History of the Awards


The Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women (IAAW) is a non-profit organization that has coordinated and hosted the Esquao Awards Gala since 1996.

The Esquao Awards are regarded as one of the most prestigious events in Alberta for recognizing and celebrating the accomplishments of Aboriginal women.   The Awards have grown to be the single largest recognition event of Aboriginal women in the country.  This wonderful event shines a light on women who serve their community in a variety of capacities and highlights the significant contributions of Aboriginal women in the development of healthy communities. Over the years it has inspired Aboriginal women from all across the province to get more actively involved in their own communities.

The Esquao Awards are unique in that there is no competition between nominees. The nomination form is distributed widely and is available by calling the IAAW toll-free number or accessing the website.   When the community nominates an Aboriginal woman and provides three letters of support she is then deemed to be a ‘community champion’ in a certain category and subsequently honoured with an Esquao Award. This policy has worked miraculously to reduce the division between women, recognizing our women as ‘Angels Amoung Us’.

Nominees are placed in one of the following categories: Arts – Performing or Literature, Business, Children’s Future, Community Involvement, Culture, Education, Environment, Health and Medicine, International Influence, Justice, Political Involvement, and Lifetime Achievement.

On the evening of the Awards Gala, a dignitary such as a Chief, a Métis leader, a Minister (MLA or MP), a Mayor or a representative from a major corporate sponsor will present the recipient with the Esquao Award.  This is a very touching part of the event when sponsors and community leaders gain insight into the obstacles overcome by the recipient and is able to congratulate them personally for their work. The event also features local and national Aboriginal  entertainers, including comedians, hypnotists, musicians, and dancers.

Through the Esquao Awards event the IAAW promotes the self-determination of Aboriginal Women who contribute to the well-being of their communities, promotes the personal growth of the recipients and encourages other women in the audience to continue their good work.

Benefits/Outcomes of the Event

  • Corporations and government leaders participate in recognizing positive work in the Aboriginal communities
  • A connection is made to women who could be consulted on upcoming policies and/or community involvement activities, thereby increasing their social inclusion
  • A negative stereotype of Aboriginal women is counteracted with positive examples of how women play an important role in building strong communities
  • Women and girls are inspired to make positive changes in their lives
  • The Aboriginal community comes together to recognize the accomplishments of local women
  • An opportunity for communities to showcase, celebrate and embrace their beautiful cultures and traditions