2024 Esquao Award Recipients

Amplifying the spirit, strength, and resiliency of Indigenous Women in Alberta

Co-founded by Marggo Pariseau and Muriel Stanley Venne, the Esquao Awards highlight the significant role Indigenous women hold in their home, in the healing and development of their communities, and in the building of Alberta. This year’s honoured Esquao Award recipients include leaders in education, business, the arts, community involvement, culture, children’s futures, health and medicine, and justice and human rights.

Joanna Rose Campiou, Alexander First Nation – Culture
Mother, grandmother, nurse, cultural arts instructor, knowledge keeper, entrepreneur—Joanna is being recognized for her contributions to her community’s cultural life. She participates, hosts and volunteers in many ceremonies and cultural events, and lives closely with the land. As a nurse, she strives to incorporate her culture and spirituality to bring the nêhiyawak ways of knowing and being to her work.

Terri Cardinal Nayawatatic, Saddle Lake Cree Nation – Children’s Future
Terri is a mother of two, a Masters student, and the Program Manager for Saddle Lake Early Childhood Learning and Development. Recognized for her creativity, ethics, and academic success, she redefines the parameters of childcare and development—acting as a proponent of change and a bearer of new opportunities for the community. For the past two years she has hosted land-based camps in Saddle Lake connecting youth to core iyiniw values and teachings.

Barbara A. Courtorielle, Slave Lake – Community Involvement
Barbara is a proud, dedicated Métis woman who is deeply committed to her community. When not in her role as Executive Director of the Slave Lake Native Friendship Centre—delivering culturally appropriate programs and services to Indigenous people and all people—she can be found volunteering within the community, organizing MMIWG community events, preparing meals and helping out at the Slave Lake Legion, and sitting on community boards and committees.

Cathy Cunningham, Gift Lake – Education
A member of Whitefish First Nation #459, Cathy has been an invaluable Educational Assistant at Atikameg School for the past 37 years. She has a strong commitment to student learning and academic excellence—supporting the needs of students by giving her time, knowledge, and maintaining cultural integrity through the use of Cree language instruction. Cathy’s character and values exemplify Indigenous cultural values.

Beatrice Floch, Edmonton – Lifetime Achievement
Beatrice is dedicated to uplifting Indigenous people by helping them secure meaningful employment. Prior to founding Spirit Employment and Training in 2003, she had a successful career selling steel pipe for pipeline supply companies and working as a pipeline estimator. Today, her 100 per cent Indigenous Women-owned firm provides service and professional staff for temporary, contract or direct-hire roles. Beatrice s efforts in helping Indigenous people throughout Western Canada find employment has around an 80 per cent success rate.
Patricia I. Goodwill – Littlechild, Maskwacis – Lifetime Achievement
Patricia is a member of the Ermineskin Cree Nation who is committed to helping and supporting others. She has been a teacher, administrator, instructor, principal, and served as President of Maskwacis Cultural College. In addition to dedicating her time to numerous boards and committees, Patricia has been an Elder/advisor to all levels of government in the area of Indigenous self-government. In 2016, she led the team that developed the first ever Plains Cree Language Declaration that was adopted by the United Nations Indigenous Languages of the World Committee.
Sarah Houle, Calgary – Arts
Sarah has celebrated and shared her Métis culture through her multidisciplinary art which includes artwork and design, music, and audio/video work. Coming from a small northern Alberta community, Sarah gained a deep-rooted respect for nature, Elders, and her environment. Her work has been showcased nationally and internationally, and her dedication to her art has given Indigenous female voices the opportunity to be heard and acknowledged.
Sherri Houle, Edmonton – Culture
Sherri shares her life stories of overcoming many adversities and how she continues to overcome obstacles to reach her goals and dreams. Her company, Eagle Healing, offers a place of peace and healing for those seeking to be treated emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritual through Indigenous traditional and contemporary energy healings and teachings. Though her calling to be a spiritual leader, she has assisted many youth in awakening their cultural awareness as part of the healing journey.
Ruby Littlechild, MBA, M.Ed, BA, Maskwacis – Business
A member of Ermineskin First Nation, Ruby has always been passionate about Indigenous economic development and empowerment. She is the first Indigenous woman to be National Director of Indigenous Relations with global engineering firm AtkinsRealis. Previously, she served as Manager at Alberta Indigenous Construction Career Centre (AICCC) and as Indigenous Program Lead for the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA), as well as on numerous boards. Her enthusiasm, professionalism, perseverance, and ability to empower others is an inspiration to all.

Julia McDougall, Fort McMurray – Education
Julia is a member of Mikisew Cree First Nation whose education, experience and advocacy have always focused on Indigenous people. An active community member and respected Elder, Julia was one of the original group of parents who initiated the annual Traditional Ceremony of Achievement for Indigenous graduates in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo some 26 years ago. As an educator and cultural liaison, she inspires students on a daily basis, helping them feel welcomed, safe, and cared for.

Melissa Nollski, St. Albert – Education
Melissa is a member of the Treaty 6 Michel First Nation with over 25 years experience working with children and families. She started as one of the teachers in the Aboriginal Head Start program and has been in the role of Executive Director since 2003. Melissa also sits on the Alberta Aboriginal Head Start Committee and the National Aboriginal Head Start Council, and her commitment has had an impact in her community, in the province, and across the nation.

