Esquao Awards Honour Alberta Aboriginal Women

By Clint Buehler

EDMONTON – Esquao Awards “honouring the strength and beauty of all Aboriginal women” was presented to 22 deserving recipients at an impressive gala evening here May 12th.

The awards were created by the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women (IAAW) to “recognize the outstanding work and recognition of women from Aboriginal communities in helping women of all ages.”

Why “Esquao?”

“From the colonists’ inability to pronounce the word ‘esquao,’ the word ‘squaw’ came to be a derogatory term,” says IAAW founder and president Muriel Stanley-Venne. “The IAAW is claiming back the term for all Aboriginal women to stand proud when we hear Esquao applied to us.”

Recipients of the award were selected by their own communities.
More than 350 people from business, government and the Aboriginal community attended the glamorous $150-a-plate event, the IAAW’s only fundraiser used for shortfalls in the institute’s advocacy work and administration, “keeping good staff doing good things,” says Stanley-Venne.

The honour guard for the grand entry was composed of Aboriginal women serving in the RCMP, Calgary and Edmonton police services, the Blood Tribal Police and the Ontario Provincial Police.
Masters of Ceremonies for the event were Alberta Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister Pearl Calahasen, herself Metis and a former recipient of both the Esquao Award and the National Aboriginal Achievement Award, among many honors, and Dave Tuccaro, a member of the Mikisew Cree First Nation and the President and CEO of eight successful companies.

Special guests of honour at the gala were Dr. Colleen Klein, IAAW patron, who is Metis, and her husband, Alberta Premier Ralph Klein who, referring to the gala’s theme, “Angels Among Us,” said he has been blessed to have an angel in his life: “My wife, Colleen.”

The premier said the recipients of this award “can be very proud of the positive contributions they have made to improve the quality of life in their local communities and in Alberta as a whole. You are an inspiration to us all and you truly are the ‘Angels Among Us.'”

That angels theme was underscored with the presentation of 16 young girls to Dr. Klein and the audience, this year’s “little angels.”
Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel reminded the “little angels” that there were many accomplished women in the room, “women who will gladly share their experiences with you. You are the leaders of tomorrow and we’re all very proud of you.”

“The women being honoured tonight are most deserving of this prestigious award. Through their many impressive accomplishments they stand out as role models for all women.”

Noting that this was the 11th annual awards gala, Stanley-Venne asked the rhetorical question: “Have we made a difference? We have seen positive change in our community as a result of this event and complimentary events happening. One recipient told me that since she received her Esquao Award, the mayor acknowledges her by shaking her hand with a welcoming smile’ The daughter of an elderly recipient said this is the only award that her mom has received despite a long successful career where she overcame almost insurmountable odds.

“Many traditionalists say Aboriginal women are the key to reclaiming and healing our communities. They give us life, nurture us, are always there, and most importantly, they have gifts to share. Their voice, truly listened to, will make a difference to their community and to all of us.

The prestigious Circle of Honour Award went to Chief Rose Laboucan, B.Ed., M.Ed.,, the first woman chief elected by the Driftpile First Nation, and a strong advocate for youth and elders on issues of education, health and community development. She serves on the Assembly of First Nations Education Committee and is their representative for Human Resources and Development. She is also an active member of the Treaty 8 Education Commission and Health Authority.

Other recipients were:
Rose Findlay (Grande Cache) exemplifies the true meaning of the traditional Aboriginal woman. She has been an exceptional educator and a blessing to all who have been fortunate to cross her path. She truly illustrates a positive reflection of the Metis identity and unselfishly lives her life with great pride, dignity and kindness.

Yvonne Sound (Kinuso) is an active member of the Lesser Slave Lake Indian Regional Council and the Swan River First Nation, working and volunteering at many community events. Her loyalty and caring for people has resulted in positive changes in her community. She prepares many meals for local community gatherings, organizes fund-raising events for the seniors and enjoys curling.

Flora Willier (Enilda) is still active at the age of 83 in her community of Sucker Creek. She is a historian of the people, instrumental in developing the first Child Welfare Board for Aboriginal people in Slave Lake. At four, she was sent to the mission to avoid the flu, which claimed five of eight siblings. She maintains her independence and has a positive outlook on life.

Margaret MacDonald (Fort McMurray) is an active member in the community of Fort McKay and the larger Wood Buffalo Region, where she has lived all her life. She has been instrumental in community development in Fort McKay by supporting local and regional organizations, events and charities. In 1998 she started Fort McKay Expediting & Labourers Inc. with four employees. Today she employs 40 staff.

Evelyn Brertton (Lamont) is not only modest, but self-assured and confident. She leads by example and has an extensive education portfolio. One of her many attributes is her dedication to the role of women in the Aboriginal culture. She is currently the manager of post secondary studies for Saddle Lake Reserve.

