2021 Esquao Awards Ceremony

We are pleased to share the Esquao Awards Ceremony on video for this year. The recipients were so patient as some of the nominations came from 2019 and 2020! Despite all the restrictions, you can still hear the passion and determination in each woman’s voice.

We congratulate all the recipients, including our Circle of Honour Inductee AFN Regional Chief for Alberta, Marlene Poitras. Your strength and perserverance is what we all admire, and what makes you such a special ‘Esquao’.

Thank you to Honourable Rick Wilson, Minister of Indigenous Relations for his heartfelt message as well as the talented Sandra Sutter for her touching performance. Thank you to our sponsors- you are so important to sharing our message. We all look forward to seeing you in person in May of 2022 for our 26th Annual Esquao Awards Gala to honour Alberta’s Aboriginal women, the “Angels Among Us.”

We proudly present the Esquao Award recipients: Edna Blyan, Matricia Brown, Elder Rosemary (Rose) Crowshoe, Rain Desjarlais, Eva John Gladue, Amanda Gould, Donna Knebush, Kristina Kopp, Pollyanna McBain, Shirley Mykituk, Rose Nichols, Rose Mary Nipshank, Janice Randhile, Andrea Rosenberger-Deleeuw, and Terri Suntjens. The Dorothy McDonald Leadership Award/Circle of Honour Inductee for 2021 is AFN Regional Chief for Alberta, Marlene Poitras.

Esquao Awards 2021 Recipients Bio’s

Edna Blyan
A Métis woman born and raised in the Cold Lake area, Edna Blyan currently resides on the Elizabeth Métis Settlement with her husband of 50 plus years, Emile Blyan. Best known as a respected wife, mother and friend, Edna is a source of strength in her community. Edna has raised 19 children, as such she is the backbone of her family. Having fostered many youths, Edna is known for instilling acceptance and a dedication to her Métis ways within her family and community. Edna continues to be a selfless worker for her community. She is often called upon to provide traditional cultural presentations, teach the nêhiyaw language as well as sharing Métis history. Edna is a respected and proud member of her Métis community and has truly made her community her family.

Matricia Brown
Matricia is well known for her artwork, music, philanthropy and for being the local Knowledge Keeper for Jasper National Park. Matricia holds a degree in Vocal Performance which she has utilized when performing beautiful Cree cultural drumming internationally. With her daughter, Matricia drums and sings with her active performing arts business, “Warrior Women.” Matricia’s plethora of knowledge has been recognized in multiple communities including the Mayors Artist Award in 2016. This is in recognition of Matricia’s role in showing the beauty of indigenous culture and promotion of positive understandings of Canada’s tumultuous past and present to many in the Jasper and Albertan context. Matricia teaches indigenous culture and issues to high school students, runs aboriginal awareness workshops, and is the local representative for Jasper Elementary staff Blanket ceremony. Matricia’s use of her art to fight for social justice and for future generations, is an inspiration to many. 

Elder Rosemary (Rose) Crowshoe
Proud daughter of Elizabeth and Julius English, granddaughter of Sally and Charles Pete Provost Sr, and Emma and John W. English, mother, and wife, Rosemary Crowshoe puts family first. Elder Crowshoe has been recognized for her efforts in providing safe, ethical, relevant and appropriate cultural teachings within the Calgary community and beyond for many years. Having studied Blackfoot Traditional Territorial History and ways of knowing, Elder Crowfoot has worked towards sharing this with her community. In her roles with the Aboriginal Friendship Centre of Calgary, the Circle for Aboriginal Relations Society, the United Way Calgary and Area among countless others Elder Crowfoot has shaped her community. Elder Crowshoe’s knowledge, wisdom, and community connections have been truly inspiring as well as crucial in the success of her communities.

Rain Desjarlais
A member of the Frog Creek First Nations born in Wetaskiwin, Rain currently resides in Calgary where she has dedicated herself to her family, her community and her academic pursuits. Rain has excelled in her Registered Nursing program while using her ceremonial teachings to maintain herself and her two children Mathis and Thalis. Rain’s sons are what drive her. When Rain speaks about her experiences her passion shines through. This is clear in the jingle dresses she beads and sews for powwow regalia. Rain is a role model for her family and those who know her journey.

