Anishinaabekwe honoured with Indspire Awards’ Lifetime Achievement accolade

Jeannette Corbiere Lavell of Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory is honoured with Lifetime Achievement Award from Indspire. – Photo courtesy of Indspire Awards

By Sam Laskaris

WIIKWEMKOONG UNCEDED TERRITORY – About a decade ago Jeannette Corbiere Lavell was one of the presenters at the then called Canadian Aboriginal Achievement Awards.

Corbiere Lavell, who was the president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada at the time, travelled to Regina to present an award.

Though she was a heralded activist for decades, Corbiere Lavell, a citizen of Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, never imagined she herself would be a recipient of one of the renamed Indspire Awards.

“I always thought I’d be too controversial,” said Corbiere Lavell, who on Feb. 4, was announced as the 2020 Indspire Awards’ Lifetime Achievement recipient.

Corbiere Lavell lost her Indigenous status in 1970, according to a section in the Indian Act, when she married a non-Indigenous man from Toronto, David Lavell.

Three years later, she challenged this decision at the Supreme Court of Canada. Though her challenge was unsuccessful, it did pave the way for future challenges.

Eventually, in 1985, that section of the Indian Act, which first passed in Canada in 1876, was overturned.

Corbiere Lavell, who was also a founding member and a former president of the Ontario Native Women’s Association, believes others should also be applauded for her Lifetime Achievement award.

“It’s an honour and a recognition for the work many of us, as Indigenous women, have been striving for, for many, many years,” she said. “It wasn’t just me challenging the Indian Act.”

Corbiere Lavell will be presented with her award at a ceremony scheduled for Mar. 6, at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

Corbiere Lavell’s advocacy for Indigenous women’s rights saw her appear at the United Nation’s

Human Rights Committee and the Committee to End Sex Discrimination. She also spoke at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Organization of American States.

Besides serving on numerous boards and committees, Corbiere Lavell was also a teacher, principal and education counsellor.

Though she lived in Toronto for a number of years, Corbiere Lavell, who is now 77, returned to Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory in 1995.

“It’s my community, where I was born and where I belong,” she said.

Since 2008, Corbiere Lavell has also served as the Anishinabek Nation Citizenship Commissioner.

Corbiere Lavell is rather pleased to see that 10 of this year’s Indspire Awards winners are female.

“That’s been a prediction among our people,” said Corbiere Lavell, who received the Order of Canada in 2018. “The time will come when women will have to take leadership roles, not just in our Indigenous communities but in the world as well.”

Corbiere Lavell is also thrilled that she is one of three women from Manitoulin Island that are 2020 Indspire Awards winners.

The two other recipients are Marian Jacko and Dawn Madahbee Leach.

Jacko, who is also from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, is being recognized in the Law and Justice category. And Madahbee Leach, who is from Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation, is being honoured in the Business and Commerce category.

“It makes it all more meaningful,” Corbiere Lavell said of the fact there are three Manitoulin Island recipients. “I think this is fabulous. It’s just amazing.”

Anishinaabekwe honoured with Indspire Awards’ Lifetime Achievement accolade