Awards honor outstanding individuals

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VANCOUVER, B.C. - Many award shows honor individuals for filmmaking, acting or musical accomplishments but there is only one that honors individuals who have contributed to the greater good of Indian country.

The National Aboriginal Achievement Awards, a grand, black-tie gala, is designed to create an awareness about the positive contributions Native people bring to the world of medicine, business, law and justice, education and media.

The 7th annual, sold-out show, in Vancouver this year, honored outstanding career achievements of 14 exceptional Native people from across the country.

Known for its award-winning sets, the awards show this year featured an elaborate underwater world teeming with multi-colored creatures and a spectacular array of flora and fauna.

The awards will be shown on national television in April with hosts Evan Adams "Smoke Signals," and Annie Galipeau, "Grey Owl." The show featured Inuit performer Susan Aglukark and included a special appearance by actor Graham Greene.

"These awards generate tremendous pride all across Canada in all Aboriginal people and express the tremendous talent and skill which reside in the Aboriginal community," said John Kim Bell, Mohawk, the founder and executive producer of the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards.

"This year's event will be our most ambitious production to date and since this is the special millennium year, we will take a moment to also reflect on the awards since their inception."

Each year a national jury comprised of accomplished and respected Aboriginal people selects 12 occupational achievers and one youth and a lifetime recipient. Bell said individuals of First Nations, Inuit and Metis ancestry who have reached a significant level of achievement in their respective occupations are eligible.

The awards were established by the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation (NAAF) in 1993 and are supported by public and private sectors. NAAF is a registered charitable organization created in 1985 to provide financial assistance to Aboriginal students to pursue education in the arts and cultural industries. It expanded its program recently to include grants and bursaries in the arts, business, sciences and health.

Bell, an internationally renowned conductor and composer, said the awards, like the foundation, have become a Canadian institution. "The awards are also Canada's most positive and significant effort to dispel stereotypes, provide role models to Aboriginal youth and promote greater harmony between Aboriginal people and other Canadians."

The set, Bell said, is the largest ever built in Canada requiring 18 trucks to haul set pieces from Toronto to Vancouver.

The categories and winners include:

Life-Time Achievement:

Joseph Gosnell, chief negotiator of the historical Nisga'a Treaty.

Education:

Dr. Jo-Ann Archibald, educator and leader in First Nations curriculum development in British Columbia.

Heritage and Spirituality:

Chief Simon Baker, lacrosse champion and British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame honoree and leader since the 1930s.

Law and Justice:

Steven Point, British Columbia provincial court judge and former Sto:lo chief.

Environment:

Miles Richardson, British Columbia treaty commissioner who led charge to have South Moresby Island designated a national park reserve.

Arts and Culture:

Art Thompson, a renowned carver who designed Queen's baton for 1994 Commonwealth Games.

Youth:

Waneek Horn-Miller, co-captain of Canada's national women's water polo team which won gold medal at 1999 Pan American Games.

Media and Communications:

Leetia Ineak, a puppeteer, producer and writer of children's television programming.

Health and Services:

Fjola Hart-Wasekeesikaw, president of the Aboriginal Nurses Association of Canada.

Business and Commerce:

John Bernard, founder and president of successful multi-million dollar Donna Cona Inc.

Community Development:

Paul Birchel, who led land claims and self-government agreement for First Nations in the Yukon.

Heritage and Spirituality: Edith Josie, who has written a column for the Whitehorse Star for 36 years.

Public Service:

Konrad Sioui who won a Supreme Court of Canada victory in a landmark Quebec case.