Eva John Gladue
Eva has contributed to the wellbeing of First nations community by working together with employers, chiefs, council members, and front-line workers to progressively and constructively enhance employment and training opportunities for all.  Eva has contributed to a legacy of success and independence for indigenous peoples. This is most evident in her creation of the T.R.E.A.T.Y employment development model. This has been recognized by Service Canada and by the six Nations she supports. Eva is a dedicated leader, who possesses personal integrity and a passion to help First Nations People succeed, especially in her Frog Lake First Nations community.

Amanda Gould
A Nehiyaw iskwew from Fort McMurray First Nation carries a Bachelor of Arts in Native Studies and over 15 years of helping experience in her community. She currently works at the College and Association of Registered Nurses in Alberta (CARNA) as well as in Fort McMurray First Nation. Amanda is known for her tireless efforts and outstanding leadership in practicing and preserving cultural practices and ways of life. Through impactful formal and information education opportunities with CARNA as well as the University of Alberta Occupational Therapy Department, Amanda is an invaluable support for Indigenous communities.  She established a fancy dance group in Fort McMurray, where she continues to contribute her gifts to others.

Donna Knebush
Donna Knebush is a passionate leader in the community. Donna creates a space for knowledge to be shared that brings communities together. Donna has led the City of Edmonton’s Indigenous Awareness portfolio as well as the Edmonton Indigenous Employee Resource Network for over twelve years.  In addition, Donna’s efforts in the respect in the workplace section which will have a wide-reaching effect not only on respect and inclusion within the workplace, but also in the ways in which employees interact with indigenous peoples on a much wider scale. Donna has been the organizational leader in building relationships and supporting the mandate to educate all employees on the historical intergenerational impact of residential schools and reconciliation.  It is Donna’s belief that education is the key to making the City of Edmonton government as well as the Edmonton community more broadly, a place where indigenous peoples are included, respected, and safe.

Kristina Kopp
A Nehiyaw (Cree) kiskinohamâkan (Learner) of proud Cree-Métis iskwew(woman) heritage Kristina is well known for her ability to connect spirit, ceremony, and language to her educational journey. Kristina has been an integral part of the IRM Research and Evaluations Inc. team, providing invaluable presentations on the history, meaning, and teachings of being Métis. Kristina uses her Master of Social work and knowledge of the nêhiyaw language to further the teachings and ceremony she shares even as she continues to learn and grow. Recognized by Elder Leona Makokis for her commitment and excellence in upholding the Nehiyaw culture and language in her studies, Kristina is an inspiration to many on their educational journeys.

Pollyanna McBain
Leader, mentor and gentle soul Elder McBain is also a Mi’kmaq woman from the Eel River Bar First Nation in New Brunswick. Elder McBain has been a respected teacher, advocate and elder for the indigenous youth and community of Fort McMurray since 2014.Coming from the East coast Elder McBain, has shown dedication to sharing her culture and to inspiring others to embrace theirs. Pollyanna is known for her empowering spirit in her roles as Native Liaison with the public and catholic school board, leader with the Nistawoyou Friendship Centre, as well as a cultural navigator for her community members. A natural leader, Elder McBain has been recognized for her genuine wisdom and inspiration in teaching the youth of her community.

Rose Nichols
Rose is a wellspring of Métis and Indigenous knowledge. In her role as Tourism Ambassador for the Lac la Biche Museum and region, she shares her deep connection to her culture. Whether teaching the Jig or sharing Métis history Rose, brings her enthusiasm into all her relationships. Bringing hope to the Wawaskesiw Sahkikan community Rose has been key to her Lac la Biche regional development. Rose brings a sense of belonging to many who have had the honor of sharing in her teachings.

Rose Mary Nipshank
Rose Mary Nipshank is an invaluable member of the Bigstone Cree Nation. Her warm, kind and compassionate approach to all she does for her community cannot be overstated. Rose Mary is known for her natural leadership in the human service field both within her community and beyond. Having successfully completed her Social Work Diploma, Rose Mary has taken on a variety of roles to support her community. This has included working as an Addictions Worker with Pee Kis Kwe Tan Let’s Talk Society in Wabasca, notably as a Social Worker for Bigstone Women’s Shelter as well as over thirteen years with the Bigstone Cree nation Child and Family Services. Rose Mary Nipshank is a positive role model for Bigstone Cree Nation children, youth, and families.

