Behind the scenes at the NAAA


By Drew Hayden Taylor

Originally published in April 2012

Sometimes I don’t know where I am going to end up in this big country. Just a few days ago I was driving through two snowstorms to speak at a library/literacy function at Saugeen First Nations on the shores of Georgian Bay.

The day before that, I was getting lost trying to find a parking spot at York University in Toronto. But the definite highlight of my winter (my apologies to the Saugeen) has got to be the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards that occurred last month in Vancouver.

For the second year in a row I was writing the festivities. Produced by the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation, it’s in its 19th year of celebrating and awarding talented and dedicated people in the First Nations Metis and Inuit community.

Awards shows are amazing things. You can smell the scent of excitement and fear in the air. So much to do by so many people in so little time. There is also so much talent and so much pressure in a small confined space. But amazingly, the show gets done and it looks fabulous.

As a writer, I am a natural observer of the human condition. So, as I paced the hallways and aisles of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, I noted certain things happening around me that I found amusing. For instance, I noted several production assistants complaining about the lack of Red Bull available, and the definite need for it. One person said they could make a fortune bootlegging it to the cast and crew. I will pass that on to the crew captains for next year.

And a scant two hours before the show was set to open, I noticed e of the guys, who was going to be onstage escorting the award winners to and from the stage, running around in a somewhat panicked mood. He saw me, called my name and came running over.

Dressed very dapper in a fashionable black suit, he asked if I had any black socks on me. I asked why. Somewhat sheepishly, he lifted his pant legs to reveal whit pattern socks. Somewhere between his home and the theatre, his black socks had disappeared. And as anybody knows, you do not wear white socks with a black suit. Especially on television. What, are we savages?

Unfortunately, I did not have a spare set of black socks in my pocket. This young man then ran off continuing his desperate search for appropriate hosiery. Later he told me a cousin had managed to supply him with socks sufficient enough to not embarrass himself on stage. Just another typical day in Aboriginal-land.

Chantal kreviazuk, who sings a stunning ballad on the show, had a nasty cold. And in between rehearsal takes, was always asking for Kleenex. She hoped her running nose wouldn’t ‘dampen’ the festivities.

One thing you won’t see on the actual show is when they set up her piano on stage during a video break. One stage hand forgot to bring out and hook up her mic. She good-heartedly made small talk—by yelling—with the audience while technicians quickly hooked her sound up.

I saw Evan Adams backstage, practicing the monologue I wrote for him. It reminded me of the last year when he and Adam Beach hosted these awards—for which they both won an award of their own, a Gemini.

Last year at the show, one of my aunts phoned me asking me to introduce her to Evan so she could ask him, a medical doctor, to come out to an Aboriginal health conference she was helping organize. So, with her on my cell phone, I go to his dressing room just before the show, knock and enter. Once inside, I explain the situation and hand over my phone to him and listen to them chat. I should mention at this time that Evan was in his underwear. If my aunt only knew…

Back to the present. As I mentioned earlier, the show was amazing, fabulous and quite spectacular. At least as far as I could tell from my seats… way back in the upper balcony.

At least that was better than last year. I showed up half-an-hour before the show, all dressed up snazzy, and it suddenly occurred to me that in all the rush of rehearsal and production, I’d forgotten to arrange ticket to my own show.

I was quite prepared to watch it from backstage, but luckily after some scrambling, somebody I knew in the audience had a spare ticket and I was saved the embarrassment. That’s show business.