24th anniversary of the Indspire Awards—Indspirational!
Photos by Renée Boucher Doiron
Looking to the past to change the future, the rousing refrain of the 24th anniversary of the Indspire Awards, was evident even before the uplifting showcase that was to come even began. The grinning and the glamorous started to pour into the National Arts Centre early last night and there was much to smile about. Dressed in flowing gowns and suits mixed with a colourful array of symbolic and traditional appurtenances, close to 1,000 Indigenous youth would sit next to families, teachers, elders and other industry professional in representation of that theme during the event that gives the highest honour the community bestows upon its own people.
“We’ve placed our hopes in you. We support you. We believe in you,” President and CEO of Indspire, Roberta L. Jamieson said with firm eyes on the seats above her where much of the young sat. “You have potential. Use it. Make it happen for you. Don’t give up. Discover and use the special gifts in you just waiting to be realized. Ladies and gentlemen, things are changing. Our people are taking their rightful place and Canada is richer for it!”
The statement would be echoed thoroughout the evening beginning with an opening blessing by Cultural Advisor, Claudette Commanda. Though standing on a lavish reflective and vibrant set, it was clear the pageantry of the evening was not going to overshadow to message. While the country as a whole celebrates 150 years much still needs to be done during the next century to move us forward beyond some of the more painful times in Canadian history.
“The last 150 years tells of a sad and terrible time for First Nation’s children. The next 150 years is a time of healing, for hope and for a celebration of our children and our youth,” said Commanda as those she spoke of looked on attentively with faces that showed the importance of the words they were hearing were not going to be ignored.
“It will be a time where youth will sound a drum, to express their different identities through their languages, traditions and ceremonies with pride. We carry the future in our hands. Canadians and First Nations, we must walk to road of reconciliation together for our children. They are the pillars of Indigenous cultures. They are survivors of our Nation.”
Where else to go after such an inspiring opening then into jubilant celebration as over a dozen First Nations performers made their way onto the stage, dancing and singing up the NAC aisles, in a beautiful display of traditional regalia and cultural arts.
“If Canada is going to succeed into the next century so must Indigenous people,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a video message to those gathered, his words focusing on the Laureates and the achievements being honoured that evening.
“Canada’s future is stronger, brighter and more ambitious because of your leadership.”
Hosts singer and actress Cheri Maracle and television personality Kyle Nobess provided the perfect transitions from the more serious side of the evening with playful banter regarding who deserved a better dressing room.
However, the reflective threads were even weaved into the comedy as the duo were transported back in time in a filmed parody of popular 80’s time travel show Quantum Leap.
In Wampum Leap, it was up to the two to make much needed amendments to the 1876 Indian Act with humorous, but poignant, results.
Introduced by Ashley Callingbull, the first Canadian First Nation’s woman to win the Mrs. Universe title, youth recipients Thomas Dymond, Maatalii Aneraq Okalik and Josh Butcher were awarded first.
Their achievements were shown through elegant video packages before each took to the stage for a standing ovation. The sign of respect would be shown throughout the evening as each recipient would be shown equal applause.
“There isn’t always a clear direction in life –embrace who you are, your own journey, and take pride in yourself,” said Dymond, sharing his own background of coming out as a gay First Nation’s youth, rising above substance abuse to become an advocate for the community. “Never forget where you come from; let it shape you, and guide you where you want to go.”
TThe honours continued with Health, Sport, Politics, Education, Business, Law and Public Service being among some of the facets of society celebrated for the important contributions by our First Nation’s people.
First established in 1993, the first Indspire Awards worked in harmony with the United Nations declaration of International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People.
Indspire would become an Indigenous-led charity whose goal would be to invest in the education of Indigenous people for their long term benefits as well as those of their families and communities. Since 1985, Indspire has awarded more than $87 million in scholarships and bursaries to more than 25,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis students nationwide.
These kinds of opportunities for youth were relayed a day before where many attended various speeches, workshops and booths at a Soaring Youth Conference inside the Westin hotel.
