Indigenous Inspiration: 7 Winners of the Indspire Awards in Canada

Sam Laskaris

A star hockey player. An elder who survived residential-school abuse. An accountant.

These and many more indigenous people in Canada—14 in all—are being honored as recipients of the 2016 Indspire Awards (formerly the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards), presented annually since 1993 to First Nation, Métis and Inuit people who have distinguished themselves in various categories.

In highlighting indigenous achievements, the awards dispel oft-held misconceptions, said Indspire president and CEO Roberta Jamieson.

“They challenge stereotypes, and they inform the public at large about the contributions our people have made and continue to make,” Jamieson told Indian Country Today Media Network. “They also break down barriers.”

Winners are selected by a jury whose members include previous award recipients. Hundreds of people were nominated, Jamieson said, and narrowing it down to just 14 winners is an arduous task. Jury members have to balance out the list based on not just gender and geography but also must try to get a relatively equal amount of First Nation, Metis and Inuit individuals. Besides the 11 people selected for career achievements, there were three youth recipients, aged 27 and under.

“It is tough,” said Jamieson, who also serves on the jury. “But it’s a great challenge to have.”

Sports: Carey Price

Carey Price (Photo: Associated Press)

In the sports category is Carey Price, the Montreal Canadiens’ star goaltender and the National Hockey League’s most valuable player this past season. Price, Ulkatcho First Nation in what is today British Columbia, will receive his latest accolade, along with the other recipients, during the Indspire Awards Gala, scheduled for February 16 in Vancouver.

Lifetime Achievement: Chief Robert Joseph

Chief Robert Joseph (Photo: Courtesy of Indspire)

Chief Robert Joseph from the Gwawaaenuk First Nation in British Columbia, was chosen in the Lifetime Achievement category. Joseph, 77, suffered physical and sexual abuse during his own youth at a residential school. He went on to become executive director of the Indian Residential Schools Survivors Society, formed in 2002. He later co-chaired a United Church–led call for a public inquiry into residential schools, which led to the formation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, established in 2008. Joseph also helped organize the 70,000-person Walk for Reconciliation in Vancouver in 2013.

“He’s come through as a champion,” Jamieson said of Joseph’s life journey.

Culture, Heritage and Spirituality: Chief Jim Ochiese and Mae Louise Campbell

Chief Jim Ochiese (Photo: Courtesy of Indspire)

Meanwhile, there were two individuals this year chosen as Indspire Award recipients via the Culture, Heritage and Spirituality category. They are Chief Jim Ochiese and Mae Louise Campbell.

Ochiese is the chief for Alberta’s Foothills Ojibway First Nation, while Campbell is an Ojibway/Saulteaux elder from Manitoba. Now 82, Campbell is the Elder in Residence at the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Social Work and Red River College.

Mae Louise Campbell (Photo: Courtesy of Indspire)

Youth: Christian Kowalchuk, Laura Arngna’naaq, Zondra Roy

The three Youth award recipients were Christian Kowalchuk, Laura Arngna’naaq and Zondra Roy.

Christian Kowalchuk (Photo: Courtesy of Indspire)Kowalchuk, from Alberta’s Big Stone Cree Nation, is a former star collegiate pitcher who is now an assistant coach with the University of Arkansas men’s baseball team.


Laura Arngna’naaq (Photo: Courtesy Indspire)

Arngna’naaq hails from Baker Lake, Nunavut, but now works in Toronto as one of the few Inuk chartered accountants in Canada.


Roy, a Métis youth activist, is also a fourth-year student at the Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program at the University of Saskatchewan. 

Zondra Roy (Photo: Courtesy Indspire)

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