Award for Excellence in Aboriginal Relations

About the Award

The Award for Excellence in Aboriginal Relations is designed to recognize any Canadian who has contributed to building bridges between Aboriginal peoples and Canadian society, and whose efforts make a substantial impact across Canada and across all sectors.

Presented at the 15th Annual Vancouver Gala, September 28, 2017

Nomination deadline: June 29, 2017

Most Recent Winner



Senator Murray Sinclair

Senator Sinclair is being honoured for his distinguished record of public service and work leading the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada. Before becoming Chair of the TRC, Murray Sinclair had a distinguished career as a lawyer and then Justice for the Queen’s Bench of Manitoba. He also was a co-commissioner of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry, which studied the impact of the criminal justice on Aboriginal peoples in Manitoba and also conducted a six year inquiry into the deaths of 12 children that resulted in a study that led to changes in pediatric heart surgery in Canada. He has also served as an adjunct professor at the University of Manitoba and was appointed to the Senate in 2016.

Past Winners



Willa Black
Vice-President, Corporate Affairs – Canada, Cisco

Willa Black’s leadership on the Connected North Program has served to bridge the Aboriginal digital divide through the use of networking technology. Connected North has been instrumental in increasing healthcare and educational capacity in remote and underserved Aboriginal communities across northern Canada. The initiative was inspired by a meeting in 2011 between Black and Mary Simon, herself an Award for Excellence in Aboriginal Relations winner, who at the time was President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. The meeting helped to establish a clear direction for Black’s desire to create something “by Canadians and for Canadians” with Cisco’s technology at its heart



Mary Simon
O.C., O.Q.

Mary Simon has led an extraordinary career which has had Northern interests at its heart. Her achievements have been both global in scope and local in impact. Mary was Canada’s first Ambassador for Circumpolar Affairs, a lead negotiator for the creation of the Arctic Council and the former Canadian Ambassador to Denmark. She has worked tirelessly to promote the interests of northern communities on a wide range of issues including the environmental, social, cultural and political issues effecting the Inuit. Her accomplishments have been instrumental in building the vital partnerships and personal relationships that open the doors of business through education and participation on the national stage. She has played a vital role in building and strengthening the relationship between Aboriginal peoples and all Canadians.


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Phil Fontaine
O.C., O.M.

Phil Fontaine is a dedicated and highly respected figure in Canada. He has been instrumental in facilitating change and advancement for First Nations people from the time he was first elected to public office as Chief, at the young age of 28. He is a proud member of the Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba and still plays an active role in the support of his community. Continue reading bio.



Eric P. Newell

Eric P. Newell, O.C. set a trend for working with the Aboriginal community through his leadership of Imperial Oil and Syncrude. His leadership of Syncrude helped them to not only become a major player in the oil industry but also helped them to develop policies that reflected leading practices in corporate social responsibility; becoming one of the largest industrial employers of Aboriginal people in Canada. Newell’s personal life has also made great contributions to education and training, donating money to the University of Alberta to construct the Aboriginal Gathering Place and advocating for greater educational opportunities for Aboriginal people.



The Right Honourable Paul Martin

The Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business is pleased to announce that the Right Honourable Paul Martin, the twenty-first Prime Minister of Canada (2003 – 2006), was selected as the inaugural recipient for the Award for Excellence in Aboriginal Relations.

Mr. Martin was selected for this enduring commitment to the prosperity of Aboriginal communities and the award’s selection committee highlighted Mr. Martin’s work since his retirement from public life.