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Respected Anishnabe Elder Among Aboriginal Achievement Award Honorees

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Celebrities, a cabinet minister and a revered healer and elder are among the newly minted winners of the 19th annual National Aboriginal Achievement Awards.

Actor Adam Beach, Lake Manitoba First Nation, lately most known for his role in Cowboys and Aliens with Harrison Ford, won in the Arts; federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, Nunavut, received the Politics award, and Elder Dave Courchene Jr., Manitoba (Nii Gaani Aki Inini—Leading Earth Man) of the Anishnabe Nation, Eagle Clan, was awarded in the Culture, Heritage & Spirituality category.

They and a dozen other award recipients were on Parliament Hill on November 22, where they received a standing ovation in the House of Commons, followed by a reception hosted by Speaker of the House Andrew Scheer. Tragically, the winners included one posthumous award: Youth award winner Earl Cook, who turned his lifelong health problems into a career speaking about fetal alcohol syndrome, died of bone cancer on September 18.

Courchene has been a member of the Wisdom Keepers of the United Nations since 1992, according to the foundation. He is an adviser to the United Nations regarding spirituality and sustainable environmental approaches. In 2002 he founded Turtle Lodge, an internationally known "place of learning, healing and sharing for all people," the foundation states.

In accepting his award, the elder said the honor went beyond the ovations and accolades. He is known as a healer and promotor of peace. He shared the stage with the Dalai Lama at the Newark Peace Education Summit in May.

“We must look at the deeper reason for why we are being acknowledged here today,” Courchene said at the gathering, according to a Turtle Lodge statement.

"We are being propelled into a movement that is going to affect the whole world. This time belongs to us now. We must not be afraid to share the truth of our identity as a beautiful, beautiful people who have always been peaceful,” he said. “We need to bring that spirit and understanding to the world. We are being given everything we need to advance this ancient knowledge that can help take man beyond this separation and violence that we see in the world today.”

He acknowledged with “full credit” his mother and grandmother, and indeed all mothers, those who opened his eyes to “what a beautiful way of life that we have as Indigenous People.”

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He predicted, “All these doors of opportunity will open for us. The National Aboriginal Achievement Awards will open a door of opportunity to speak even more about this ancient indigenous knowledge that has been handed to us from our ancestors.”

The awards were created by the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation 19 years ago to “celebrate excellence in the Indigenous community and the limitless potential that Indigenous People represent,” the foundation said in a statement announcing the awards. “They recognize the highest level of achievement and provide terrific role models for indigenous youth to achieve their potential.”

Skyrocketing suicide rates among aboriginal youth make such visibility all the more critical.

“Each and every one of our award recipients is a leader and role model who has made a profound impact on communities across Canada and worldwide,” said Roberta Jamieson, president and CEO of the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation, in the group's statement. “By honoring their achievement we continue to inspire many others waiting to demonstrate their potential—which is why the work of the foundation in providing much needed resources to First Nations, Inuit and Métis students is so essential.”

Aglukkaq was one of three Inuit women who received an award. She was joined by Nunatsiavut lawyer Violet Ford, for Law and Justice, and Nunavik Regional Government negotiator Minnie Grey, in the Public Service category.

Ford, the first Canadian Inuk woman to become a lawyer, helped draft the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. She has also served as vice president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council and is earning a doctorate in international law in Arctic regions at the University of Lapland in Finland.

Grey has fulfilled a number of public service roles, including heading the negotiations that led to the final agreement for the formation of the Nunavik Regional Government.

The rest of the award winners are: Candace Sutherland, Manitoba - Youth Award; Chief Victor Buffalo, Alberta - Business & Commerce?; Leona Makokis, Alberta - Education?; Richard Hardy, British Columbia - Environment & Natural Resources; Dr. Janet Smylie, Ontario - Health; Violet Ford, Newfoundland and Labrador - Law & Justice?; Richard Wagamese, Ontario - Media & Communications?; Grand Chief Edward John, British Columbia - Politics; Richard Peter, British Columbia – Sports; Senator Gerry St. Germain, Manitoba - Lifetime Achievement Award.

The awards will be presented at a gala on February 24, 2012. Stay tuned as Indian Country Today Media Network profiles each winner periodically after the turn of the year.