A number of Yellowknife residents were among those recognized for their contributions to preserving culture in the NWT during a ceremony hosted at the legislative assembly last week.
Kiera-Dawn Kolson and the group Dene Nahjo received the Minister’s Culture and Heritage Circle Awards on Oct. 18, with Kolson being honoured in the category for individuals and Dene Nahjo earning the Minister’s Choice Award.
There are five categories for the award, which also include youth, elders and groups.
“In the Northwest Territories … many individuals have made lasting contributions to our culturally rich landscape,” said Minister of Education, Culture and Employment Alfred Moses, who presented each winner with a gift and plaque. “It is important that we support and recognize those people.”
Recipients of the awards are chosen by an independent panel of judges, said Moses.
Kolson, a Tso’Tine-Gwich’in musician, writer, storyteller, artist, photographer and motivational speaker, said she was “honoured and humbled” by the award.
“When you do things with an honest intention, it’s not for awards or recognition,” she said. “It’s to make a difference and it’s really a blessing when your community is willing to put that effort into acknowledging the good works.”
Kolson said she strives to help people help themselves through her work, whether that’s by advocating for the protection of Indigenous women, environmental stewardship or learning her culture through elders so she can share it with the next generation.
She added she is grateful for her mother and her generation for embracing their identity, something she feels she also has a responsibility to do in a country where colonization has taken that away from many people.
Deneze Nakehk’o, who is involved with Dene Nahjo, was also thankful Wednesday.
“It’s really great to be recognized,” said Nakehk’o. “It just goes to show how much hard work and dedication everyone in Dene Najho puts into the work.”
The group is a collective of people working to revitalize culture and reach out to Indigenous communities.
Earlier this year they hosted an urban hide-tanning camp at Somba K’e Civic Plaza which included demonstrations, an Indigenous film night and artists market.
Nakehk’o said cultural resurgence “is of the utmost importance,” because of colonization and the impact of residential schools, which have disconnected Indigenous people from their language, culture and land.
He also emphasized the leadership role women have to play in preserving culture and heritage, something that was reflected in the number of women who were honoured at the minister’s ceremony.
“That’s what we’re here today to celebrate – those who have made contributions throughout the Northwest Territories in their communities and who are role models to youth as well as residents,” said Moses during the event. “I’d just like to take this time to congratulate and thank all of our inductees here today. Thank you for your lasting contributions and commitment.”
Dang-Dang Gruben of Inuvik, Catherine Bell Sanguez of Jean Marie River and JBT Dance Group from Fort Smith were also honoured at the ceremony.