Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come, President of the Cree Nation Achievement Awards Foundation, remarked that the Cree Nation Achievement Awards Gala was “an historical evening to recognize those who’ve contributed to the communities”. The gathering on August 30 wanted to recognize those who made their mark on the Cree Nation.

In September 2010, the Cree Nation Achievement Awards Foundation held the first fundraiser to get the organization off to a good start. It was a promising sign when a painting went for thousands of dollars at an auction during that opening gala. Since then, Cree and non-Cree leaders as well as business people come together in Mont-Tremblant for a golf tournament and gala to help keep the foundation solid footing.

Since that first gala two years ago, numerous awards have been given out to honour the people who’ve made contributions to the Cree Nation. This year, the Crees and their guests assembled at the foot of Mont-Tremblant on August 30 for the gala and golf tournament. Mont-Tremblant mayor Pierre Pilon welcomed everyone and even used quite a few Cree words in his speech. This impressed people who are used to hearing dignitaries mangle our language. To make sure the night went smoothly the gala was in the capable hands of Youth Grand Chief Joshua Iserhoff and Tina Petawabano, Director of Quebec Relations for the Grand Council of the Crees.

John Paul Murdoch, corporate secretary for the Grand Council, and Kenny Loon, legal and policy advisor, were the guest speakers of the evening. They spoke of their life experiences and how they persevered to reach their goals. Murdoch talked of how he had to relearn the Cree language in order to serve the Crees. When he returned home after his schooling, he was tasked with presenting the off-shore agreement to the communities along the coast and having Rod Pachano throw him in the ring to explain the agreement. It made his mother proud to have him speak Cree so well when they got back to Waskaganish.

Later on Loon was invited to tell his story of struggle and ultimate success. His journey has been one of many twists and turns. Starting as a young print reporter, Loon eventually attended university and past the bar exam. Along the way he and his family learnt perseverance and sacrifice.

Coon Come and Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff handed out the first round of awards for the evening.

The award for Leadership and Community Service was given to Robert Kanatewat, 78, a former chief of Fort George (Chisasibi) at the time of the original James Bay Agreement. He was one of the signatories and went on negotiate the Cree-Naskapi Agreement and sit on the Cree-Naskapi Commission along with being a businessman with Kepa Transport.

Robbie Matthew of Chisasibi picked up the Cree Language and Cultural Knowledge, Special Recognition Award. A former chief of Chisasibi, Matthew, along with his late wife, worked tirelessly for the Cree Nation in all sectors, including education, politics and spiritual life. One story that stands out for me about Matthew and his wife is when they took in troubled youths and turned their lives around. One friend credits his time with them out on the land as the only thing that was able to help him heal. Matthew still works for the betterment of the youth, Elders and the community.

The Women’s Contribution Award went to Jane Pachano, who is a trailblazer in the Cree Nation. She published her autobiography, Geniesh: An Indian Girlhood, in 1973 and has led a political life since the mid-’70s. Working in the Cree history and cultural realm, Pachano delved deep into her extended family’s history and genealogy to find the cause of a hereditary disease that she traced back to three workers of the Hudson’s Bay Company in the 1700s. Today the disease is known as Cree leukoencephalitis.

To present the Academic Excellence Award was the Grand Chief and Darlene Cheechoo, the vice chair at the Cree School Board.

The Academic Excellence Award (College) went to Monica Parceaud, who maintained 85% and 90% averages during her time in college.

Corey Coon-Come, with a Lieutenant Governor’s Award to his name along with being on the Dean’s List among other honours, also received an award.

With Honours and a Grade Point Average (GPA) of 3.50 in the Civil Engineering Technology program at the Cambrian College of Applied Arts & Technology in Sudbury, Jaris Gull was also honoured.

Joey James Joseph Georgekish was awarded the Academic Excellence Award (University Bachelor’s Degree). He graduated with high honours in Psychology from Carleton University and was on the Dean’s Honours List and received the William E. Beckel Scholarship.

Frances Kawapit received an Academic Excellence Award (University Bachelor’s Degree). She graduated from the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a GPA of 3.86. Kawapit also works in the community in a women’s support group.

Christopher Diamond was honoured with an award. He graduated from the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a GPA of 3.24.

Donald Nicholls, Director of the Justice Department with the CRA, also received an award. Among his academic achievements, Nicholls holds four degrees from four different universities: Bachelor of Arts (1993) from University of Western Ontario; Bachelor of Laws (1996) from University of Toronto Law School; Bachelor of Civil Law (1998) from McGill University Law School; and Master of Laws (2002) from University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law.

Lorraine Spencer, Guidance Counselor for Cree School Board, handed out the Bursary College awards along with Deputy Grand Chief Iserhoff. They went to Corey Coon-Come and Conrad Mianscum.

There to present the Sports Excellence Awards was Brant Blackned, President of the Cree Nation Sports Academy.

The Sports Excellence Award (13-17 age category) went to Cody Petawabano for his hockey accomplishments. The 18-30 category award went to Nathaniel Bosum for his exploits in racing

In the 31-60 category award went to none other than Blackned himself. For a number of years, he played in pro hockey and runs the Cree Nation Sports Academy.

Kenny Mianscum, President of Cree Native Arts & Crafts Association, presented the Arts Award with the Deputy Grand Chief.

Everyone who watched the CBC in the late-1970s knows Adventures in Rainbow Country that starred Buckley Petawabano. He is also remembered for his role in the NFB film Cold Journey. Petawabano is a Cree communications pioneer and his award in the arts in well deserved.

Melissa Pash along with her band provided the evenings entertainment. Then the closing was done by Diane Ottereyes Reid, herself a pioneer in her own right in the Cree world. She is President and CEO of Aanischaaukamikw, the museum in Oujé-Bougoumou and is advisor to the Cree Nation Achievement Awards Foundation. After the awards, people were looking forward to the next day’s golf tournament as they were looking to fill their teams in the foursomes.