Last week it was the First Annual Minaake Awards show, which are Toronto’s first Aboriginal Women and Youth’s Community and Achievement Awards put on by the Native Women’s Resource Centre (NWRC) of Toronto and sponsored by TD Bank. I was honoured to be one of the thirty nominations that NWRC received (for the Culture Keeper category). It looks like it was a fabulous event and fun was had by all. I am very glad to see such an initiative started and look forward to celebrating the many talented Native women in Toronto!
Krystal Abotossaway, Jessica Yee, Jolene John
The award categories and the winners were …
Challenger (Youth) Award
Recognizes a youth between the ages of 15-24 yearsold who is setting goals and meeting them, overcoming hardships, demonstrating leadership, and acts as a good role model for young people.
Krystal Abotossaway is from Aundeck Omni-Kanging First Nations and grew up in Regent Park. She has consistently achieved high marks in her Human Resource Management program at York University while dedicating herself to her family — helping her mother, who has cerebral palsy, to raise her 7-year-old brother, and assisting her father who struggles with addiction. Growing up, Krystal quickly recognized the need to advocate for equality for Aboriginal people, disabled people, women, and youth. Her volunteer work at York is dedicated to this pursuit, whether she’s working in the Aboriginal Leadership and Mentorship Program, at the Centre for Aboriginal Student Services or on the pow wow committee. At just 21-years-old, Krystal is already an essential part of the Aboriginal community in Toronto, setting a positive example for others and doing it with humility. Her passion for diversity and inclusion will continue to be put into action this year when she graduates — she’s already been offered a position at RBC’s diversity unit.
Recognizes a nominee who has shown leadership in the workplace and/or community that brings about positive change for others.
For the last 22 years, Tracey King has worked tirelessly to help community members achieve excellence in their lives — from finishing school, to finding jobs, to advising universities and government on Aboriginal education — Tracey has done it all in her 22-year career. Her spirit name is Essinhs Kwe (Little Shell Woman), she is Ojibway and Pottawatomi, Otter clan, and a member of Wasauksing First Nation. As a single parent, she raised her son Lucas (Black Bear), who’s now 18-years-old. While teaching and leading others, Tracey is a lifelong learner herself, recently completing her Masters in Higher Education at the University of Toronto. As the Aboriginal Human Resources Consultant at Ryerson University, Tracey advises the university on how it can promote and advance Aboriginal faculty and staff on campus. She calls this “securing and advancing our Aboriginal Intellectual Capital,” — something she’s done in Toronto for the last two decades. She also serves on the board of the Aboriginal Professional Association of Canada.
Recognizes a nominee who is keeping the culture and/or stories of Aboriginal people alive.
Affectionately known as “Grandma Rose,” to the thousands of children and youth at Toronto’s First Nations Public School, Rose Logan shared Aboriginal culture and language with several generations of young people in Toronto. A jingle-dress dancer, Rose was from the Marten Clan and originally from Wikwemikong on Manitoulin Island and was a member of the Muncee Delaware First Nation. She worked as an Ojibwe language teacher after finishing the Ojibwe Language Teachers Program at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay. Always willing to share a story or teaching with anyone who asked, Rose always carried herself with grace and kindness — and she walked in “that good way.” Grandma Rose Logan walked on to the spirit world on January 26th, 2012.
Advocacy and Human Rights Award
Recognizes a nominee who works to make positive changes to the rights, freedoms and liberties of others.
After leaving home at 14-years-old, Katherine Hensel paid her way through university and law school, where she was a competitive rower and a new mother. Since being called to the bar in 2003 Katherine’s work as a litigator has focused on making the rights and voices of First Nations people across the country heard and respected. Early in her career, she left prestigious firm, McCarthy Tétrault to become an Assistant Commission Counsel to the Ipperwash Inquiry. In 2007, she joined Stockwoods LLP before founding her own law firm, Hensel Barristers, two years ago. Hensel Barristers is frequently called on to represent First Nations and indigenous organizations in some of the most important legal challenges in Canada. Katherine acted as counsel to the Native Women’s Association of Canada at British Columbia’s Missing and Murdered Women’s Inquiry, and, last year she represented Attawapiskat First Nation in its successful application in to have the imposition of third party management by Canada declared unlawful. Much of her important work she has taken on at no charge, all the while running a daily practice where she helps her First Nations clients fight child welfare disputes, and teaches Aboriginal Rights at her alma matter, the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law. Katherine is Secwepemc.
Good Path Award
Recognizes a nominee who is walking a good path by setting goals and achieving them to foster positive changes in their own life and/or in the lives of others.
Sara Luey is a remarkable woman of Cree and Saulteaux decent and a member of the Sapotaweyak Cree Nation who has reclaimed her own destiny. As a child of the 60’s scoop, Sara suffered many of the trials experienced by those growing up in the child welfare system. As a teen mother, Sara fled an abusive relationship and later struggled with severe drug addiction, poverty, and homelessness for almost 18 years. At the age of 34, Sara learned she was pregnant — it was then that she promised herself that she would get clean for her baby’s sake. Today, she lives in her own apartment with her son Sterling, who is in Junior Kindergarten. In 2011, Sara enrolled herself into the Finding My Way (FMW) Program at Anishnawbe Health Toronto and was accepted into the Community Health Worker Program (CWP) at Anishnawbe Health Toronto. Despite fighting the child welfare and criminal justice system for years, Sara has always maintained a generosity of spirit, a willingness to forgive and humility. She now plans to become an Addictions Counsellor and continues to raise her son in a positive and healthy way.
Recognizes a nominee who is making positive changes in the LGBTQ and Two-Spirited community.
Corena Ryan is of Ojibway and Italian decent, and a mother-of-two who takes pride in having a spirit name, spirit helpers, and traditional colours. At a time when there was a lot of fear over AIDS, Corena heard about the mistreatment that some of her community members were suffering near the end of their lives and volunteered as a palliative caregiver at 2- Spirits of the First Nations. She went on to work there as the Volunteer Coordinator for 11 years, supervising volunteers to help Two-Spirited and Aboriginal men and women living with HIV/AIDS. Corena’s innovative programming brought happiness and holistic healing to her clients — she offered everything from storytelling and medicine picking to drag queen shows and a softball team. Her career has come full circle, today she is the Client Care Coordinator at 2 Spirits, where she helps clients plan end of life logistics and assists with hospice and palliative care.
All photos by Paige Rice Photography