Mona Ominayak Auger, Slave Lake – Community Involvement
Following her graduation from the Social Work program in 1997, Mona has been working in the field of children’s services, and currently serves as Executive Director of KTC Child & Family Society—providing child, youth and family enhancement services to the member First Nations of the Kee Tas Kee Now Tribal Council. Mona was instrumental in the C-92 startup planning and helped establish the Council’s own Child Welfare Legislation “Awasak Weyasiwewin.”

Lorraine Raine, Mountain Cree Smallboy Camp – Culture
Lorraine is the great granddaughter, granddaughter and daughter of hereditary Cree chiefs and is highly regarded as a role model for her cultural knowledge which she has freely shared throughout her life. She was one of the first school teachers in the Mountain Cree Smallboy Camp, later becoming a teacher at the Louis Bull Kisipatinahk School for a few years, and today is still teaching Cree language and culture in her community.

Anna Stuffco, Edmonton – Justice & Human Rights
Anna is a proud Métis woman working in the area of criminal law, first as defense counsel, and currently as one of the province s designated Indigenous Crown Prosecutors. Throughout her career, she has focused on addressing Indigenous criminal justice issues and was instrumental in the creation of Edmonton s first Indigenous Court—which provides a culturally relevant, restorative, and holistic system of justice for Indigenous individuals including offenders, victims and the community harmed by an offender’s actions.

Beverly Ward, Loon River First Nation – Community Involvement
Beverly is the Health Director for Loon River First Nation and is committed to making a difference in her community. She has been instrumental in the community s health and well-being initiatives, including the development of an Elder s Lodge. Beverly is known for her integrity, work ethic, and for looking for innovative ways to improve service delivery. Proving that one is never too old to learn, she recently returned to school to become a Licensed Practical Nurse.

Tara Lynn Wardman, East Prairie Métis Settlement – Health & Medicine
Tara-Lynn is a proud, caring Métis woman and an experienced Licensed Practical Nurse. In addition to her full-time work at the High Prairie Community Health and Wellness Clinic, she volunteers as a medic with the High Prairie Red Wings. Known for her kindness and hardworking nature, Tara-Lynn’s dedication serves as an inspiration to many young Indigenous women and girls in the community.

Teneil Whiskeyjack, Edmonton – Arts
Teneil is a Plains Cree woman from Saddle Lake Cree Nation, highly regarded as a visionary and a force of cultural creativity. From speaking engagements, storytelling, acting in film and television, and making her playwright’s debut with her show Ayita—everything Teneil does is rooted in ceremony and stems from an Indigenous Cree lens. Her work uplifts other Indigenous women and brings non-Indigenous festival producers and allies into the conversation, helping to bridge Reconciliation, education and understanding.

Brenda Blyan, Buffalo Lake Métis Settlement – Circle of Honour Inductee, Muriel Stanley Venne Leadership Award

Brenda is a highly experienced and dedicated professional who, in 2022 was elected as Vice President of the Métis Settlements General Council. She is committed to ensuring that Métis Settlements are respected, supported and empowered. Brenda’s focus is on building strong relationships with local and provincial governments, industry, and other Indigenous communities.

Prior to this, Brenda served five years as the Administrator and Economic Development Officer for Buffalo Lake Métis Settlement. Her leadership and hard work during her tenure has left a lasting impact on the community through secured economic ventures and stability. She has also served as Executive Director of the Canadian Native Friendship Centre in Edmonton; Manager of Indigenous Procurement Strategies and Manager of Aboriginal Business Development for Civeo Canada; and Program Coordinator for the Métis National Council.

In her work as a private consultant, Brenda conducted research work and advised and led projects for Alberta Environment, Northlands Park, Canadian Native Friendship Centre, and the Edmonton Aboriginal Cultural Foundation where she managed a viability study to assess the need for low-cost housing for Indigenous seniors.

From 1999 to 2002, she served as Vice President of the Métis Nation of Alberta where she participated in strategic planning, policy development, communications planning, media relations and budget approvals; organized and attended consultations with Métis and First Nations communities across Alberta; and lobbied all levels of government to secure Métis rights, funding and legislative change.

Brenda is also a proud mother of three and Kokum to five grandchildren. She makes her home in Buffalo Lake Métis Settlement.

Each year, the Esquao, Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women (IAAW), Board selects an Indigenous woman in a leadership position to honour with the Muriel Stanley Venne Leadership Award. This award celebrates the accomplishments of a truly deserving recipient, as well as recognizing Muriel’s legacy and her contribution in making the organization the success it is today.





Friday, May 3, 2024
Edmonton Expo Centre
Edmonton, Alberta

Join us in honouring Indigenous women
from across Alberta.

For more information on Esquao, the 2024 Esquao Awards,
or to coordinate an interview with one of the recipients, please contact:

Erica Gladue, egladue@iaaw.ca or 1-877-471-2171 (ext: 108).

Esquao is the stylized version of the Cree word for woman.