Crystal Shawanda the biggest winner at Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards

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TORONTO – It’s a good thing Crystal Shawanda did not abandon her career after her devastation at age 11 when she failed to win a singing contest.

Shawanda, who was born in Ontario on the Wikwemikong First Nation on Manitoulin Island, was the biggest winner at this year’s Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards.

The 26-year-old won all five awards that she was nominated for at the ceremony, held at Toronto’s Rogers Centre Nov. 28.

Shawanda, who has lived in Nashville for the past seven years, won awards for Best Female Artist, Best Single, Best Video, Best Country Album and Album of the Year.

“I’m going to take them home and enjoy them for a while,” Shawanda said of her latest accolades.

But Shawanda might not be keeping the awards in her possession for that long. She said she thought she might donate them to a local school in her hometown so they could be displayed and possibly inspire other aboriginal youth to aim for greatness.

Though she knew she had the most nominations, Shawanda said she didn’t really think about how many CAMA trophies she might actually receive.

“I didn’t have any expectations,” she said. “I was just more excited I was able to sing (as one of the show’s performers).”

Shawanda was honored for her work on her latest CD titled “Dawn of a New Day.” The title of this album is what her surname translates into in Ojibwe.

Shawanda said her latest CD was a long time in the making.

“We worked on it for two years,” she said. “I’m really pleased we took our time with it.”

Shawanda was also thrilled to win all her CAMAs the same evening that Canadian legend Buffy Sainte-Marie was honored with a Lifetime Contribution to Aboriginal Music Award.

“Buffy Sainte-Marie was a huge mentor for me, musically and style-wise,” Shawanda said.

Sainte-Marie, who was born in Saskatchewan but now lives in Hawaii, was understandably excited about her award.

“Of course, it’s very flattering,” she said.

And what made her award more appealing is that she received it at an event, which is part of the Canadian Aboriginal Festival. Besides the music awards show, the annual Toronto event includes a pow wow and Native musical acts, workshops, teachings, fashion shows and displays of handicrafts and arts – all things she has been a long-time supporter of.

“All of you have been such an inspiration to me throughout my life,” Sainte-Marie told the crowd during her acceptance speech. “I’ve had the rare privilege of being able to have airplane tickets from show business, which have allowed me to come into your communities. And you guys are the ones who keep showing up in my songs. And I thank you forever and ever and ever for that.”

Meanwhile, Mitch Daigneault, who lives in Battleford, Saskatchewan, was one of four double CAMA winners this year.

Besides being selected as the Best Male Artist, Daigneault was also the recipient of the Best Songwriter award.

While Shawanda said none of her awards were more meaningful than the others, Daigneault said for him, capturing the Best Songwriter award was especially significant.

“You always want the reward (of knowing) that somebody is saying you’re doing something right,” he said of his songwriting efforts.

As for why he opts to stick to singing and writing country songs when other Aboriginal artists have gone into other genres, Daigneault had a witty response.

“I was a sucker for the slow songs,” he said. “It kept me hungry but it kept me loved.”

Daigneault had also been nominated in the Best Country Album category for his work titled “Driving All Night.” But that was one of the awards that Shawanda captured.

Other acts that won two CAMAs each were Eagle and Hawk, Alyssa Delbaere-Shawchuk and Tanya Tagaq.

Winnipeg’s Eagle and Hawk were recognized as the Best Group or Duo. And they also took home the Best Rock Album award for their efforts on “Sirensong.”

Delbaere-Shawchuk, who lives in Toronto, won a pair of awards for her latest work dubbed “Omeigwessi Reel Métis: A Tribute To Walter Fleet.” Besides being the Best Fiddle Album it was also selected as the Best Instrumental Album.

Tagaq, who is from Calgary, won her awards for Best Album Design and Best Female Traditional/Cultural Roots Album for her efforts on “Auk-Blood.”