Cree art, both traditional and contemporary, was on display in Nemaska for the third edition of the Cree Native Arts and Crafts Association’s (CNACA) Eeyou Istchee Achievement Awards.
“It’s about recognizing and promoting the artist,” CNACA executive director Gaston Cooper told the Nation. “There’s a lot of art out there but we have to preserve the authentic Cree art and remember that we have great artists in the Cree communities.”
According to Cooper, the nomination process relied entirely on community participation and was done through Facebook and SurveyMonkey, plus CNACA sent out faxes and emails to every community. Cooper said that one of the most pleasant surprises they had during the nomination process was the cross-community recognition.
“We found that people were nominating artists from all over,” said Cooper. “It was quite heartwarming.”
While the winners were selected by the CNACA executive committee, Cooper noted that ultimately it was what people had written about their nominees that likely swayed the judges. He noted that the winners were all nominated by multiple Cree communities.
There were five awards given out at the Nemaska gala on October 24. Best Fiddler went to Waskaganish’s Byron Jonah; Duane Shanush of Eastmain took home the award for Self-Innovation; the Rising Star Award went to Kelly Cooper from Ouje-Bougoumou; and local Yvonne Neeposh took home the Lifetime Achievement award.
The Buckley Petawabano Award for excellent contribution in a field of media went to Emma Saganash. During her jubilant and emotional acceptance speech, Saganash announced that she would be retiring from journalism.
Cooper also touched on the coveted award for Best Fiddler, saying, “It showed that we truly have one of the greatest fiddlers in the world here in Eeyou Istchee.”
But for Cooper, the highlight of the evening came when his daughter Kelly received her award. The proud dad recounted Kelly’s recent performance with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra of Thompson Highway’s opera, Chaakapesh: The Tricksters Quest, for an audience in Ouje-Bougoumou. She also has a blossoming career as a concert cellist.
“The fiddling was great but as a father, when your daughter receives an award like that, it’s a really proud moment.”
According to attendees, the event was a resounding success and Cooper noted that the CNACA would like to continue the awards show annually but would need to find dependable funding.
“I’d like to thank all the people who filled out the survey, because of you we had the best artists of Eeyou Istchee represented on stage,” said Cooper. “Please, continue supporting our artists!”