Affairs. He helped establish the Saskatchewan Native Economic Development Corporation, a lending institution operated by Métis people, and he oversaw the launch of New Breed, Saskatchewan’s provincial Métis newspaper.
Andrea Dykstra, Youth
M’ikmaw Nation, Pictou Landing and Halifax, Nova Scotia
Andrea is working as the Aboriginal Affairs Advisor for Environment Canada – Atlantic Region. Andrea spearheaded the Pictou Landing Thermal Disturbance Study, which looks at the effects of industrial thermal disturbance on the organisms living in and around freshwater streams. From 2002 to 2005 Andrea worked with the Aboriginal Liaison Committee of the Canadian Environmental Network. Andrea has worked with the Canadian Wildlife Service on a project that articulates the importance of Aboriginal traditional knowledge in the conservation of species at risk.
Taiaiake (Gerald) Alfred, Education
Kaien’kehaka, Mohawks of Kahnawake, Victoria, British Columbia
Taiaiake started out as a US marine but went on to enroll at Concordia University in Montreal. Taiaiake completed his Masters of Arts and his Doctorate at the Department of Government at Cornell University. A prolific author of hundreds of articles and three books on Indigenous governance – including the groundbreaking Peace, Power, Righteousness: An Indigenous Manifesto (1999) – Taiaiake is the founding director of the Indigenous Governance Program at the University of Victoria, the world’s first graduate program to offer a Masters of Arts and a Ph.D. in Indigenous Governance.
Dr. Herb Belcourt, Housing
After working in logging, coal mining and powerline construction as a teenager, Dr. Herb Belcourt went on to successfully develop several businesses in the 1980s, including Belcourt Construction, which became the third largest powerline company in Alberta. In 1970, Herb initiated the Canative Housing Corporation designed to provide decent, affordable housing for Métis families moving into Edmonton and Calgary. The success of this housing initiative was enhanced by its Urban Skills program that taught tenants parenting, home-making, health and budgeting skills and provided daycare. In 2002, through Canative Housing, Herb and his colleagues established the Belcourt Brosseau Metis Awards, donating $13 million for further education for Metis people, the interest used for bursaries and scholarships, and also donated a residents’ house for Métis postgraduate students at the University of Alberta.
Tony Belcourt, Public Service
Tony Belcourt was elected Vice-President of the Métis Association of Alberta in 1969. He helped form the Native Council of Canada (now the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples) and was elected its first President in 1971. He was also a key figure in representing non-Status Indians in their struggle to regain their rights prior to Bill C-31. He was instrumental in establishing the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) in 1993 and since then has been elected President for four consecutive terms, a position he continues to hold. A significant achievement of the MNO during this period was the recent landmark ruling in September 2003 by the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Powley that recognized and affirmed the existence of Métis Constitutional rights in Canadian law.
Bernd Christmas, Business and Commerce
Mi’kmaq, Membertou First Nation, Nova Scotia
Since 1995, Bernd has helped Membertou First Nation go from a $1 million deficit with an operating budget of $6 million to a current operating budget of $65 million. With the support of his Chief and Council, Bernd has set an impressive precedent, signing significant business arrangements with companies such as Lockheed Martin, Sodexho Canada, SNC-Lavalin, Grant Thornton, and Clearwater Fine Foods. Throughout this process, Bernd was instrumental in obtaining certification by the International Standards Organization (ISO) for Membertou, the first native community to obtain this status. A graduate of the Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Bernd has been recognized as one of Atlantic Canada’s Top 50 CEOs.
Gladys Taylor Cook, Heritage and Spirituality
Dakota, Sioux Valley First Nation, Manitoba
For over 25 years this dedicated and loved Elder has committed her life to working with Aboriginal youth at the Agassiz Youth Centre and with Aboriginal female offenders at the Portage Correctional Centre. At the age of four, Gladys was sent to residential school. Despite the challenges she faced, Gladys emerged a survivor. Over the course of a lifetime she has channeled that experience into alleviating the loneliness of others who are often in desperate situations. Gladys also gives workshops about Aboriginal cultural and spiritual teachings to correctional facilities, service agencies and to the community at large.
