It is important to recognize what young Aboriginal people are doing in the community, said Sharon Smith-Baxter.
“There’s so much going and having so much positive stories about the challenges they overcame and how they’ve faced adversity and how they did with it, what they’re doing with their art and culture,” she said. “So many students are shy and acknowledging them makes a huge difference not only those students but for people watching and admiring them.”
On May 17, nearly 50 youth were recognized at the Northwestern Ontario Aboriginal Youth Achievement and Recognition Awards 2012 in Thunder Bay.
The youth received awards in a variety of categories such as peer mentorship, advocacy & activism, athletics, artistry and personal achievement.
In its ninth year, the awards started off as a career fair until one of the organizers, Sandra Kakeeway, came up with a idea that she wanted to acknowledge the youth in the community.
“The awards are the result of her vision,” Smith-Baxter said. Kakeeway passed away a few years ago but the awards event lives on, Smith-Baxter, who has been on the awards committee since its inception, said. There is an award in her honour called the Sandra Kakeeway Cultural Award given to youth who have “shown dedication to the preservation and understanding of the Anishinabe culture.”
This year, the awards committee introduced a new category called Heritage Keepers.
“We pulled it out because a lot of people were being nominated because a lot youth are now looking at preserving their Native language and keep up with traditional crafting,” Smith-Baxter said. “I think that’s really important because it could easily fade away and no longer exist.”
Cody Kowtiash of Gull Bay First Nation and Jasmine Edwards of Northwest Angle #37 First Nation were the first recipients of the award. Kowtiash is doing his best to learn Ojibwa language while Edwards began to bead after doing a school project.
Smith-Baxter said the annual awards gets bigger every year. This year they received more than 120 nominations.
“Every year we keep more and more nominations and it’s a very big thing and a very positive impact on the youth in our community,” she said. “It’s huge and well-received by the community.”
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