The 7th annual Celebration of Nations opened on Friday 8 September, showcasing the 5th annual Celebration of Nations Outstanding Achievement Awards. These awards were designed to reflect the artistic and intellectual programming that has come to define and distinguish this innovative Indigenous expressive culture event.

Recipients span a broad range of those involved in the arts and traditions of their respective Indigenous peoples while also acknowledging the prominent roles and contributions made by our allies and accomplices toward Truth and Reconciliation. Again, this year, Celebration of Nations honours the intelligence and talent of seven highly accomplished and inspiring recipients.

“I’m delighted that the Outstanding Achievement Awards have obtained the standing of a legitimate and ethical peer driven process, and that recipients are deeply honoured by being officially recognized for their accomplishments,” said Celebration of Nations Artistic Producer Tim Johnson. “The meaning inherent in the award categories has enabled those making nominations to think deeply and put forward remarkable individuals who have contributed greatly to the artistic, cultural, and intellectual life of our community.”

From left to right: Gary Farmer (Performing Arts), Colleen A. Smith (FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre CEO), Dave Labbé (Empathic Traditions), Tim Johnson (Celebration of Nations Artistic Producer), David Adames (Two Row Alliance), Delbert Jay R. Jonathan (Visual Arts), Dr. Savage Bear (Intellectual Advancement), Curtis and Thomas Maracle accepting for Kanatawakhon David Maracle, posthumously honoured (Language and Culture), Sam Hill (Language and Culture) and Michele Elise Burnett ( Celebration of Nations Artistic Director).

The 2023 Outstanding Achievement Award Winners are:

Outstanding Achievement Award for Visual Arts, Delbert Jay R. Jonathan.
As a Mohawk artist from the Turtle Clan who hails from Six Nations of the Grand River, Jonathan produces art that inspires and heals can vary in style from traditional to contemporary. Some of that inspiration comes from being the program and cultural team lead at Native Horizons Treatment Centre. And it doesn’t hurt when one also comes from a long generational line of artists within his family. Among the many styles of art that he creates, which include painting, digital art, traditional arts, and leatherwork, as well as inspirational dancing on the powwow trail, he embraces opportunities to develop professional designs using his natural ingenuity. His work is on display across Canada and the United States and is prominently presented here in Niagara at Brock University, the Peace Bridge Authority, the Fort Erie Niagara Health System, St. Catharines Hospital and elsewhere. Delbert Jay R. Jonathan is honoured for his work assisting individuals working through addictions and trauma, for using multiple informed approaches to assisting people in achieving their own desired wellness and for being personable, knowledgeable and dedicated to his work.

Outstanding Achievement Award for Performing Arts, Gary Farmer.
Born in Six Nations of the Grand River into the Wolf Clan of the Cayuga Nation, and raised in Buffalo New York, Farmer is well known as a character actor with over 100 film and TV credits attached to his resume. He studied Photography and Film at both Syracuse University and Ryerson Polytechnic University. He then began a successful career as an actor, first taking small roles in movies such as Police Academy in 1984, in The Believers in 1987, in The Big Town in 1987, and with Kiefer Sutherland and Lou Diamond Phillips in Renegades in 1989. His credits continued to grow but he deserves a particular callout for his role in the 1998 film Smoke Signals, directed by Chris Eyre and based upon a screenplay by Sherman Alexie, the coming-of-age comedy drama that became universally popular throughout the Indigenous world. Gary Farmer is a successful professional who has never forgotten his roots and continues to lend his support to community groups and charitable organizations.

Outstanding Achievement Award for Intellectual Advancement, Dr. Savage Bear.
A rabble-rouser of sorts and member of the Montreal Lake Cree Nation in northern Saskatchewan, Dr. Savage Bear shares her knowledge and spreads her influence among many Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabek, and Métis students in this region as director of McMaster University’s Indigenous Research Institute. She is also an assistant professor within its Indigenous Studies Department and serves as the National Director of Walls to Bridges; an education program bringing post-secondary education to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people. Prior to arriving at McMaster in 2021, she worked at the University of Alberta, where she was the director of the Indigenous Women & Youth Resilience Project and the academic lead on “Indigenous Canada,” a highly successful online course boasting over a half million learners. She was also an assistant professor of Native Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies. Dr. Bear is honoured for building the McMaster Indigenous Research Institute to facilitate and for promoting increased visibility of Indigenous knowledge and methodologies, creating space for dialogue between Western research approaches and Indigenous research collaborations, and for supporting both Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers, ethics boards and decision makers in Indigenous research.

Outstanding Achievement Award for Language and Culture, Kanatawakhon David Maracle (Posthumous honour).
Born in 1952 on the Tyendinaga Mohawk Reserve on the Bay of Quinte, Maracle worked tirelessly to keep the Kanyen’kehá (Mohawk) language alive. His efforts have created a generation of fluent speakers who now teach other Haudenosaunee citizens the grammar and vocabulary method he developed. He has written multiple books and was well known and loved throughout the Haudenosaunee diaspora, including among language advocates within Niagara, where his knowledge lives on as an invaluable resource. Academia also understood his value as he was a resident professor at Western University for close to forty years. In 2017, he received an honorary doctorate from Brock University for his efforts in reviving the Kanyen’kehá (Mohawk) language. He is greatly missed, but not forgotten. For contributing so much to generations of Indigenous students who desired to learn their birthright language, Celebration of Nations shares this posthumous honour with the Maracle family.

2023 Outstanding Achievement Award for Language and Culture: Sam Hill.
An exceptionally dedicated instructor of Indigenous language and culture, Sam Hill’s impact has been nothing short of prolific. A Turtle Clan Mohawk from Six Nations and the son of a residential school survivor, he has become a standout at the Fort Erie Native Friendship Centre, having marketed and registered over 400 Language Learners for the Centre’s Virtual Language Program. He created beginner workbooks in all Six Haudenosaunee languages and coordinated the first language program involving seven Indigenous languages, which included Anishinaabemowin. He designed, developed, and coordinated a Storytelling Presentation for the University at Buffalo, where a short version of the Haudenosaunee Creation Story was recited, starting with Mohawk and continuing consecutively in Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and finishing in Tuscarora. This was the first time that some heard all six Haudenosaunee languages at one sitting. He also researched and developed the curriculum presentation of the Haudenosaunee Calendar of Ceremonies. Hill continues to make a profound impact for the community.

Outstanding Achievement Award for the Two Row Alliance, David Adames.
A senior executive with over 30 years of work experience in the municipal, provincial, and not-for-profit sectors. Adames vast knowledge of the tourism industry, media relations, and revenue producing operations in a government setting has served to establish his distinguished reputation. His background includes time spent as president and CEO of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce and as the executive director at Tourism Hamilton. He also serves, or has served on several boards, including Niagara Falls Tourism, Tourism Partnership of Niagara, and the Winter Festival of Lights Board. He joined the Niagara Parks Commission as senior director of Business Development in March 2013, and became the Chief Operating Officer in 2016. In the area of Indigenous relations, he has shown a deep and sustained commitment to the incorporation of Indigenous historical and expressive art programming not only at the Landscape of Nations Memorial, but all up and down the Niagara River corridor.

Outstanding Achievement Award for Empathic Traditions: Dave Labbé.
As an Innu from Northern Quebec, who graduated from Eastdale Secondary School in Welland, he pursued his post-secondary education applying to the electronic engineering technologist program at the newly formed Niagara College in 1967. Following a brief stint at Page-Hersey Tubes in Welland, working on metallurgy, he graduated in 1971 to gainful employment at Stelco Steel in Hamilton, where he worked on and off for 20 years. However, an internal calling and desire to help people, kept getting louder. He started working at the Fort Erie Native Friendship Centre in 1995 as a powwow and programs coordinator and went on to provide numerous contributions as an advisor and counsellor to the community over the course of a stellar career. During this time his work extended to helping youth, and young men in particular, overcome alcohol and drugs. It wasn’t easy, but he stayed with it, applying the traits and attributes that exemplify how elders become elders. Empathy. Humility. Honesty. Truth. Respect. Love. Bravery. And Wisdom. This award references the imbedded cultural attributes and teachings that nurture connections, among humans, with other living creatures, and with the natural forces and energies that make human existence possible. Celebration of Nations is very proud of the transformative work of Dave Labbé, an elder who has dedicated so much of his life to supporting Indigenous people within Niagara and beyond.

The esteemed list of past recipients also include: Susan Aglukark, Christi Belcourt, Angela DeMontigny, Rick Hill, Katsi Cook, Jennifer Dockstader, Karl Dockstader and Sean Vanderklis (One Dish, One Mic), Gervan Fearon, Wayne Gates, Nicole Joy-Fraser, Diane Longboat, Julie Lumsden, Tom McConnell, Larry McDermott, Kahente Horn-Miller, Tehahenteh Frank Miller, Gary Parker, Tom Porter, Sam Thomas, Walter Sendzik, Leaon Skye-Grandmond, Santee Smith, Kayanesenh Paul Williams and Tom Wilson.