2015 Indspire Awards Celebrate in Calgary

Culturally, the indigenous community encourages progression through taking the time to honour those who have taken the initiative to build their community. In the far past, members of a tribe – men, women, children, elders – would gather around the glow of a fire, celebrating the individuals that have enriched the livelihood of their community with their bravery, passion, spirit, knowledge, strength, innovation, creativity, their everything. And they would feast and they would dance and they would listen to their brothers and sisters tell stories of their triumphs, encouraging others to go out and fulfil their own triumphs. The fast-paced progression of our immediate society can sometimes make people forget about this type of acknowledgement. Could it still exist? Of course, and it does.

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Santee Smith Onkwehon performs “We Woman from the Mohawk Nation.”

Establishing itself in 1993, the Indspire Awards has been ardent in bringing this mode of recognition back to life, and they have been for the past twenty-two years. Indspire takes the time to recognize fourteen certain individuals who have worked hard to progress the indigenous community, including three outstanding youths. This year, the Indspire Awards was held on the last Friday of February in the traditional territory of the Blackfoot people of Treaty No. 7: Calgary, Alberta. Inviting exceptional indigenous talent and leaders to tell stories of their upbringing, pursuits, and initiatives, the night encouraged and inspired those who gave an ear to listen.

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Tanya Tagaq performing at the Indspire Awards in Calgary, February 27.

Starting off the night with an explosion of raw, traditional dancing from the Kahurangi Maori Dance Theatre, the stage lit up with a fervour of grand lighting fixtures and feather mixtures harmonizing with live traditional drumming and singing. Welcoming the audience to the Indspire reception, Roberta Jamieson, along with comic relief from hosts Lorne Cardinal and Kyle Nobess, began the pace of the evening by inviting the award recipients and performers to share stories of their accomplishments and future endeavours.

Of these, First Nations Drum got a chance to speak with a couple of the individuals involved, starting with recipient of the Art Indspire award, Ron E. Scott.

“For me, it is very humbling to receive an Indspire award,” expresses Scott. “I’m so appreciative of the opportunity to be included with the other recipients this year and in the past, because I feel that their achievements are so incredible.” Founder, president, and executive producer of Prairie Dog Film and Television, Scott has become a prominent member of the indigenous film and television community, specifically for his APTN on-going television series Blackstone. Being a member of the Aboriginal Filmmakers Program at the National Film Board, Scott invests his time and energy into training Indigenous people on the sets of his shows, introducing them to the ways of the film and television industry.

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Lorne Cardinal & Kyle Nobess MC the award show.

“In Canada, there is a lot of opportunity for indigenous people, especially in the arts, whether it be the visual arts, music, or film and TV,” says Scott. “What I’ve seen with TV and film production, within the indigenous community, the quality has risen every year. It’s a progression not only in crew, but in writers, directors, and producers, and we’re seeing some projects that are competing with other non-indigenous film and TV shows.”

Also showcasing indigenous engagement in the film and television industry was comic host of The Candy Show on APTN Candy Palmater, co-hosts Cardinal and Nobess, youth reporter and founder of Konek Productions Jordan Konek, as well as actor Tahmoh Penikett, who shared a couple words with First Nations Drum.

“Most First Nations across Canada and North America, as diverse as they are, are incredibly artistic,” articulates Penikett. “It’s how we tell our stories. It’s about the world, the tradition, the music, and the art – it’s in our blood, it’s in everyone’s blood.” Penikett has made a name for himself as an actor in films such as Man of Steel and his most recent role in the series Supernatural. Discussing with him, he spoke about his interest in being involved with more indigenous centred films. “I take on roles that tell a great story, because the way a story a told is so important. A lot of the stories I grew up with came from my grandmother, and these are the kind of stories I want to bring to the screen.”

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Crystal Lightning performs “Redcloud” to a welcoming crowd.

This day-in-age, where everything seems to be moving at such a rapid pace, telling stories around a campfire seems to be a tradition of the past. Bringing indigenous stories to the screen, however, is a way the nation can bridge the gap of cultural misunderstanding. “Unfortunately we’re underrepresented in film and television today, and there needs to be more First Nations actors out there, and more material that is about our stories,” states Penikett, and isn’t it the truth? There is an evident need in the film industry for stories scribed from the pens of First Nations story-tellers, portrayed by First Nation people, and given to the global audience. Why? Well, in order to dispel any misrepresentation indigenous people have encountered in the past, and still do today. “We’re at a time in this era where we have access to the web and the internet, and so now we can grab a camera and film a story on little to no budget, we just need more First Nations people bringing their ideas towards this type of communication,” states Petikett.

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Dancer addresses the crowd.

The uniqueness of the First Nation culture is particular to the worldviews cultivated during ones upbringing. In an age where most kids have a better relationship with their cell-phone than with their own parents, it’s a reprieve to see views from individuals that grew up focused on family ties, respect for the land, and a realization that technology is not something that controls you, rather, technology is something to take control of.

Other than hearing award recipients share their stories, the night was also filled with performances ranging from performances from hip-hop duo Lightning Cloud, Moari vocalist Pieter T, R&B singer/songwriters Dani & Lizzy, as well as mulch-instrumentalist and singer Niiko Soul. Of all showcases, the most unique performance of the night had to come from Inuk throat-singer Tanya Tagaq. Displaying traditional Inuit attire, dancing, and unique singing, Tagaq resounded the room with primitive ritual, bringing the entire audience back to their indigenous roots.


2015 Indspire Recipients

Of the fourteen recipients, the other thirteen Indspire awards went to: Elsie Yanik (Lifetime Achievement), Brenda LaRose (Business & Commerce), Piita (Peter) Irniq (Culture, Heritage & Spirituality), Dr. Paulette C. Tremblay (Education), Gerald Anderson (Environment & Natural Resources), William Julius Mussell (Health), Dr. Wilton Littlechild (Law & Justice), Kim Baird (Politics), Madeleine (Public Service), Gino Odjick (Sports), Kendal Netmaker (Youth – First Nation), Jordan Konek (Youth – Inuit), Gabrielle Fayant (Youth – Métis).


Nominations for the 2016 Indspire Awards are now open. If you find a particular educator within your indigenous community reaching above and beyond to progress and educate people on their culture, why not nominate them? It’s easy to do, check it out on their website at indspire.ca. If you can’t think of anyone, why not make yourself that particular educator? Aspire to be who Indspire gives recognition to. You’ll be recognized by your community regardless, and perhaps even nominated to be a future recipient of a Indspire award.