The Cree Native Arts and Crafts Association (CNACA) held their fourth annual Eeyou Istchee Achievement Awards on November 11 in a virtual ceremony, recognizing Cree artists in a variety of mediums.
The Contemporary Arts Award was besowed on Katie-Joy Matoush of Mistissini, while Chisasibi’s Jonnathan Longchap took home the Visual Arts Award. Neil Diamond of Waskaganish won the Multi-Disciplinary Arts Award.
Nemaska hip-hop duo The North Stars picked up the Performing Arts Award, while Nellie Gray of Mistissini walked away with the Traditional Arts Award. Paula Menarick of Chisasibi won the Self Innovator Award, and Angel Baribeau of Mistissini collected the Rising Star Award. The Best Fiddler Award was presented to Ronnie Rupert of Chisasibi, while Youth Artist of the Year was given to Nalakwsis of Whapmagoostui.
The Buckley Petawabano Award went to Luke Macleod of Mistissini. The CNACA Arts Leadership Award was given to the Chisasibi Indigenous Arts and Crafts Association. The final award of the night, the Lifetime Achievement Award, was presented to poet Margaret Sam-Cromarty of Chisasibi.
The event was broadcast live on the James Bay Cree Communications Society’s Facebook page, where over 1,800 people watched the awards presented by MC Joshua Iserhoff. CNACA President Kenneth Gilpin and Executive Director Gaston Cooper also delivered virtual messages as part of the awards ceremony.
Traditional Arts Award winner Nellie Gray said she found out via Facebook and email that she had won the award. “I was surprised, and I was excited, and I was happy,” she said. While she was supposed to keep the award a secret, she couldn’t help but tell her husband and daughter. “They were so happy and excited for me.”
Working with moosehide to make moccasins and beading, Gray also does mittens and slippers, as well as create “new stuff” like hair pins and jewelry. For her the award is “being recognized for my arts and crafts that I’ve been doing for a while now.”
Gray began doing arts and crafts when she was young, watching her mother make mittens and moccasins with embroidery, but only in the past seven years has she been seriously working with moosehides. She does workshops on beading and other arts and crafts online, and makes her art available through her Facebook page, Gookum Nellie’s Crafts.
Cooper views the awards as a “stepping stone” for the artists, and said, “Even the nomination can take them far and inspire them. The recipients get that recognition for the hard work they’ve contributed throughout their careers as artists.”
Cooper said the awards began several years ago when CNACA members identified the need to recognize Eeyou Istchee artists and their talents. In the beginning there were only four awards, but this year the association expanded the categories to 12.
“When you look at the types of artists in Eeyou Istchee, we’re not just people who sew or make traditional products, we have models, musicians, dancers, performers, comedians. We have many different types of artists, traditional or contemporary,” he added. “In the future, we hope these awards will be like the Oscars for Eeyou Istchee.”
Part of that process is opening up the nominations to grassroots community members, and sometimes they get artists nominated who the association isn’t even aware of. To get a wide range of nominees, the information is posted on social media, sent to the local radio stations and to all the band councils.
Then when the final list of nominees is announced, many artists are surprised to find out they are on the list, according to Cooper. “They are extremely happy and proud to be nominated by their own people,” he said. Then he added that many of them use it as an inspiration to take their work “to the next step,” and commit to being an artist, knowing they have the support of their community.
“I want to thank everyone who filled out the nomination papers, without them we wouldn’t have the Eeyou Istchee Achievement Awards. I want to send a message to all the nominees: you are all winners, and you will succeed where you want to go as an artist. And to the winners, I want to congratulate them and let them know we stand behind them and every artist in Eeyou Istchee 100%,” Cooper said.
by Ben Powless, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter