Four Islanders to receive lifetime achievement awards

Dr. Shirley Cheechoo

MANITOULIN—No less than four individuals from Manitoulin Island are set to receive Anishinabek Nation Lifetime Achievement Awards later this summer, making up close to one-quarter of all the 2019 nominees.

Artist Leland Bell, community builder Shirley Cheechoo, community servant Cecilia Pitawanakwat and Aundeck Omni Kaning (AOK) Ogimaa-kwe Patsy Corbiere are among the 18 individuals receiving lifetime achievement awards this year.

The Anishinabek Nation Lifetime Achievement Awards offer an annual opportunity for Anishinaabe communities to celebrate their best and brightest members. This year’s celebration is scheduled for August 14 at Casino Rama.

“It’s a great honour,” said Ogimaa-kwe Corbiere. “It’s a good thing, being recognized for the work you do; I’ve been on council for 18 years and chief since 2011.”

She said the high number of Manitoulin Island nominees speaks to the hard-working nature of people in this region.

“I work for the people. I’m not here to get gratitude or anything, but it is nice being recognized for the work you do,” said Ogimaa-kwe Corbiere.

Wiikwemkoong artist Leland Bell was nominated in the arts and culture category and said he felt both honoured and grateful to those who had nominated him.

“Over the decades, the people before me have put a lot of vision into innovation and forward thinking. That’s part of the legacy that I come from as far as the arts go. There were other people ahead of me blazing trails; I just happened to find one of those trails,” said Mr. Bell.

His artwork was recently featured as part of the Artists Against Racism public art campaign that extends across Canada to help encourage inclusivity and dialogue about racial discrimination. Locally, he has done work for the Rainbow District School Board and designed the eagles on the Laurentian University coat of arms, a school from which he graduated in 1980 and from which he also received an honourary doctorate of letters in 2008.

He extended his appreciation to the association and his home community which have both played a role in finding pride in being Anishinaabe.

“I don’t wear it as a flag, but I do have great pride in my heritage and it’s helped me throughout my life. It’s enabled me to come to this point,” he said, adding that being able to speak his traditional language has had a profound influence on him.

Shirley Cheechoo received her nomination in recognition of her community development throughout the Anishinabek Nation territory. She founded both Debajehmujig Theatre Group and Weengushk Film Institute and was the first First Nations woman to write, produce, direct and act in a feature-length film.

The institutions she founded and fostered have caused a significant impact for Manitoulin Island, the province, Canada and beyond. Ms. Cheechoo was unable to provide a comment to The Expositor by press deadline Monday.

Cecilia Pitawanakwat is the fourth and final nominee from Manitoulin Island in this round of Anishinabek Nation Lifetime Achievement Awards. She is a prominent community servant in Wiikwemkoong. She has dedicated much of her life to volunteering for charitable organizations and acting as a leader for her community.

“I feel very great about it. It speaks of the things we have accomplished since I was elected to council in 1992,” said Ms. Pitawanakwat.

She remarked that seeing the four banners of the robotics team hanging in the high school provided her with a real sense of accomplishment. As for her four colleagues who are also being recognized, Ms. Pitawanakwat said she was delighted to cheer on their successes as well.

“It’s heartening to see all this hard work being recognized,” said Ms. Pitawanakwat.