Second annual Okimaw Awards honour the contributions of Alberta Indigenous men

The second annual Okimaw Awards were handed out in Edmonton Saturday. Global News

Curtis Cardinal is one of over a dozen men who has been honoured at Edmonton’s City Hall Saturday with an Okimaw Award.

The awards are handed out to local Indigenous men for their contributions in a number of different areas including community service, mentorship, music and art, politics, academics, law enforcement and health.

Cardinal received the ‘Love Award’ for his support of Edmonton’s homeless population through his love of food. His catering business Tee Pee Treats served over 6,000 meals in the inner city last year alone.

“I felt there was a need in the community- just to help feed people healthy foods, soups and bannock,” Cardinal said. “Just home cooked meals that are for the people living in encampments, living in tents. I just felt there was a need. There are so many people out there  that are just struggling to live.”

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Cardinal once lived on the street and battled addictions. He hopes he can now inspire other to turn their lives around and help others.

“I show them love through food and I know that love, they always give it back,” Cardinal said.  “It gives me a sense of pride that these people don’t go to bed hungry at night.”

“The Okimaw awards were a vision that I had,” said Janice Randhile, Okimaw Awards founder. “12 years later here we are honouring our Indigenous men.”

Randhile describes the awards as being based on a man’s character, not necessarily their accomplishments. The Esquao Award honour the contributions of Indigenous woman but Randhile wanted to create something that did the same for men.

“Being seen for the work that [they are] doing,” Randhile added. “To see that people can change, people can heal, people can grow. It’s exactly what I wanted to see. The community coming out to support our men and that’s where the nominations come from.”

Francis Whiskeyjack, a residential school survivor and member of the Saddle Lake Cree Nation, received the Lifetime Journey Award.

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“It’s all about hard work, believing in yourself and building relationships with people,” Whiskeyjack said of his work mentoring young people. “There’s a psychology in honouring spirit and keeping yourself healthy.”

Whiskeyjack has spent decades advocating for and mentoring youth, receiving an honourary Doctor of Laws from the University of Alberta. He’s also been an influencial voice in keeping the Cree language alive.

Edmonton Public Schools is also honouring elder Dr. Francis Whiskeyjack by naming a new high school in the Meadows neighbourhood after him. it’s scheduled to open in September 2024.

“These types of awards inspire young people- role models lead the way to showcase that it can be done,” Whiskeyjack said.

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