Janice Randhile
Janice Randhile is a powerful voice for indigenous advocacy and empowerment. Janice has been a rock for many in her community, including those on the road to sobriety. Doing her work for the creator, Janice walks the red road in all that she does. In this way her role as a Family Information Liaison for Victim Services speaks to her dedication and passion for working with the families of missing or murdered indigenous loved ones. Janice continues to be a strong iskwew role model as she supports community youth in her presentations to the University of Alberta on Missing and Murder Indigenous Women. Janice is known for bringing her creativity and expertise to her community in a variety of roles: Ihuman & CEASE board member, Sun & Moon Visionary artist, youth worker, and contributor to Enoch Wellness, Women Building Futures, Boys and Girls Club, UBUNTU Children and family among others. A sober mentor, role model, and inspiration Janice is a cornerstone of her community bringing light and strength to everyone’s life she touches.

Andrea Rosenberger-Deleeuw
Andrea Rosenberger-Deleeuw has strong connections with the Fort Vermillion, Tallcree First Nation, and Grande Prairie communities. A strong indigenous voice in her community, Andrea has worked for the Grande Prairies Friendship Centre alongside provincial and national government initiatives. Described as a warrior and a trailblazer, Andrea has brought her wealth of experience to a wide variety of committees and projects. This has included the “Honouring Women: Leading the Way” project supported by the Status of Women initiative among others.  Andrea has empowered many women and young girls in her community. Andrea is a mentor to future leaders, an advocate for indigenous worldviews, histories and protocol, and importantly a mother of two beautiful children.

Terri Suntjens
Terri Suntjens or wapekihew iskwew (white eagle woman) is from Saddle Lake Cree Nation in Treaty 6 territory. Terri is a passionate advocate of indigenous rights. Professionally Terri is the director of indigenous initiatives in the Kihew Waciston Centre at MacEwan University, where she has grounded her leadership in culture and ceremony. Terri is a natural in creating healthy relationships in all her roles. She has grounded her professional and educational journey in her Kehewin culture. Having completed her Bachelor of Social Work, Indigenous Bachelor of Social work, Bachelor of General Science as well as working towards her Master of Social Work. She has accomplished great things all while caring for her children and upholding her community. Terri Suntjens is truly innovative and dedicated to supporting her community.

Dorothy McDonald Leadership Award/Circle of Honour Inductee

AFN Regional Chief for Alberta, Marlene Poitras
A member of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, Marlene has spent most of her career working with Indigenous communities, organizations, and individuals in several capacities, across Canada and internationally. In 1994, Marlene worked at the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) in Ottawa as the Health Planner, and later, Assistant to the National Health Director. She also represented Alberta on the AFN National Health Technicians Committee in 1996-1997; and, was appointed by the AFN to represent Canada on the International HIV/AIDS Conference Committee in 1995. In her capacity as Chief Executive Officer with the Athabasca Tribal Council (ATC), Marlene successfully negotiated the ATC/Industry Agreement with 19 Resource Developers and 3 levels of government (Federal, Provincial and Municipal). This agreement established capacity for the 5 ATC First Nations to deal with Resource Development issues in the Fort McMurray region. During her tenure as Director, Bilateral Process with Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta, Marlene worked extensively with Treaty 6, Treaty 7, and Treaty 8 Alberta organizations, First Nations communities, and the Elders, in addressing issues related to the Sacred Treaties. During this time, Marlene was often appointed to Chair the Assembly of Alberta Chiefs (AOTC) meetings; to Chair the AOTC Resolutions Committees; and, also to Chair/Coordinate the Treaties No. 1-11 National Assemblies. Marlene was appointed to the First Nations Women’s Council on Economic Security, an Advisory Group to the Government of Alberta. She is also a recipient of the 2015 Alberta Aboriginal Role Model Humanitarian Award.

