It was a golf tournament, a gala event, a Crystal Shawanda concert and a special night to honour a young Cree girl.
The Cree Women of Eeyou Istchee Association (CWEIA) hosted its first charity golf tournament in Val-d’Or July 18 at the Belvedere Golf Club to launch a new charity cause – the Abby’s Dream Foundation. Organizers hope it will be a popular annual event.
Consisting of a competitive day out on the links for about 60 golfers, followed by a banquet dinner and soiree featuring heartfelt addresses and rockin’ country tunes from Ojibwa superstar Crystal Shawanda, the event made an indelible stamp on the Cree social scene.
“It was a great success. We had a great team that put the event together and it was an honour to have Abby Masty, the youngest Journey of Nishiyuu walker, be with us for the evening. She did this for the dream she had and she shared it with us,” said CWEIA President Virginia Wabano.
While attendees rocked with Shawanda, dined on the Belevedere’s delicacies and vied for bragging rights on the links, CWEIA’s Regional Economic Development Coordinator Charlotte Ottereyes says no one lost sight of the reason for the event.
Though CWEIA had been toying with the idea of a golf benefit for some time, it was Masty’s story that gave the impetus to finally turn that idea into a reality.
“We decided to honour her because she was walking for the Elders, women and children who had been abused. She walked on behalf of them to stop the violence. So we decided to honour her dream,” said Ottereyes.
“This is a new foundation that we will use our annual golf tournament to raise funding for every year. This is going to be a fund that will help women and community through projects wherever they are needed.”
The inspiration for the event, a now 12-year-old Masty, addressed the attendees and discussed why she walked from her Whapmagoostui home to downtown Ottawa.
According Ottereyes, the shy young girl amazed everyone at the benefit, talking about her hopes, fears and experiences along the way on her incredible journey.
“When we originally talked about fundraising, we talked about the golf benefit. Then we heard (Abby’s) story and decided that this would not only be a great way to start but also to help Abby and honour her dreams. Together the whole thing was so inspirational, particularly because an 11-year-old had walked the entire distance. If an 11-year-old girl can walk from Whapmagoostui to Ottawa, then we too can accomplish our goals,” said Ottereyes.
While thrilled to have a foundation named in her honour, Masty was a little shy about her English and spoke with the aid of her mother, Rita Masty, about why she walked the distance.
As her mother explained, major journeys are a family affair for the Mastys and the walk was inspired by the family’s previous generation as Rita had once trekked 20 km as a five-year-old in the wintertime, without snowshoes.
“My 14-year-old sister’s baby died at camp. So we had to leave our camp to go to Whapmagoostui. At the time there wasn’t a bush radio or any form of communication to contact anyone. Being just five years old and walking without snowshoes was very hard,” said Rita.
She went on to explain that Abby’s younger brother, Lyle, was also a source of inspiration when it came to this journey as he went on a canoe journey from Mistissini to Waskaganish in 2008, not even knowing how to paddle a small canoe. By the time he finished, Lyle was a pro and became Abby’s inspiration to finish the journey.
In all, her walk was really about doing what a child in her position could do to raise awareness to the causes that were dear to her and help try to change the world. As her mother explained, Abby walked to raise awareness about the issues that Crees face as a nation and raise money to start up athletic programs for girls, fund teaching programs to pass on traditional knowledge, help end family violence and to help the needy in the Cree Nation.
“She inspired me to become a better person and continue my healing. I will do my part to support her to accomplish her dreams. I hope those people who are still waiting to meet with her will get their chance,” said Rita.
While Abby captivated the hearts and minds of those listening to her speak, according to Wabano, the evening’s entertainment was also about inspiring women in the Cree Nation to strive towards their goals. Inviting Shawanda to both speak about her life in the music industry and what it was like to strive from her humble beginnings as an Ojibway gal from the Wikwemikong Reserve to Canadian superstardom.
“We have many women who face challenges when it comes to being successful so we wanted to use Shawanda as a role model because the music industry is very tough for Native people and she succeeded. She fought her way up and now has received all kinds of recognition, including a Juno award,” said Wabano.
According to Ottereyes, Shawanda was an obvious choice for CWEIA’s first benefit because the singer feels connected to the organization’s mission to empower the women of the Cree Nation.
“She had once spoken to me about how amazed she was with what we have been doing with CWEIA. She said that she would be honoured to help us,” said Ottereyes.
But, big names weren’t the only thing that made the event memorable. Ottereyes said it was the presence of several Elders from Whapmagoostui that added so much to the evening as they shared their wisdom and knowledge with those attending the event.
“This was a first, to see the community bring their Elders down for this kind of an event. To have our Elders there was just amazing because we respect them so much and they are who we go to for advice,” said Ottereyes.
In total Ottereyes said that about 100-120 Natives and non-Natives participated in the launch of the foundation and celebrated the achievements of Cree women.
While the Abby’s Dream Foundation is not yet an official charity, CWEIA has begun the lengthy proceedings to legally set up the charity. The event raised funds that will help get the foundation off the ground, and, eventually, help realize the hopes and dreams of so many Crees, and Abby’s in particular.