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First Nations art and local acting talent acknowledged with FANS awards

Each year the FANS Society recognizes internationally or nationally known artists that have made the North Shore their home.

Master Coast Salish weavers Chief Janice George and Buddy Joseph, and acting talent Colleen Wheeler, have been acknowledged for their contributions to the North Vancouver arts scene with FANS (Fund for the Arts on the North Shore) Distinguished Artist Awards.

The esteemed awards, which count musician Bryan Adams, painter Sylvia Tait and author Claudia Casper as past recipients, is returning after a two-year hiatus with a gala that applauds local, homegrown talent.  

"It's amazing, I was caught off guard," said Willard 'Buddy' Joseph upon hearing the news of his win. "We've had our heads down weaving since 2004, that whole time we've been teaching and educating about the art and our history." 

Joseph and George are spearheading a movement which sees First Nations art and culture acknowledged not just on the North Shore, but in the wider city and beyond. Earlier this year the two were at the helm of a number of murals for public art series Blanketing the City, which saw painting variations of their applauded Indigenous weaving. 

George said she feels "supported and appreciated," and being acknowledged in an awards ceremony is the latest in a string of recognitions that has her feeling as though "we are certainly taking another step in the right direction" on the road to reconciliation. 

"We get to share teachings, and when we teach, we teach a little bit of our ways and our history," she said. "With the weaving, it's just as much about the ceremony and so, this way, people get to learn about that too." 

It means a lot to be able to share those elements of her culture, and to give others "a little glimpse" into their worldview as Squamish people, she said.  

For Wheeler, the acknowledgement is a "nice little perk" – a small reminder that her acting chops are still being recognised locally.

"I was really flattered that I was presented with that, it's quite an honour after being in this business for so long," she said. 

For the best part of three decades Wheeler has graced the screens and stages both near and far, appearing in acclaimed movies like Tully and cult TV show Yellowjackets. Most recently Wheeler can be found on the stage at the Historic Theatre, as a lead in the fantastical thriller stage production YAGA.

The actress has lived on Vancouver's North Shore for around 10 years, and said it's "pretty amazing" to be recognised by the community. Being "one of the most beautiful places in the world," she added how she isn't surprised so many creatives find inspiration in North Vancouver.

"There are certainly a lot of actors living over here, and a lot of very established visual artists, painters, and writers," she said.

"I feel like I'm in good company."

George, Joseph and Wheeler will collect their awards on Nov.10, at an open-to-the-public gala at the Presentation House Theatre. Emcee comedian Gary Jones is set to host, and the award-gifting itself will be sandwiched by a schedule of live performances, silent auctions and a dinner. Those interested can purchase tickets from the NSFANS website

Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News' Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.