A champion of aboriginal fishing rights, a standout woman Métis leader and an innovative health care and child-welfare specialist are among the honorees at the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards, to be broadcast by the Aboriginal People’s Television Network (APTN) and Global TV on Saturday April 9.
Bestowed by the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation, the annual awards showcase the hard work of those who have shone in the areas of justice, aboriginal rights, business, media and other categories. Held on March 11, the awards show was headlined by none other than Adam Beach, now a familiar name in Hollywood but who is first and foremost one of Canada’s aboriginal own, having grown up on the Dog Creek First Nations Reserve at Lake Manitoba. Beach’s role as Harrison Ford’s right-hand man in the upcoming Cowboys & Aliens is just the latest in a string of successes that includes Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers and Windtalkers, with Nicolas Cage.
The aboriginal fishing-rights champion Ronald Edward Sparrow was honored, as was Alberta Métis leader Audrey Poitras, who “mobilized her community’s women and has held the reins of the often fractious Métis Nation of Alberta for more than 14 years” as the first female leader of the organization, which numbers 42,000 members, according to the Edmonton Journal. Poitras also helped arrange $10 million in scholarships, establishing a Métis heritage and tourism center, taking the province to court for Métis hunting rights and rewriting membership requirements, the newspaper said.
“The awards are so important because our people need role models, they need heroes, and they don’t realize there are heroes right in their own backyard,” Beach told the Edmonton Journal on March 8. Orphaned at age 8, Beach grew up with his two brothers, living with an uncle. The 38-year-old actor co-hosted the awards with his former co-star, Evan Adams, where they briefly reprised their roles in 1998’s Smoke Signals, about two American Indians who leave their reservation and find themselves.
“They wanted us to reprise our characters in the movie, which is probably the film everyone loves most in Indian country,” Beach told the Journal. The Native perspective, he added, is markedly absent in political and social discourse, a lack that makes the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards all the more important.
The awards program was full of standouts, but two in particular have made recent headlines.
Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society of Canada (FNCFCS), was recognized for public service. Blackstock, of Gitksan Nation, has worked in child and family services for 20-plus years, the awards site said. Among other achievements, she has been fighting to bring funding for aboriginal child welfare on par with that of provincial funding for non-Native children.
Then there is Jean LaRose, Abenaki, CEO of the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), the world’s first and so far only aboriginal broadcaster.
“Since joining the network he has brought it from a deficit position to a surplus position, has moved the network to a high-definition platform and now employs 130 people,” the foundation site said. Visit the site and click on video number four for a look backstage at the awards.