Thursday, June 23, 2016

Award-winners build bridges of understanding between cultures

Shawna Cunningham and Jolene Houle are passionate about their Aboriginal culture, what it means for their communities and for all of Calgary.

Left to right: Shawna Cunningham, Mayor Nenshi and Jolene Houle
Today, the Calgary Aboriginal Urban Affairs Committee (CAUAC) and The City of Calgary recognized these two exceptional women with the Chief David Crowchild Memorial Award and Aboriginal Youth Achievement Award respectively.

These awards honour those who build bridges of understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures. 

2016 Winner of Chief David Crowchild Memorial Award

Shawna Cunningham is an educator with a focus on Aboriginal student success and empowerment. She is currently the director of the Native Centre at the University of Calgary. As director, Shawna expanded the centre from a place for gathering to a robust hub that offers programming and creates awareness for the greater university community. 

Shawna’s efforts have built cross-cultural learning and understanding between traditionally Western academia and Indigenous Knowledge and Aboriginal Ways of Knowing. Shawna continues to promote Indigenous cultural activities and ways to non-Indigenous Calgarians inviting all people to attend and learn together.

“This award speaks to collaboration, culture, and community and I am very honoured to have been selected,” says Shawna. “I’ve spent most of my professional career working with and for Aboriginal students in the post-secondary system and have seen the disparity between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal community in the areas of education and employment."

"To close the gap, I believe we need to seek out and build strong collaborative partnerships with Aboriginal and non-aboriginal organizations to ensure our youth have a bright future, full of opportunity and a sense of pride, peace, and wellness.” 

2016 Winner of CAUAC Youth Achievement Award 

Fifteen-year-old Jolene Houle is a Grade 11 student at Bishop O’Byrne High School. 

She has been attending the Metis Calgary Family Services Society Aboriginal Students Program for four years and is passionate about sharing her Aboriginal culture with teachers and classmates. She actively works to raise awareness about both her culture and the social issues facing Indigenous people. 

Jolene is a keen learner and has become a mentor and guide for other students in the program passing on her love of learning through teaching others. She demonstrates the values of the program through her continued participation and her eagerness to find extra ways to continue being involved. 

This summer Jolene is taking part in the “Summer Media Program,” learning how to make and tell stories. Jolene has also been appointed as a delegate for the Miss Teen Canada Globe Pageant. She plans to showcase her culture, one of her talents and give a speech about mental health with a focus on Aboriginal youth. 

“This award means a lot to me because it acknowledges my hard work to help others and their well being,” says Jolene. “It’s important to me to be involved in my culture because it positively affects my daily life and I feel blessed by having a relationship with the Creator.” 

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