Leaving Their Legacy: 2014 Indspire Awards

Inez Jasper

Inez Jasper – performing closing number “Dancing on the Run.’

Winnipeg’s Centennial Concert Hall was the venue for the 2014 Indspire Awards, and once again Jennifer Podemski produced another fine gala. This years “Legacy” theme offered excellent performers and presenters. With a stunning stage backdrop, Sagkeeng’s Finest backed by Asham Stompers opened the show with their traditional blend of jigging mixed with modern tap styles that allowed three young First Nations men to win the 2013 Canada’s Got Talent. This years hosts, Tina Keeper and Kyle Nobess, added a comedic touch to the night’s festivities.

One of the night’s surprises was a performance by former NHL player and Stanley Cup Champion Theoren Fleury who took the stage to sing lead with his new country rock band. It was odd to watch this hockey player turned author/figure skater (Battle of the Blades)/motivational speaker belt out a tune wearing a fedora hat and red and black get-up, but we can’t knock a guy for trying out hidden talents. Also on the list of performers was comedian Don Burnstick, solo artist Beatrice Love, classic rock and R&B artist George Leach, and rounding out the evening was an uplifting closing number by Inez Jasper with her hip hop song “Dancing on the Run.” But the night’s real highlight was seeing 14 recipients earn the respect and adoration of the Indpsire Awards.

First Nations Drum had the chance to talk to some of the recipients including Mary Spencer and Charlie Snow Shoe. “I am extremely honoured to get the Inspire Award,” Spencer said. “I can honestly say that I’m speechless at this point for this incredible recognition.” Spencer was heavily favoured to win the first gold medal in women’s boxing at the 2012 Summer Olympics but came away without a medal. She shared her thoughts on the experience and her plans for the future and another olympics in 2016. “I always liked the sport, and when it came time to try boxing out, I fell in love with it immediately. I was 16-years-old, and entered my first competition at 17-years-old, and I knew I wanted to pursue it and see how far I could take myself in this sport.” There was intense pre-Olympic media attention, including a cover of Time Magazine and a commercial for Covergirl. Media articles called her “a gold medal favourite,” and she says, “I felt the same way. I felt I was and should be the gold medal winner. Plus it was the first time women’s boxing was in the Olympics; for every woman in the competition, it was a new experience.”

In her first fight, Spencer faced a Chinese fighter she had beaten twice previously. “I had gotten the draw, and if I was going to win that fight, I would have definitely been an Olympic medalist. It was a new experience, but I was not mentally prepared to be on such a big stage, and had no idea I would have sleepless nights leading up to the fight. I never had experienced that before,” she admits. “At the previous World Championships, I slept like a baby, but at the Olympics, you don’t understand the magnitude until you’re actually there. I was not prepared to handle not being able to sleep for a couple nights. Sometimes you don’t expect your body to react to stress and anxiety the way mine did at the olympics, and I couldn’t get my rhythm; nothing was working the way it normally does, and it really threw me off and for a loop.”

Spencer said that what she’ll take away from that experience is not dwelling on the negative and just move on and staying positive. “I do speaking engagements and use that money to fund my amateur boxing career. To be honest, the professional boxing circuit for women is not as lucrative as people may think, but I love my amateur status because I get to compete at national, world championships, and the Olympics—that to me is exciting. Being an amateur, I’ve been able to rack up 150 fights over the past 12 years.” Future competitions include a competition in Poland, World Championships in the fall, Pan Am Games in 2015 and the Olympics in 2016.

Charlie Snow Shoe was being recognized for his lifelong work in protecting the environment including his Gwich’in Tribal lands and the Dene traditional territories. “You know, in the 1960’s we were absolutely nothing to the government, and I want to share this story on my introduction into oil and gas,” Mr. Snowshoe said. “Where I come from, people lived off the land; they’d trap and fish, and the only time we’d go into town was for Christmas and New Years. My in-laws had a camp about 35 miles from Fort McPherson, and I had my traps there. People in those days would honour one another and never bother your traps. One night, I was really puzzled on what was going on in the distance as I saw smoke not to far from my traps, so I went up and I asked what was going on; they said they were doing seismic work looking for oil and gas. Well I’d never heard or seen this and really wasn’t all that sure about all this back then. Well for about three summers they were there, and I even worked there for one summer. One summer after work I met a guy—a former tribal councillor—and he asked me, ‘Are you just coming back from work?’ and I told him ‘Yeah, I work for oil and gas, cutting the trees for them.’ He told me that they we’re poisoning the land and it should be stopped. Well since then, I stopped working for oil and gas, and now almost all my life I have been working to keep our lands protected and healthy.”

Mr. Snow Shoe is a role model for all Aboriginal people in his unswerving commitment to protecting and preserving the environment. He has been actively involved with the band office in his home community of Tetlit Gwich’in, as well as for the Dene Nation, the Gwich’in Nation, and his hometown of Fort McPherson. He is currently fighting for the Peel River Watershed, which he believes should not be mined and should be preserved. The Peel River runs through Fort McPherson.

When asked about his thoughts on the Northern Gateway Pipeline, he responded, “No good! Look at all the spills that are happening. We have so many spills in Northern Alberta that are not being reported; they may report one or two. But now look what happened before Christmas: billions of litres spilled into the Peace River. So who’s crazy enough to think that the pipeline is the right way? For us people, it’s not; for the business people, it is. You know they like the dollar sign. They don’t worry about the land or worry about us, and they’re killing everything on the land.”

Other recipients includedJames Eetoolook (Lifetime Achievement), Kent Monkman (Arts), Marie Delorme (Business & Commerce), Maggie Paul (Culture & Heritage), Rita Bouvier (Education), Dr. Evan Adams (Health), Marion Meadmore (Law & Justice), Grand Chief Stewart Phillips for his work in politics, Robert Watts (Public Service), and among youth there were three recipients: John Jeddor of Miawpukek First Nation, Sarah Arngna’naaq of Inuit, NT, and Christie Lavallee, a Metis from Manitoba.

The Inspire Awards have been held annually since 1993, recognizing 14 Indigenous professionals and youth who demonstrate outstanding achievement and serve as invaluable models for Indigenous people. Nomination for the 2015 Indpsire Awards are now open; those awards will be handed out at the Jubilee Auditorium in Calgary, Alberta.