by Carol Christian
It was a night of tradition, honour and achievement March 7 during the 27th annual Regional Aboriginal Recognition Awards.
Before a packed room of nearly 500 people, 24 Métis and First Nation members from aboriginal communities across the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo were recognized for their positive contributions in 15 categories. That included a junior achievement component which boasted 10 recipients. While these contributions begin on a community level, many recipients also make contributions on a provincial, national and even international level.
The RARA vision is to recognize aboriginal people who have made accomplishments in specific areas by acknowledging their contributions made towards the betterment of aboriginal people, and the promotion of aboriginal self-esteem.
A highlight of the evening was a video reflecting on past celebrations and the importance of cultural tradition. A humorous inclusion was related by several Fort McKay elders chatting about celebrations and how much fun it was to dance – far better than being stuck babysitting all the youngsters when growing up. These current interviews were interspersed with vintage footage of jigging and photos of days gone by.
“The importance is recognizing our people within the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo for contributing to their home community and that of the entire region,” says Christine Simpson, one of the long-time organizers from Fort Chipewyan, of the RARA.
The objective of the ceremony is to provide an evening that recognizes the individual role models from the aboriginal communities and highlight their positive contributions. This is done in such a manner that highlights aboriginal culture and inspires community members to better themselves and those around them. To do this, community leaders are invited to present awards. Aboriginal motivational speakers and aboriginal entertainers participate to showcase aboriginal talent and spirit.
The 2015 RARA was hosted by local entrepreneur Cheryl Alexander. Entertainment was a multimedia production titled On the River, featuring the aboriginal singing trio ASANI and folksinger Maria Dunn, presented by Ground Zero Productions.
RARA is a non-profit volunteer organization and from the beginning, the oilsands industry has stepped up and provided financial support. That support has grown over the years to include the aboriginal, business, hospitality sectors as well as education, which includes the Fort McMurray Catholic and Public School Districts as well as the Northland School District.
Simpson readily agrees when she sees the recipients and their accomplishments, it gives her hope for the future: “Our elders our teaching our young ones. When I see an elder up there at the age of 81 and we see a young boy who can go up and sing and drum … this tradition is being carried on from the older to the next generation.”
Simpson was referring to Rene Bruno of Fort Chipewyan who was named Elder of the Year. The Junior Achiever was Jerome Cardinal.
She noted that the Entrepreneur of the Year Award was given to the Bouchier Group out of Fort McKay, a local family-run business that gives back to its community in numerous ways including volunteering.
“It’s always knowing where they come from and appreciating it, and paying it forward.”
Involved in this celebration for some 20 years, Simpson said “This year, we have quite a crowd. It’s really grown in the last while.”
Those in the audience represented the aboriginal communities from Fort Chipewyan to Conklin, young and old.
“It just fills my heart with pride to see from the eldest to the youngest in the room; all parts of it is what I really enjoy; the atmosphere, the positive atmosphere.”
She maintains the longevity of the recognition ceremony is key, especially for the younger generations, offering goals to aspire to.
“It’s important that they have role models. They’re our future leaders. When they look out there and say ‘I know this person; he’s from Fort Chipewyan and if he can do it. I can do it.’ That’s what’s very important.
“And we always encourage the young to participate in the events, and recognizing and honouring them.”
Melanie Hurley, Volunteer of the Year, was nominated by her mother MaryRose Lavallee.
Hurley admits she was surprised and honoured when she learned two weeks before the event that she was an award recipient.
“I thanked her and I said, ‘Now I know why you asked all those questions,’” she chuckled.
She also commented on the importance of the RARA because it gives recognition to our flow citizens, our community and our culture.’
The positive affirmation of the program also “influences our younger and other generations” that it is possible to achieve their goals.
For a full list of winners, visit http://raraevent.ca/