Okimâw Awards honour Indigenous men

Indigenous men from across Treaty 6, 7 and 8 in Alberta were celebrated Saturday.

The second-annual Okimâw Awards took place at Edmonton City Hall. It’s a grassroots event designed to recognize the contributions of Indigenous men in their communities.

Janice Randhile founded the awards. She said she wanted to help amplify the voices and actions of Indigenous men.

“I just felt it was really important,” Randhile said. “We do have a platform for our Indigenous women, which is amazing, but I think we needed to start honoring our men and especially honouring them on a bigger scale.”

The award winners were nominated by their communities in categories centred around culture, community and public service.

Jacob Lightning, from Morley, received the Knowledge Seeker award for his dedication to his education despite difficult circumstances. He dedicated the award to his mother, who was murdered six years ago. 

“I’m very happy and I’m very proud of everyone here,” he said. “We’re always talking about Indigenous sorrow stories, but not enough of the leadership, the success stories and the adaptations to thrive.”

Lightning said the awards are important for visibility. 

“As a young boy growing up I didn’t see examples of leadership. The government always told us about the bad things – that we’re drunks, we’re lazy and that we’re not smart,” Lightning said. “And I internalized that a lot when I was younger.

“But after spending more time with my grandfather and learning about the actual success stories, the narrative began to shift … You can be what you can see, wo when you see examples of leadership, you can be that.”

Elder Francis Whiskeyjack from Saddle Lake Cree Nation was recognized for his success story at this year’s awards.

Whiskeyjack, an Elder at the First Peoples’ House at the University of Alberta, has been an educator and an advocate for Indigenous culture, youth and language for more than 20 years.

He said he did it despite being told he would “never amount to anything.”

Saturday he recieved given the Lifetime Award.

“As a residential school survivor, it’s overcoming obstacles, building self esteem, motivating myself,” he said. “Mentoring youth to change their lifestyle and be proud of who they can be.”

Whiskeyjack said celebrations like the awards can change lives, and he hopes to see more young people getting involved. 

“I think it inspires them to see that role models can lead the way, to showcase that it can be done – you can do great things,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from.”

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Nicole Lampa