Myra Cree, Media and Communications
Myra Cree recently passed away but not without leaving a remarkable legacy as a broadcaster in Quebec radio. She worked as a driving force behind the survival of the Mohawk language and helped edit Native Languages of Quebec, a book that heightened interest in language preservation and became a focus of a new school in Kanesatake that teaches Mohawk. When conflict arose at Oka in the summer of 1990, she helped found the Movement for Justice and Peace at Oka-Kanesatake, an organization created to bridge the gap between Native and non-Native people in the Montreal region. She also served as President and spokesperson for Land InSights (Terres en Vues), an organization that encourages and promotes Aboriginal culture and talent as part of the Montreal First Peoples Festival.
Billy Day, Environment
Inuit, Inuvialuit, NT
The Inuvialuit Elder, born in the 1930s in the Mackenzie Delta, Northwest Territories, serves as an ambassador for the protection of the natural environment. During the 1970s, he became involved with the negotiations for the Inuvialuit Final Agreement and was the last President of the Committee for Original People’s Entitlement (COPE), established to protect the Aboriginal community’s cultural and political rights and to protect their lands. The Inuvialuit Final Agreement came into effect in 1984, and Billy has worked tirelessly to promote its goals: to preserve Inuvialuit cultural identity and values within a changing northern society; to enable Inuvialuit to be equal and meaningful participants in the northern economy; and to preserve Arctic wildlife, environment and biological productivity.
James (Sakej) Youngblood Henderson, Law and Justice
Chickasaw/Cheyenne Nations, residing in Saskatchewan
With a Doctorate of Jurisprudence from Harvard Law School, James (Sakej) Youngblood Henderson’s work reflects a belief that Indigenous peoples need to take their place in all institutions. During the constitutional process (1978-1993) in Canada, he served as a constitutional advisor for the Mi’kmaq nation and the NIB-Assembly of First Nations that affirmed Aboriginal and Treaty Rights. In addition, he was a key theorist and part of the drafting team on the Indigenous Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Indigenous Declaration on the Principles and Guidelines for the Protection of the Heritage of Indigenous Peoples. Under his direction the Native Law Centre of Canada at the University of Saskatchewan was established and quickly became a world-renowned legal research and legal studies centre.
Wendy Grant-John, Community Development
Coast Salish, Musqueam, BC
Wendy Grant-John has served three terms as Chief of her community. She was the former Assembly of First Nations Vice-Chief for British Columbia, and former Associate Regional Director-General for the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. Wendy single-handedly spearheaded the revitalization of Salish weaving, a tradition not practiced since the 19th century. Her involvement in the book, “Hands of Our Ancestors” The revival of Salish Weaving at Musqueam, was an important step in reclaiming this keystone of Salish culture. Wendy also contributed to the foundation of the Big Sisters Mentoring Program for First Nations Women; the Wellness Council; and the Concerned Parents Group for the Musqueam Nation for parents coping with childhood drug and alcohol abuse.
Shirley Firth Larsson, Sports
Gwich’in First Nation, NT
Shirley Firth Larsson is an Olympic skier. After 23 years in France, Shirley recently returned to her hometown. Inducted into the Canadian Ski Museum and the Skiing Hall of Fame in 1990, Shirley competed in four Winter Olympics, four World Championships and numerous Canadian and North American Championships. Shirley has promoted Dene and Inuit cultures through lecture tours to a variety of universities, schools and cultural centres in central Europe and Scandinavia.
Jane Ash Poitras, Arts and Culture
Poitras went to Columbia University in New York City where she received her Masters in Fine Arts in 1985. She works in a variety of media, including painting and mixed-media collages that incorporate historical and contemporary symbols, photographs, newspaper clippings, and painted elements. Her recent paintings and collages are part of a self-described “reclamation process,” combining autobiographical elements with traditional Cree iconography, text and imagery to address issues of acculturation. Her exhibitions have graced gallery walls in Vancouver, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Toronto and Amsterdam.
George Tuccaro, Media and Communications
Mikisew Cree, Alberta
Tuccaro is an award-winning retired broadcaster and now an independent communications consultant. During 25 years with CBC Radio North, he specialized in social issues, performance and entertainment programming, and sports commentating. During his career George was the co-host and news anchor of CBC Northbeat, the first daily TV news and information program for the three northern territories and hosted the nationally televised True North Concert. He established an NWT booking agency of northern performing artists and assisted in organizing the Great Northern Arts Festival in Inuvik.