Indigenous Success Stories

Language and Culture (13-17)

Edna Manitowabi receives an Indspire Award for her contributions to culture, heritage and spirituality

April 27, 2024

Manitwabi is an academic, actor and elder from Wiikwemkoong 

An older woman holding an award made of glass.
Edna Manitowabi received an Indspire Award at a ceremony in Ottawa for her contributions to Indigenous culture, heritage and spirituality. (Submitted by Edna Manitowabi)

CBC Indigenous: When Edna Manitowabi received the Indspire Award for her contributions to culture, heritage and spirituality, she says she was thinking of the elders who helped her along the way.

“It was the elders, the knowledge keepers, who encouraged me and affirmed me and told me to keep on going,” she said. 

For 30 years, the Indspire Awards have honoured more than 400 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis individuals who demonstrate outstanding achievements in their respective fields.

Manitowabi is a Wiikwemkoong elder, actor and academic who has dedicated her life to the revitalization of Indigenous culture.

“As a strong advocate for Indigenous peoples, a teacher of Anishinaabemowin and Anishinaabeg traditions, and an unfailing champion of Indigenous ways of knowing, Edna has dedicated her life to ensuring cultural well-being and strength for future generations,” read a press release from the Indspire Awards.

Manitowabi says that when she was young her culture’s stories, songs and ceremonies were seen as taboo.

Although there’s been a lot of work to reclaim that culture, she says it hasn’t been fast enough.

“It has to do with changing our way of thinking and changing our behaviour, our attitudes and using the values, whether it’s kindness and having compassion,” she said.

When she first heard traditional drummers in the 1960s, Manitowbi says it changed her life.

“I was just young back then, but it was the sound of the drum that struck something within me,” she said.

“Very, very powerful. Very strong.”

Manitowabi taught at Trent University for years and is now a professor emirata. She also served as the traditional cultural director for The Native Theatre School, The Centre for Indigenous Theatre, and the Banff Aboriginal Dance Program.

In her retirement she’s returned to Wiikwemkoong to be closer to her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

But she’s continuing to learn, gathering medicines from the land and learning more of the Anishinaabemowin language.

Supreme Court justice Michelle O’Bonsawin, who was born in Sudbury, received the Indspire Award in the law and justice category, and Jocelyn Formsma, the executive director of the National Association of Friendship Centres, was honoured for her public service.

Up North – 10:13

Edna Manitowabi earns Indspire awardThe Indspire awards were handed out the other day – and Northern Ontario was well represented. We’ll meet one of the people honoured, Wiikwemkoong elder Edna Manitowabi.

Click on the following link to listen to “Up North”

With files from Jonathan Pinto