July 17th, 2024

Miywasin Moment: Honouring our people

By JoLynn Parenteau on June 28, 2023.

JoLynn Parenteau and Cayla Taylor Eskesen received achievement awards at the 2023 Metis Recognition Awards in Calgary on June 17.--PHOTO BY JOEL COCKS

For more than two hundred years, the Metis people have contributed to the fabric of our country’s culture and society. On June 17, at a gala celebration in Calgary, Metis people from across Alberta gathered to share songs and stories, and to honour individuals who, like the iconic Metis sash, are weaving new threads into the fabric of our shared history.

The 2023 Metis Recognition Awards is a revival and rebranding of the previous Entrepreneurial Leadership Awards, last held in 2018. First introduced in 1999 to recognize business people who inspired and contributed to Metis entrepreneurship, this year’s gala expanded to recognize artists, athletes, professionals and volunteers. The award recipients were selected based on merit by a committee of Metis Elders, community members, Metis Nation of Alberta staff and affiliate organizations, and presenting sponsors.

Elder Paul Mercier took the stage with opening remarks and prayers, touching on the remarkable and steady leadership of Metis Nation of Alberta President Audrey Poitras in attendance. After an historic 27 years as MNA President, Madam Poitras recently announced her upcoming retirement to follow September’s first election under the new Otipemisiwak Metis Government Constitution. In that time, Poitras’ vision for a thriving Metis people has seen MNA citizenship grow to a current 62,000 registered members.

On this evening, 25 Metis citizens are being recognized for their achievements and contributions to their communities in seven categories. Representing southern Alberta leadership, MNA Region 3 president Judy Gentes presented a stunning crystal statuette to each award recipient.

“We are here tonight to celebrate the brilliance, the talents and the unwavering dedication of individuals who have left an indelible mark on our Metis community,” said emcee Adrian Pruden, co-chair of the Circle Connections for Reconciliation Society. “These extraordinary individuals have dedicated their time, talent and unyielding determination to their chosen field.”

Eight youth and young adults were nominated in the first three categories. Rebecca Lavallee, a psychology student and active community member, accepted the inaugural Outstanding Youth Award. The first Excellence in Sports Award was presented to Calli Giroux for her achievements in competitive swimming. A leader in her sport and a positive role model, Giroux has earned top rankings in Canada and medals in provincial championships.

Sharing a tied category, Braden Haley and Cayla Taylor Eskesen each took home the Youth Entrepreneurial Excellence Award. Haley’s brand Summit Dogwear (summitdogwear.com) retails durable dog gear and lives by the motto ‘Tahkinee Washaashiwa’, Michif for ‘Forever Wild’. Eskesen’s growing venture Club Wild Creative (clubwild.ca) provides branding support, business advice and training with a passion in empowering aspiring youth entrepreneurs.

“Receiving this award was more than just an honour and an achievement, it’s a reconnection to my culture and a celebration of our community’s accomplishments,” says Eskesen. “The opportunity to come together, celebrate, and acknowledge the amazing things that are happening for us and from us is very special.”

For contributions to the Indigenous homelessness sector, development of the financial literacy program Metis Money Moves, public speaking engagements, published works and contributions to Indigenous media such as this column, this writer is honoured to have been selected for the Career Development Award. With an inherited gift of storytelling from my parents and platforms provided by Miywasin Friendship Centre and the Medicine Hat News, I am committed to uplifting Indigenous voices across many endeavours.

Jamie Rozema-Stinson, a Dutch-Metis-Blackfoot artisan behind Michifous Creations (Instagram @michifouscreations) is also the secretary for Metis Local 87 in Calgary. For her many years of volunteer efforts in Chestermere and Calgary, Rozema-Stinson accepted the Community Service Award. She looks forward to joining the Board of the Colouring It Forward Reconciliation Society in the fall.

“Receiving the award for community service is a big honour. I’ve actually only had my Metis citizenship for a couple of years, but from the first event I attended I was welcomed and I knew I had to get involved in the Indigenous community,” remembers Rozema-Stinson. “Being a volunteer has been so rewarding. The best part of volunteering is helping people connect to the community and welcome them. Being recognized for something I love to do is amazing.”

Edging out five other nominees in the largest category, the award for Entrepreneurial Excellence was presented to Samaria Nancy Cardinal, a public speaker and clinical social work masters student of Metis, Blackfoot and Jewish/Norwegian/Scottish ancestry. Cardinal operates Mystical Metis, an Indigenous artist-designed resource, homegoods, gift and clothing retail store located at Crossroads Market in Calgary and online at mysticalmetis.ca.

“The store is a place where we educate reconnecting Metis and First Nations people. We provide resources and teaching. At the same time, we educate the public about Indigenous people to create understanding, decreasing racism and bias,” shares Cardinal, who says receiving the award “filled my heart and I felt validated by what I do. It was one of the best recognitions I have ever been given.”

Singer-songwriter Dr. Craig Ginn won his category of Excellence in the Arts for his work on the impactful Songs of Justice Project, which features original music videos that illustrate historical relations between Canada and its Indigenous peoples. A director of International Indigenous Studies at the University of Calgary, Ginn is an academic and musician who is adding his voice to decolonization efforts through education and music.

Two surprise awards of distinction were presented following the main program. Apeetogosan Metis Business Development general manager Michael Ivy presented their 2023 Entrepreneur of the Year Award to Paul Gervais, who established his Calgary-based moving service, The Experienced Movers, in 2008-09 during the height of the national financial crisis. Ivy regaled the audience with stories of Gervais’ team expertly moving all manner of odd and tremendously heavy priceless items for homeowners and businesses, which has earned The Experienced Movers countless rave reviews.

Lastly, the event’s title sponsor Cenovus Energy’s Andrea Louise presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to Dr. Yvonne Poitras Pratt. A dedicated educator and published author with many accolades to her name, Dr. Poitras Pratt is an associate professor of Indigenous Education at the University of Calgary’s Werklund School of Education.

“Through her scholarly work and courageous storytelling, she sheds light on the profound impact of colonization on her family, community, and the entire Metis Nation,” said Louise of Dr. Poitras Pratt.

“Receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award was an incredible honour,” says Dr. Poitras Pratt. “For me, the award represents an affirmation from the Metis community that the difficult and emotionally heavy workload that I carry as a Metis scholar and educator is recognized and valued by our community but, more importantly, that it is making a difference for the next generation.”

Following the awards ceremony, attendees enjoyed dinner while musicians took the stage and drew guests onto the dance floor. A festive balloon installation made a photo backdrop while award recipients, nominees and supporters mingled with dignitaries and friends old and new.

Authors Patricia Russell and David Wylynko were on hand to sign complimentary copies of their new hardcover book ‘The True Canadians: Forgotten Nevermore’ (thetruecanadians.com), which chronicles Metis challenges and achievements over 40+ years and is available through independent bookstores, Chapters/Indigo, Kindle and Kobo with an audio version available soon.

Following speeches from MNA President Audrey Poitras and Vice-President Dan Cardinal, emcee Adrian Pruden returned to the stage to thank the guests of honour.

“We’ve celebrated more than just awards this evening. We’ve celebrated brilliance and talent, courage to take risks and the determination to overcome obstacles. To our nominees and winners, your hard work, dedication and passion have inspired many.”

While Indigenous Peoples History Month is observed in June, Indigenous people are leading change and making our communities safe and thriving for everyone all throughout the year. May we honour their contributions in meaningful ways, always.

JoLynn Parenteau is a Metis writer out of Miywasin Friendship Centre. Column feedback can be sent to jolynn.parenteau@gmail.com..

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