New award recognizes Byron Jonah as 'greatest fiddler of Eeyou Istchee'

The third edition of the Eeyou Istchee Awards adds new fiddling category and recognizes a Cree elder for her sewing and mentorship, along with a media award for Emma Saganash, manager of the Cree unit for CBC North.

3rd Eeyou Istchee Achievement Awards recognize importance of fiddling in Cree communities

Byron Jonah performed during the Eeyou Istchee Achievement Awards ceremony on Wednesday. He also won the first-ever award for best fiddler. The new award was added to recognize the importance of fiddle music to Cree culture. (Gaston Cooper/CNACA)

Byron Jonah from Waskaganish, Que., is the first fiddler to receive a new Eeyou Istchee Achievement Award that recognizes the cultural importance of fiddling in Cree communities.

"We wanted to know who was the greatest fiddler of Eeyou Istchee," said Gaston Cooper, executive director of the Cree Native Arts and Crafts Association.

This is the third year the association has handed out the awards, which recognize artist who promote and pass on Cree culture.

Artists as the backbone of culture

Cooper said the new award for best fiddler recognizes that fiddling is making a comeback.

"We are starting to see more competitions ... You go to a wedding and fiddle music is being played," said Cooper.

He said the award blew up on social media as soon as they started promoting it.

Kelly Cooper, pictured here with the West Island Youth Symphony Orchestra, won the Rising Star award at the Eeyou Istchee Achievement Awards on Oct. 24.

Cooper said the fiddle award fits in with the overall goal of the awards — to promote the work of Cree artists across Cree territory, and in the south.  

"They are the backbone of the culture ... They are the ones that bring out the legends, the stories, also the artwork that was created a long time ago. They brought that back into the mainstream society so basically their stories tell us about culture."

Award-winning CBC journalist Emma Saganash won the 2018 Buckley Petawabano Eeyou Istchee Achievement Award, which recognizes achievements in the media.

Winners in the four other categories included CBC's Emma Saganash, who received the Buckely Petawabano Award for achievements in the media.

Over her 40-year career, Saganash has worked as a journalist, host and producer. Now the manager of CBC's Cree unit in Montreal, she oversees a team that has won multiple awards for Cree language programming.

Lifetime of sewing and mentorship honoured

Lifetime Achievement winner Yvonne Neeposh, from Nemaska, Que., started sewing when she was eight or nine. By the time she was in her teens, Neeposh would receive orders from all around the Cree communities and the world.

She was surprised to receive the award for her sewing talent and mentoring youth.

"I wanted to cry," she said in Cree, with a chuckle.

"I used to always say, when I saw someone recognized, it was always after they had died and I would say I want to be recognized while I'm still alive."

Cree elder Yvonne Neeposh, from Nemaska, Que., says she almost cried when she found out she had won the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award. (Susan Bell/CBC)

Duane Shanush of Eastmain, Que., won the award for self-innovation, which recognizes artists who take traditional styles and make them their own, and who have taken the initiative to promote their work widely. 

Cellist Kelly Cooper, who recently played in Oujé-Bougoumou with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, won the Rising Star Award.