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Cree Youth Council announces Inspire Hope winners

BY Ben Powless Apr 13, 2022

The Cree Nation Youth Council presented the second annual Inspire Hope Awards via livestream March 25, handing out 30 awards to youth out of 135 nominees in a range of categories, including sports, education, culture, parenthood and leadership.

“There are no limits for any of our young people. Our ability to make choices within our nation to pursue an education is one of our greatest tools in nation building and in building our own future as a self-determining, self-governing nation,” said Cree School Board Chairperson Sarah Pash during her opening remarks.

“It is really evident you are all very accomplished and that you will all become part of building our great nation and to contributing to your communities in meaningful ways. We all look forward to everything you will accomplish in your future,” she added. 

The awards ceremony was co-hosted by Freddie Dixon and Steven Tapiatic, along with Youth Grand Chief Adrian Gunner, and featured musical performances and speeches by Cree leaders, including Grand Chief Mandy Gull-Masty, Bertie Wapachee and former Youth Grand Chief Kaitlynn Hester Moses. Winners in each category received a recognition plaque and a $1,000 cash prize.

Raymond Jolly, an Entrepreneur of the Year nominee, said he was watching the stream on Facebook and was getting nervous as they approached his category. When his name announced as winner, Jolly said, “I felt happy, but I was pretty shocked.”

“I was proud for myself, but I also acknowledged the people who helped me through my entrepreneurship journey,” he added.

“I’m very thankful to those who nominated and voted for me, without the support I’ve been getting I wouldn’t be able to accomplish such things,” Jolly said. “I want to congratulate all the award winners, and all the people who got nominated in every category.” 

Tania Lariviere, Special Projects Technician for the Cree Nation Youth Council, said that the awards aren’t about winning: “Some people think nobody sees what they are doing, and these awards will motivate them to keep going. The cash isn’t the prize – it’s the recognition.”

Lariviere said while some people nominate themselves, 95% of the nominations come from neighbours, teachers, friends and those who want to highlight the efforts of youth.  “Communities took time to highlight youth in their communities,” she added. 

While the ceremony was conducted online, Lariviere hopes the gala will be incorporated into the Inspire Hope conference next year. Still, there were live gatherings in several communities at youth centres – serving snacks, refreshments and “swag bags” as well as the new Inspire Hope book.

Winners this year included Chantal Bosum (Ouje-Bougoumou) for Student of the Year: High School; Freddie Dixon (Waswanipi) for Cree Language; Katie-Joy Sealhunter-Matoush (Chisasibi) for the Cree Arts award; and Ezekiel Mianscum (Mistissini) for the Music award. 

Kaitlynn Hester Moses (Waskaganish) took home the Dr. Billy Diamond Award and the Inspiring Youth Award: Coastal; Robin Gull-Saganash (Waswanipi) won the Inspiring Youth Award: Inland; and Andrea McLeod (Waskaganish) won the James A. Shecapio Award. 

Jayden Shecapio-Blacksmith (Ouje-Bougoumou) took home the Athlete of the Year award, while Mervina Cheezo (Eastmain) won the Frontline Worker of the Year award. Candice Bosum (Ouje-Bougoumou) picked up the Mother of the Year award, while Father of the Year went to Zachary Ottereyes (Waswanipi). 

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Ben Powless is a Kanien'kehá:ka and Anishnabek writer and photographer, currently living in Ottawa. He has a degree in Human Rights, Indigenous and Environmental Studies from Carleton University.