Regional Chief Poitras was elected by the Treaty 6, 7 and 8 Chiefs of Alberta on February 21-22, 2018. Regional Chief Poitras made history as the first woman to hold the position of Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief for Alberta. Her current AFN portfolios are Chiefs Committee on Lands Territories and Resources, formerly known as Specific Claims. She also chairs the technical committee on Emergency Management and shares the International Treaties portfolio with the National Chief. Despite all the restrictions, you can still hear the passion and determination in each woman’s voice.

Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women

2nd Anniversary of the Final Report of the National Inquiry on MMIWG


President of Institute for the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women (IAAW) Comments on the 2nd Anniversary of the Final Report of the National Inquiry on MMIWG

EDMONTON –  IAAW representatives were present in Gatineau, Quebec when the Final Report of the National Inquiry on MMIWG was presented to the public on June 3, 2019.  It was a moving event with many tears shed for the families that shared their stories as part of the Inquiry’s work. 

While many of the 231 recommendations in the Final Report place primary responsibility on government to implement a plan to address the national tragedy of MMIWG, IAAW has continued in its everyday work to engage with families and build recommendations that are Alberta-specific.

Despite the impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on our ability to deliver in-person supports, IAAW continues to support Indigenous women and families through on-line sessions with topics on wellness, violence prevention, healthy relationships, financial literacy, employment and training, youth safety and leadership, transitions from federal correctional facilities, advocacy and housing supports, all which are culturally-informed and infused with Elder guidance.  

Building off our successful Indigenous Women’s Justice Forums in 2017 and 2018, we continue to strategize, participate in, and implement justice initiatives that focus on improving the court system, and provide education and access to justice for Indigenous women and families.

What was started in 1995 in the basement of the Canadian Native Friendship Centre with no funding, has grown to be a recognized and accomplished organization serving Indigenous women throughout Alberta.

We continue to build allies with stakeholders and we have been surprised and grateful for the outpouring of support for our organization.  IAAW has established formal alliances and partnerships with agencies, such as the Awo Taan Healing Lodge Society (Calgary) to build a path forward, one that is family-first and trauma-informed.  We have also joined forces with the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) as the official Provincial-Territorial Member Association representing Alberta Indigenous women.

IAAW’s 25th Annual Esquao Awards to recognize the ‘Angels Among us’ was postponed due to COVID-19 but our collective efforts to recognize Indigenous women, and to encourage them to not give up, will resume in-person in May 2022. 

In the meantime IAAW will continue its work to obtain justice, address barriers, and assist Indigenous women.  This commitment is owed to the women of all ages who have shared their stories with us, and the matriarchs who guide us in our work.   

Lisa D. Weber, President

COVID-19 Response Update March 10, 2021

The Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women (IAAW) is operating as best we can, while adhering to the most recent COVID-19 health restrictions. As the health, safety, and well-being of our members, staff and communities remains our top priority, we beginning to open our office for small, in-person meetings and one on one sessions, as needed. Staff that are able to work from home are coming into the office only as needed.

We have announced that our Esquao Awards Gala is going to be released on video on May 21, 2021. Stay tuned for more information on this touching event where we recognize the Angels Among Us; the women who continue to display strength and resilience.

Please see below for a list of actions we are undertaking during this uncertain time.

IAAW is continuing to support Aboriginal women in Edmonton area who are rebuilding their life after fleeing violence, women leaving correctional facilities and women living in poverty.
We are:

  • Offering online sessions on Healthy Relationships, Firekeeper Wellness Circle, Youth Leadership and Financial Literacy (Empower U) on-line;
  • Offering assistant remotely for women looking for post secondary funding through the Indigenous Skills Employment and Training (ISET) program
  • Sending out care packages, and providing other supports by referral (referral form attached)
  • Staying up to date on health recommendations and subsidies; sharing information and resources

Incorporating additional health and safety measures at the office:
We are:

  • Encouraging handwashing and social distancing measures for staff in the office
  • Screening visitors coming our office; mandating that if anyone believes they have been in contact with an unwell person, that they remain at home and self isolate.
  • Are limiting people in the office to a maximum of 15 people
  • Are limiting the number of people in staff room and small spaces as per social distancing guidelines (2 meters apart)
  • Are encouraging disinfection of individual offices at the end of the workday
  • Disinfecting all office spaces after each use, deep cleaning once per week.