The capital city setting for these events during Ottawa’s biggest year was not a coincidence.
“Indspire chose Ottawa as the perfect setting to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary of confederation while at the same time, honouring the history and contributions of many generations of Indigenous people,” Indspire’s Vice President of Communications and Marketing Anne Marie Gabriel told Ottawa Life before the ceremony.
The ceremony, Gabriel said, takes hundreds of hours of planning each year and brings in over 200 production staff.
The fruits of their effort were sweet ones all night long. Along with the triumphant opening, this year’s performances included Indigenous Hip Hop sensation Drezus joined by Cree singer Mariame as well as a powerful performance by Nunavik chanteuse Elisapie which included some traditional Inuit throat singing.
Duncan McCue, Anishinaubae member of the Georgina Island First Nation and host of CBC Radio One’s Cross Country Checkup put the night in context before receiving his award by touching upon the stories everybody has to tell, one’s he’s made a living sharing.
“Stories matter. Our stories make us who and what we are,” he said. “I want our stories to be out there for all Canadians to hear. I can’t wait for the next generation of our storytellers and jouranlists to shape and share our news, our debwewin (truth).”
Not all of those truths, of course, were easy to tell as was the case when Culture, Heritage and Spirituality Laureate Dorreen Spence shared her story of a game she would play with her father as a child. He would blow a whistle and she would hide in nearing haystacks awaiting the second note he’d chime out singling for her to emerge. What appeared to be an innocent game of hide and seek was actually the protection of a father concealing his daughter when people came to take her away to residential schools. Many members of the audience dabbed away at tears during her story.
“There’s a lot of heeling that has to take place,” Spence said.
The Honourable Senator Murray Sinclair received the night’s highest honour in the Lifetime Achievement Award. Serving within the Manitoba justice system for over 25 years, he would go on to chair Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, beginning a multi-year process of listening to the stories of over 6,000 Residential School Survivors, families, communities and others that were affected.
"We have described for you a mountain. We have shown you the path to the top,” Sinclair said adding that “we call upon you to do the climbing.”
An emotional Sinclair held up his award for all but his action before leaving the stage showed who he was looking towards to clear those next peaks. With tears in his eyes, he pointed towards the youth in the balcony, pausing for a tender moment with the award outstretched to them, glancing towards it as if to tell them that they could very well be where he stood one day.
The event closed out with the cultural explosion by the legendary Buffy Sainte-Marie who chose to begin her performance not on stage but with the people in the crowd. Her words told all to carry on what they’d heard that night, bring out the inspiration and let the culture thrive.
“It ain’t money that makes the world go round /
That’s only temporary confusion /
It ain’t governments that make the people strong /
It’s the opposite illusion,”
shouted Sainte-Marie, her words nearly obliterate by the cheers of agreement.
“Take heart and take care of your link with life!”
-List of Awards-
Naatalii Okalik (Youth – Inuit Award)
Josh Butcher (Youth – Métis Award)
Thomas Dymond (Youth – First Nation Award)
Indspired Award for Sports
Heather Kashman (Métis Red River Settlement, Manitoba)
Indspired Award for Politics
Cece Hodgson McCauley (Sahtu Dene, Northwest Territories)
Indspired Awards for Culture, Heritage and Spirituality
Jan Kahehti:io Longboat (Six Nations of the Grand River, Ontario)
Doreen Spence (Saddle Lake Cree Nation, Alberta)
Indspired Award for Education
Nathan Matthew (Simpcw First Nation, British Columbia)
Indspired Award for Public Service
Duncan McCue (Georgina Island First Nation, Ontario)
Inspired Award for Health
Tekatsi:tsia’kwa Katsi Cook (Mohawk Nation at Akwesane, Quebec)
Indspired Award for Law & Justice
Kimberly R. Murray (Kanehsata:ke Mohawk Nation, Quebec)
Indspired Award for Business and Commerce
P. Jerry Asp (Tahltan Nation, British Columbia)
Lifetime Achievement Award
The Honourable Senator Murray Sinclair