Elders and Award Recipients, Joanne Dallaire and Pauline Shirt
This year, MUSKRAT was proud to attend the 3rd Annual Minaake Awards, presented by Native Women’s Resource Centre and CIBC. In Ojibway, Minaake means “people who are walking a good path,” and the awards were created to recognize and celebrate the achievements of women and youth in the Aboriginal community who often go unnoticed.
The awards took place in the heart of the financial district, atop the Commerce Court West tower, allowing for a breathtaking and far-reaching view of the city. Far reaching also were the influential Indigenous women being honoured at this year’s awards. Hosted by Carla Robinson (ex-CBC anchor), and attended by many members of Toronto’s Indigenous and ally communities, the event did well to transcend politics and ascend to another level of understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
The six women being honoured at this year’s awards also each had a chance to speak in front of the group. Award winners and Elders Pauline Shirt and Joanne Dallaire brought many in the crowd to tears with their insightful words and vision for community. Shirt stated that she is forever grateful for “the women who are here, and the men who stand in a circle around us.” With great applause and great humility, all of the award winners accepted their gifts, imparting a common message of togetherness.
From a Métis Fiddle performance from Alicia Blore, to a silent auction, to the feast of salmon, wild rice, and game meats, to a big drum performance from the Eagle Women Singerz, the heartbeat in the room was palpable. Many speeches of support were given from CIBC and political supporters—most namely Olivia Chow, who called for an inquest into the Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women in Canada—all promoting positive partnerships and continuing relationships between First Nations people and the rest of Canada.
Thank you to the Native Women’s Resource Centre of Toronto for all of your hard work and for such a beautiful community event.
Congratulations to all of the winners who are walking and continue to walk a good path!
2015 Minaake Award Recipients
Challenger (Youth) Award
Cheyenne Squires, Anishnawbe Kwe from Neyasshiinigmiing (Cape Croker) Ontario
Cheyenne grew up on the Cape Croker reserve and moved to Toronto when she was 13 years old. She has been actively involved on different Councils since moving to Toronto, beginning with the One Nation in Unity Youth Council based out of the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto. Currently, she is employed with Native Child as Casual Relief Staff and she is also an Assistant to the Aboriginal Youth Employment and Skills Building Program AYESBP, a program which she had partaken in to obtain her GED. She is also a member of the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto’s Youth Advisory Council and serves as the Indigenous youth voice as a member of the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games Youth Advisory Council. Cheyenne has shared her story with the United Way Winter Relief program, in hopes of communicating her tribulations as well as success with others, especially her Youth peers, who experience similar struggles. She wishes to become a Child and Youth Mental Health Worker.
Culture Keeper Awards
Pauline Shirt, Plains Cree from Saddle Lake Alberta
Pauline has been an active voice in Toronto’s Aboriginal community for over 40 years. She helped found Wandering Spirit Survival School (now known as First Nations School), and during the 80’s she was the Vice President of ‘Indian Rights for Indian Women’ which helped reinstate ‘Bill C31’ Indian Status to Native women who married Non-Native men. Currently, Pauline shirt dedicates her time between working at George Brown College Aboriginal Services, performing opening and closing prayers for Government and community events, as well as balancing her time between her family and community members. Pauline is well respected as an elder, a member of Three Fires Medewiwin Lodge and as the Buffalo Dance Society. Pauline shares her teachings, wisdom, and her heart with great humility and love.
Monica Forrester, Trans-woman from Curve Lake First Nation
Monica is very active in the LGBTQ2S community as the founder of Trans Pride Toronto-Transitioning Together, a non-profit agency working to better the lives of Trans people. She worked at The 519 for ten years, and currently works with Maggie’s and Elizabeth Fry in Toronto as outreach coordinator and a counselor. She has also worked with PWA Circle of Care, Sherbourne Health Bus and PASAN/Black Cap. She is very vocal for the rights of Sex workers, trans-women and marginalized women of colour, reflecting on her own life experiences online, in printed newspaper articles, or during one of her powerful speeches. Her work in harm reduction and sex work education are a great contribution and resource for the safety of Toronto’s sex worker community. Monica was also present as a speaker at several of the Sisters In Spirit Vigils held every October 4th at Allan Garden.
Advocacy and Human Rights Award
Monica McKay, a member of the Nisga’a Nation, from Greenville, British Columbia
Monica is the Director of the Ryerson Aboriginal Student Services, a space on campus where Aboriginal students, faculty and staff can feel welcomed, supported and cared about. In addition to being the Director, Monica helped in its inception and growth. She also works tirelessly to educate the Ryerson community about the challenges, concerns, strengths and successes of Aboriginal students. Her commitment to access to education for her community is profound. Monica has also been active in the Toronto District School Board, the Toronto Police Services and on a committee looking at Aboriginal issues for the City of Toronto. She builds internal and external partnerships with faculty, staff, and the broader Aboriginal community while leading outreach initiatives including national, provincial and local networks, communities and joint projects. In each case, her presence has been significant with respect to city building and community engagement.
Joanne Dallaire, Shadow Hawk Woman of the Wolf Clan, is Cree Omushkego with ancestry from Attawapiskat, Ontario
Joanne Dallaire holds many roles at Ryerson University including, Elder at the Aboriginal Education Council, she continues in her role as Traditional Counselor for Ryerson Aboriginal Student Services and she is recognized as the Elder for Ryerson University. She has facilitated talking circles on behalf of the Council in areas such as University advancement in identifying how to create a respectful working relationship. Joanne also participated in the working group which created Ryerson’s first Aboriginal Knowledges and Experiences certificate. As Traditional Counselor, she counsels the faculty, staff and students, offering holistic support as well as providing Aboriginal students with the skills to be self-sufficient, strong, proud of their identities and in control of their goals and decisions.
The Good Path Award
Christine McFarlane, Saulteaux from Peguis First Nation
Christine has overcome many obstacles in her life and has learned and developed strength from her cultural teachings and language. This has led to her being given her spirit name Misko Nootin Kwe, Anishnaabe for Red Wind Woman. Christine experienced a turbulent childhood as a product of the 60s-70s Scoop, impacting her mental and physical wellbeing into her adulthood. In 2005, Christine entered the Academic Bridging Program at the University of Toronto and enrolled part time at the university, while doing freelance work with First Nations media outlets and a work-study position at First Nations House, University of Toronto. It is through her writing that she has learned to heal and find her voice.