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Canada's Best and Brightest Shine at Aboriginal Achievement Awards

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From a media CEO to acclaimed artists, health-care innovators and researchers, the Canada’s National Aboriginal Achievement Awards are poised to recognize the best and the brightest—and bright they are, starting with their co-host.

The annual event will be headlined by a name becoming familiar in Hollywood but who is first and foremost one of Canada’s aboriginal own: actor Adam Beach, whose stint as Harrison Ford’s right-hand man in the upcoming Cowboys and Aliens is just the latest in a string of successes that include Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers and Windtalkers, with Nicolas Cage.

“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,” he told the Edmonton Journal on March 8. Orphaned at age eight, Beach grew up on the Dog Creek First Nations Reserve at Lake Manitoba with his two brothers and lived with an uncle.

The 38-year-old actor will co-host the awards with his former co-star, Evan Adams, as they reprise their 1998 roles in Smoke Signals, the movie 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 Edmonton Journal, adding that Native perspective is markedly absent in political and social discourse, a lack that makes the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards all the more important.

The program is full of standouts, but two are making headlines these days, or at least their endeavors are.

Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society of Canada (FNCFCS), will be recognized for public service. Blackstock, of Gitksan Nation, has worked in child and family services for 20-plus years, the awards site says.

“Under her leadership of the FNCFCS, the Assembly of First Nations launched a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal against the Canadian Government on charges that it is racially discriminating against First Nations children and their families,” the awards site says of its Public Service recipient’s work. “By providing less child welfare funding, and benefits than other Canadian children receive, this case is one of the most formally watched legal actions in Canadian history with over 6300 people and organizations watching the tribunal.”

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Her proposal called Jordan’s Principal, a landmark children’s policy movement, has been adopted by the provinces of British Columbia, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and New Brunswick.

Then there’s Jean LaRose, Abenaki, CEO for 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 awards site says. LaRose also got APTN service out to remote communities in the east, west and north, helped found the newly launched International Indigenous Broadcasting Network and broadcast the 2010 Olympic Games in eight aboriginal languages, 14 hours a day.

The network is garnering attention on many fronts. Its news division won the 2010 Amnesty International Canada Human Rights Journalism Award for in-depth reporting on the plight of missing indigenous women across Canada.

Its series Blackstone, depicting “Rez life à la The Sopranos,” is earning praise for its glimpse into the inner workings of a tribe.

Its reality food show, Cooking with the Wolfman,features chef, host and executive producer David Wolfman pairing up aboriginal culinary arts students from Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba.

And the network is following the Uluit, the Nunavik women's hockey team, in a five-part documentary, The Uluit: Champions of the North.

Other winners include a champion of aboriginal fishing rights (hint: the case is named after him); a female Métis leader; and many more.

Here is a list of award winners. For more details, go to the main website.