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Each year, the Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA) recognizes women whose work and contributions to the Indigenous community have made an impact upon the quality of life of Indigenous women and their families. Award recipients are nominated by their peers and are based on the listed criteria. Awards were presented during the Gala Dinner at ONWA’s 51st Annual General Assembly (AGA) and Leadership Conference.
Winner of the Alice Souliere Bursary Award
The recipient should have demonstrated either the personal pursuit of language development or have assisted in community projects that promote language development.
Nomination submitted for: “Darla Issacs is the reason we learn our language. There are less than 70 people who speak Onondaga. Darla is dedicated to making Onondaga available to those of us who want to learn regardless of the obstacles. Over the years if she found ways to make the language more accessible by having meeting and classes for those of us who lacked the basic knowledge of Onondaga.
Her pursuit eventually gave way to an adult immersion program and now students host language lessons for the community. Darla was the domino we needed to keep our language!
Darla is involved with the Onondaga Adult immersion program and the reason why Onondaga languages are now in programs… from a few people in our community with the ability eight years ago to now where more than 30 people can have Onondaga conversations!
Darla was the domino our Onondaga language community needed.”
Winner of the Jeannette Corbiere-Lavell Award
Each year the Ontario Native Women’s Association is pleased to present this prestigious award in recognition of one of our founding members to an Indigenous woman who best displays the qualities and depth of commitment towards the Indigenous Women’s Movement.
Nomination submitted for: “Claudia LeGarde has worked as a court worker with the Thunder Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre advocating on behalf of Indigenous people and our collective histories to be recognized by the Canadian justice systems for over 20 years. She is a well-respected community member of Fort William First Nation and within the regional justice system of Northwestern Ontario. Claudia has encouraged other women to not give up and continue to better themselves, and by doing so she has touched many families lives and communities. Within the culture she has begun her personal journey on the Midewiwin path and continues to learn more about her healing ancestry to care for those around her.
Within her community of Fort William First Nation Claudia is known and trusted as someone to reach out to when needing advice on how to navigate the justice system. Many members seek her out or bring friends to speak with her. Having that level of trust widely known showcases how she works for her.”
Winner of the Dorothy Wynne Achievement Award
This award is presented to a local member of the Association nominated by her peers for her endeavors and contributions to her community, having an impact upon the quality of life of Indigenous Women and their families.
Nomination submitted for: “Mariah Abotossaway is dedicated to helping anyone and everyone in need.
Mariah has been an active member of Waubejawong Anishinabeqek was started by her grandmother Linda whom Mariah was very close to. After her grandmother passed to the spirit world, Mariah would find herself drawn to strong Native women such as Dorothy Wynne, Jeanette Corbiere, Dawn Harvard, and Cora McGuire-Cyrette to name a few. Mariah was a proud broad member for ONWA, and would share herher experiences with everyone from our community. Mariah has been head female dancer proudly representing Aundeck Omni Kaning for many, many years. She teaches her crafts and sewing skills to anyone willing to learn. When Mariah has free time, you can be sure she is out and about visiting the elders and cooking them lunch or helping them with housework. Mariah makes me so proud every single day. I am so honoured the Creator gifted me with this amazing person that I get to call me daughter.
As a Youth Board Member for ONWA, Mariah loved Dorothy Wynne, and proudly mentored under Dorothy. Who better to receive this award that from someone Dorothy helped shape during her transition from a young girl to a proud Anishnabe Kwe.”
Winner of the Indigenous Woman of the Year Award
This award is presented annually to an Indigenous Woman who has served her people compassionately in all areas of community service, and, demonstrated skill and dedication to the Provincial movement of the Ontario Native Women’s Association.
Nomination submitted for: “Rita Fenton is a beautiful soul that opens her doors to anyone who needs help. She is a trailblazer who has been fully involved with her community of Thunder Bay and is proud member of Fort William First Nation. She opens her doors to people who are starting her journey on the Red Road with open arms. She will feed you, clothe you and help you find peace when you are living in chaos. She does full moon ceremonies from her home and in the community that help women and men connect with the Creator.
Rita is blessed with the gift of reconnection of the lost art of their traditions. You will feel the comfort and feeling at home when you walk through the door. Rita was one of the women who helped found the Orange Abinoojinh Movement Ceremony. She was involved with the Heartbeat of the Drum walk for healing and has offered her yard and space for many sacred fires throughout the years.
If you have ever been by this woman, you know she has so much power and strength, yet she is so humble, kind and gentle.
Rita is involved in her community of Fort William First Nation. She supports her people with their dreams of what they want to do in their community. She makes you believe in yourself. Rita can make the impossible, possible!”
Winner of the Legacy Award
Special this year, the ONWA Legacy Award honours and acknowledges the outstanding achievements of an Indigenous woman who impacted and contributed to the Indigenous women’s social justice movement.
Zhoonya Penassai Kwe (Shining Thunderbird Woman)
Giibwaano-sii Dodem (Redtail Hawk Clan)
She is Zhoonya Penesse Kwe (ba), of the Red Hawk Clan, from Chimnissing (Beausoleil First Nation), Ojibwa Anishinabekwe; Second Degree Medewiwin of the Three Fires Medewiwin Lodge;
Brenda was a loving mother to her beautiful daughter, Christy. Brenda was a proud grandmother of two astounding little girls who lit up her world.
Her deep love for family has always been forefront as she a was loving and devoted sister. They were often referred to as Corn, Beans and Squash. Brenda was Beans, Kathy is Corn and Sheri is Squash. Individually, they are each strong and doing their life’s purpose, but together, they were the three sisters! Growing together, protecting each other and stronger by each other’s sides. An Elder once said that seeing each of them was nice, but having the 3 of them together, they had a positive impact on all those around them. Like a braid of sweetgrass, they attracted positive energies and brought it into the work they did with community.
Brenda lived her life the Anishnabe way each day, sharing in the love of the teachings and natural ways of life.
Brenda had been the GBNWA President for over 25 years. An Elder described Brenda’s leadership as one who’s focus was to meet the priorities of the people. If the community needed it, you could trust Brenda to get it done. This is what made her contributions so impactful. Her priority was to meet the needs of the people she served. She did this with heart and compassion, and her work will leave an everlasting impact for our region. GBNWA started with 2 programs, then to 5, and have now reached 26 full time positions.
Brenda was a mentor to many. She shared her knowledge and a piece of her heart with everyone she met.
There are many versions of Brenda, Zhoonya Penesse Kwe Ba, each one equally as great as the next. She played many important roles within our family, our community and beyond, and she filled these roles perfectly. Her work will continue to ripple through our communities for years to come and inspire Indigenous women everywhere to reach for the top, as no dream is too big.
A huge congratulations to the winners! What you have accomplished is inspiring.
Learn more about the awards at: onwa.ca/awards
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