A Canadian senator getting the achievement of a lifetime, a health practitioner reviving midwifery, and a preserver of Native spirituality, heritage and culture—these are three of this year’s Indspire Award winners. Along with six other recipients, those below will be honored at a ceremony in Ottawa on March 24.
The Indspire Awards, formerly the Aboriginal Achievement Awards, have been presented annually since 1993 to First Nation, Métis and Inuit people from across Canada who have distinguished themselves in various fields. Normally there would be a winner in the arts, but this year Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq declined hers, and no alternate was chosen, according to Indspire.
For the second time in his career Sinclair, Peguis First Nation, will receive an Indspire Award. Back in 1994 he was presented with a National Aboriginal Achievement Award in the Law and Justice category. He was honored then for being the first aboriginal associate chief justice in Manitoba. Since then he has served as chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and was the one to utter the words about the residential school era that validated the damage, calling it “cultural genocide.”
And now Sinclair, who was appointed to the Canadian senate last year, will be recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Indspire award, the first person to win both an Indspire and a lifetime Achievement award.
“I’m not finished yet, but I appreciate the honor,” said Sinclair, who is from St. Peter’s Indian Reserve in Manitoba. “I recognize it’s important for us to continue to give back to our community. And I intend to do that.”
Sinclair, who is 65, still has lots of plans.
“The primary goal is to keep the momentum for reconciliation alive and to motivate, indigenous youth primarily, not to give up hope,” he said.
Another senior being honored is Doreen Spence, a 79-year-old originally from Alberta’s Saddle Lake Cree Nation. Spence will be honored in the Culture, Heritage & Spirituality category. She became one of the first indigenous women to earn a practical nursing degree, which she did in 1959. After a 40-plus year nursing career she’s now an elder and a big advocate of human rights.
Raised by her grandparents, Spence absorbed their lessons and grew into an internationally respected Cree elder. Nevertheless, she remains humble.
“Their teachings of love, kindness, humanity, language, and ethics shaped her childhood and helped Doreen to become the determined, resilient woman that she would need to be in order to accomplish all that she has accomplished in the years that followed,” Indspire said.
“There are some prestigious people in our communities across our great land doing some great work,” Spence said. “For me to be recognized among them is the greatest honor.”
Longboat, who is from the Mohawk Turtle Clan in Ontario’s Six Nations, will be honored for Culture, Heritage & Spirituality. Now an elder, Longboat has also served as an educator, writer, herbalist, cultural advocate and visionary who has spent a good chunk of her life as a tireless advocate for indigenous culture and language. She was born and raised on Six Nations of the Grand River and still lives there today.
From Quebec’s Akwesasne First Nation, Cook is being honored through the Health category. Cook, who is from the Mohawk Wolf Clan, is a leading advocate for the restoration and preservation of aboriginal midwifery. She began work as a midwife in 1980 and has won numerous other awards from various health networks since then.
“Katsi spawned a new generation of aboriginal midwives, while simultaneously working to influence public policy, promoting community and culture-based practice and research,” said Indspire, noting that her work is true to her origins. “Katsi grounds her midwifery in the teachings of her Onkwehonwe generations, framing her work in the intersections of environmental reproductive health and justice.”
“Woman is the First Environment,” Cook said in an intro to her Indspire bio. “In pregnancy, our bodies sustain life. At the breast of women, the generations are nourished. From the bodies of women flows the relationship of those generations, both to society and the natural world. In this way, the earth is our mother, the old people said. In this way, we as women are Earth.”
Okalik, who is the president of the National Inuit Youth Council, is the Inuit winner in the Youth category. The 27-year-old from Nunavut graduated from Ottawa’s Carleton University last year with a degree in human rights and political science, as well as a minor in aboriginal studies. She’s now working as a senior policy advisor with Nunavut’s government.
“She is building awareness and understanding of the circumstances of Inuit youth locally, nationally and internationally,” said Indspire. “Okalik is a role model for all youth across the country. She is a proud Inuk with a solid grounding in tradition and has the ability to move seamlessly between the tundra and Canada’s cities.”
Dymond, who is from Nova Scotia’s Bear River First Nation, is one of three recipients in the Youth category. He received both his undergraduate and Master’s degree in Kinesiology from Newfoundland’s Memorial University. His volunteer efforts included being the Aboriginal representative on the student union. Dymond is now in the School of Medicine at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. The aspiring doctor also founded the Wape’k Mui’n drum group. His inspiring words could apply to anyone, of any age.
“There isn’t always a clear direction in life—embrace who you are, your own journey, and take pride in yourself,” he said on Indspire’s website. “Never forget where you came from; let it shape you, and guide you where you want to go.”