Inuit presence strong at native business gathering

Inuit-owned First Air was named native business of the year at the Mishtapew Excellence Awards Gala held last week in Quebec City.


QUEBEC CITY — There was a distinctly Oscar-like bu at the glitzy and entertaining Mishtapew Excellence Awards Gala held last week in Quebec City.

More than 300 elegantly-dressed members and friends of the First People’s Business Association turned out for an evening of fine dining, entertainment and celebration at the historic Capitole Theatre in Old Quebec. “Historically, native peoples were not in business,” said the Makivik Corporation’s president, Pita Aatami. “Their business was getting food. You can see this has changed.”

Nunavimmiut at the gala were particularly happy when the Makivik-owned airline, First Air, walked off with the top honours, the Native Business of the Year Award.

The 40 companies nominated for awards also included many other Nunavik businesses — Kuujjuaq’s Halutik Enterprises, Inukshuk Productions of Inukjuak, the Kativik Regional Development Corporation, Nunavik Arctic Foods, Nunavut Eastern Arctic Shipping, Pitsituuq Fish Plant, Taqramiut Productions Inc., Air Inuit, and First Air.

Among the winners were the Eastern Door, a weekly newspaper serving the Mohawk community of Kahnawake, the Abenaki Odanak Cheese Factory (the only native-owned dairy business in North America), and the Huron-run Sagamité Restaurant near Quebec City.

This is the third year that the First People’s Business Assocation, in existence since 1994, has promoted the native business network with these awards.

The association is intended to help native people to put “two feet outside the tent,” and be involved in business. It now has 350 members, mainly in Quebec. Of Canadaís 20,000 native-run businesses, close to 2,000 are in Quebec.

The association’s logo features an Inuk and Indian shaking hands, and the inuksuk-shaped podiums at the gala were visible signs of the association’s strong Inuit membership. And at this event, dominated by French-speaking native peoples such as the Huron-Wendat and Montagnais, Inuttitut was heard as much as English.

Mary Simon, Canada’s ambassador to Denmark and the Arctic, served as honorary co-president of the gala, addressing the gathering in English and Inuttitut.

“Despite this diversity, we share many special ideals,” Simon told those present.

These include a legacy of co-operation and sharing, Simon said.

Assembly of First Nations Grand Chief Phil Fontaine attended the gala, but Ted Moses, Grand Chief of the James Bay Cree, who has been fighting Quebec to protect Cree forest resources against lumber companies, did not.

One award recipient urged Quebec not to “bulldoze,” but rather to build. The federal government was also present at the gala, Martin Cauchon, the secretary of state for economic development, announced a $1.5 million, three-year support for the business association.

Follwing the gala’s theme of native business “taking flight,” attendees feasted on such delicacies as the “Soaring Eagle — Nunavik caribou medaillons roasted in hazelnut oil — and the “Snowy Owl” — lime and cedar sherbet.

They were offered performances by Gilles Sioui’s band, Aqsarniit, an Ojibway dance company called Tribal Energy, Huron-Wendat flute-player Nathalie Picard, Nunavik throat-singers Evie Mark and Emma Grey, a Huron-Wendat dance group Sandokwa, world champion Hopi hoop dancer Derrick Davis, and former Kashtin singer Florent Vallant.

And, at the end of the evening, after the pulsating rhythms of Vallant and his musicians faded out, thousands of coloured feathers cascaded down through the air.

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