Claudine Cardinal (St. Paul) is a determined and committed individual who has made great strides in the face of adversity. Despite a tragic family loss while pursuing her post-secondary education, she obtained her Bachelor of Education degree. She now teaches at the Kihew Asiniy Education Centre in Saddle Lake.

Marion Dick (Ponoka) exemplifies genuine caring and dedication to her profession in her role as an educator. She provides a positive and creative atmosphere and ensures that all students are treated as individuals and strive to achieve their full potential. She began her teaching career at Driftpile Elementary School where she earned the title of at learning classroom.’ She now teaches Grade 2 in Ponoka.

Taz Johnson-McGillis (Edmonton) has worked in the health and wellness field for fifteen years and is committed to help people make healthier choices for positive change. She is a gifted woman who loves children, singing, writing and promoting Aboriginal culture and traditions. She has been a positive role model and is an inspiration to all.

Sophie Cardinal (Slave Lake) is transparent in her dedication to Native culture as an active member of boards and committees in the Slave Lake community. She has been called upon as a Cree interpreter and her respect and caring for Elders has been a priority in her life. She is currently employed by Alberta Child and Family Services and has been a strong advocate on diabetes.

Sandra Flamond (Cold Lake) has focused on her commitment to women and children for more than two decades. Her dedication and loyalty to the community is exemplified by her role with the Dr. Margaret Savage Crisis Centre in Cold Lake where she has worked for the past 19 years. She has shown phenomenal strength to overcome personal obstacles, including her fight against cancer.

Florence Gaucher (St. Albert) has, over the past three decades, been a strong advocate for Metis children, particularly those who have been less fortunate. In her role as a social worker, she ensures that children in the welfare system stay connected to Metis families, community and culture.

Linda Manuel (Edmonton) is a lyal and dedicated employee of the Womens’s Emergency Accommodation Centre of Edmonton, working for more than 25 years as an advocate for homeless women. She works closely with other agencies and government departments to ensure the women receive the services they require. She instantly makes women feel welcome, which is so important in her field.

Peggy McGillis (Fishing Lake) has been a social worker on the Fishing Lake Metis Settlement for the past decade. She returned to school when her youngest child was eight. As a result, she has inspired Aboriginal women in her community to pursue more education.

Marcella Cunningham ((Driftpile) has consistently exhibited strong work ethics and a positive lifestyle that has proven her true commitment to First Nations people. She recognizes that children are the future, and has played a strong role in child care in the Swan River First Nation, ensuring that the children receive the highest standard of care. Her focus is on the future of the children.

Audrey Franklin (Ardmore) has dedicated the last two decades of her life to the people of the Fishing Lake Metis Settlement. With courage and conviction she is there to all who find themselves in life’s toughest moments. From seniors with access barriers to those with addictions or requiring spiritual healing, she is always available to help with her respect, love and kindness.

Rachelle McDonald Grande Cache) is known for moving mountains in the Grande Cache area in her work with Aboriginal children and families. Her motivation and compassion have led to programs such as Job Corps, Aboriginal Health Liaison, Kookum’s House and a social housing initiative in her community.

Marlene Arcand (Morinville) is a dedicated mother of eight who has perfected multitasking. She has successfully completed the Health Services Administration Program and has excelled in this field over her career. Her soft spot is children with disabilities, and she is a tireless advocate of their cause. She is currently the Director of Health Services for the Alexander First Nation and continually assist those in need, young and old.

Roxanne DavisLethbridge) has made contributions to her culture that deserve to be celebrated. Her dedication to her role in the law enforcement profession over the past two decades has been challenging, but she has continually risen to the occasion. She is only one of the few female officers who has been honoured with thev rank of Deputy Chief for the Blood Tribe police force She continues to be a strong advocate of peace in the Native community and across the nation.

Lillian Shirt (High Prairie) is a probation officer who is known for being tough but fair, and holding her clients to a high standard of behavior. She is also a highly respected volunteer who can be found flipping pancakes or hauling boxes for the annual radio auction. In 2005 she was recognized for 25 years of service with the Alberta Solicitor General department.|

Eve McMillian (Calgary), whose strong belief in addictions treatment helped calm initial community apprehension and build government relationships for the development of the Native Addictions Services Residential and Administrative Facility in 2002. She brings fairness, understanding, tenacity and hope to her personal and professional life.

Vie Hunter (Fort McMurray) excels at balancing family commitments, work and community service, which has led to her completion of a systems engineering program. Her strong interpersonal skills and enthusiasm are an asset in her current position as a systems analyst. She is committed to helping others find new and better ways to accomplish tasks through the use of technology and hopes to teach in the future.