Contact Information

NAMEResponsibilityDirect LineEmail
Rachelle VenneCEO, Link to President587-635-3046rvenne@iaaw.ca
Marggo PariseauFirekeepers, Link to Board,
Housing, Esquao Awards
Bernadette SwansonFinancial Literacy – Empower U587-635-3051bswanson@iaaw.ca
Erica GladueEsquao Youth Leadership587-635-3053egladue@iaaw.ca
Saige ArcandWellness Program, Community Outreach587-635-3049sarcand@iaaw.ca
Maureen Callihoo-LigtvoetHealthy Relationships, COVID supports lead587-635-3055maureen@iaaw.ca
Lois AshleyIndigenous Skills Employment and Training (ISET)iset@iaaw.ca
General Information780-479-8195

Going Forward

We continue to stay connected within our communities and monitor developments and recommendations by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Take care,
Rachelle Venne, CEO

IAAW Board of Directors Recruitment

Qualities we are looking for

  • Reside in a community not represented already such as northern communities, High Prairie, Slave Lake, Grande Prairie, Cold Lake, Lac La Biche, St. Paul, Lethbridge, Red Deer.
  • Experience working for/with Aboriginal women
  • Experienced in an area in which IAAW delivers programs or planning to work in – financial literacy, corrections, justice reform, policy development, violence prevention or leadership development. Or is willing to share a skill pro bono, such as a lawyer, an accountant.
  • Is active in the community and has cultural knowledge
  • Have basic knowledge of the computer
  • Able to commit to 6 meetings/year + Esquao Awards and occasional teleconferences

Information on the Role


Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women Board is a governing body.  As a governing and policy Board, the Board is responsible to provide strategic directions and establish policy for the overall operation of the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women.

General Information:

Duties and Number: The affairs of the Society will be managed by a Board of Directors, referred to as directors, trustees or governors.  The Board will consist of at least (7) persons, unless a fewer number of directors is determined by special resolution.

Qualifications: Every director must support the goals and objectives of the Society and be willing to donate their time, skills and knowledge to the benefit of the Society.  Directors must also:

  • Be eighteen (18) years of age or more;
  • Be a voting member of the Society;
  • Be recognized and respected members of the Aboriginal community; and,
  • Be elected by the members of the Society or, in the case of a Director appointed to represent the Society.

Election and Term: Directors will be appointed for a term of three (3) years.  The Director’s terms of office will be from the date of the meeting at which they are elected until their successors are appointed. All Directors may be appointed at the expiration of their term.

Remuneration of Directors: Remuneration of the directors will be determined by resolution of the Board of Directors.  Directors are entitled to be paid reasonable expenses incurred in the performance of director’s duties.

Committees and Subcommittees: The Executive may form committees and sub-committees, such as regional and working committees, as well as other committee or subcommittees, as it deems necessary or appropriate. The purposes and powers of these committees will be determined by the Executive Board. Committee members are entitled to be reimbursed for reasonable expenses incurred in the exercise of their duties.

Meeting of Directors

Place or Meeting: Meetings of the Board of Directors may be held either at the head office or at any place within or outside Alberta and on such day as the Board will appoint.

Telephone Participation: If all of the directors’ consent, a meeting of directors may be held by means of telephone, electronic or other communication facilities as long as all persons participating in the meeting can hear each other simultaneously and instantaneously.  A director participating in such a meeting is deemed to be present at the meeting.

Please send letter of interest before February 15, 2021 to CEO, Rachelle Venne by email at rvenne@iaaw.ca.

Engagement on a National Action Plan on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Alberta

Enagagement on a National Action Plan on MMIWG

This Final Evaluation Report provides an overview of the “Engagement on a National Action Plan on Missing and Murdered and Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) in Alberta” with 28 family members of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and over 170 other stakeholders. With the involvement of and direct engagement of families of MMIWG, the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women has identified priority actions and recommendations, which, if taken up, will contribute to the development of effective strategies with the National Action Plan to achieve the Calls for Justice.

Request the full report from IAAW – Send us a message today.