A Hupacasath First Nation member has captured one of the top journalism awards in western Canada.
Wawmeesh Hamilton took top honors in the Best Feature/Enterprise Reporting category for radio or a podcast at this year’s ceremony for the Jack Webster Awards. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s ceremony was held online on Dec. 8.
The awards are named after Webster, a journalist who had a career in British Columbia spanning more than 40 years in print, radio and television. Webster retired in 1986 and died 13 years later at the age of 80.
As a tribute to his distinguished career, colleagues and friends launched the Jack Webster Foundation in 1987 to recognize journalistic excellence in B.C.
What started off as being one single accolade has grown into the Jack Webster Awards, which now recognizes recipients in 14 categories. The newest category, which was added this year, was for Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Reporting.
The various awards were for excellence in print, radio, television and online media sources. Besides news, entries covering other topics including sports, business, the arts and community issues were also accepted.
Hamilton’s winning entry, titled Not Alone, aired this past February on CBC Radio’s program called The Current. It also appeared in text on CBC’s website.
Not Alone is about Haisla Nation member James Harry, who is employed by his First Nation. Harry, an outreach worker, is part of a unique program run by his First Nation. His job is to specifically seek out Haisla Nation members who are struggling with addictions and to get them off Vancouver streets.
This marked the first time Hamilton had won one of the Jack Webster Awards.
“It’s the story that won, not me,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton was nominated in two categories this year. He was also one of three finalists for the City Mike Award for Broadcaster of the Year. But this award was won by Andrew Nikiforuk from The Tyee.
Hamilton had also been nominated for Jack Webster Awards in 2018 and ’19.
He described how he felt on hearing his name declared as one of the winners of the Jack Websters Awards last week.
“For a moment it was surreal,” Hamilton said.
And even a few days afterwards, Hamilton was still trying to comprehend the magnitude of his accomplishment.
“It’s still sinking in,” he said. “Having said that, I’m proud such a deep, complex and sensitive story about the most vulnerable of Indigenous people won the notice (of award officials) and ultimately the win.”
While other family members were in his Vancouver home at the time, Hamilton said he watched the awards ceremony by himself in his office.
Hamilton shared his award with producer Joan Webber and associate producer Rafferty Baker, who both also worked on Not Alone.
After his win, Hamilton tweeted out about the significance of his award.
“This award is dedicated to my late father,” he said. “I never knew him. He died when I was 6. I remember watching him reading books & newspapers. This is my 1st memory of #journalism. He and my mother never lived to see my work, or what their son became. This is for them.”
Hamilton had met Harry at a basketball tournament after interviewing his son. When Hamilton discovered what Harry did for a living he felt there was a story waiting to be told.
Hamilton was immediately intrigued with Harry’s job. He was curious to not only find out exactly how Harry conducted his job but also why he was doing it.
He conducted numerous interviews with Harry from the fall of 2019 until early in 2020. Hamilton estimates he also went on as many as 10 outreach walks, sometimes with Harry, while doing research for his story.
“The most challenging part of doing this story was going on the outreach walks and seeing some of the Nuu-chah-nulth people that were struggling,” he said.
Hamilton was also recognized with an impressive accolade last November.
To celebrate its 49th year, representatives from Langara College, located on 49th Avenue in Vancouver, chose to honor 49 Langarans. These individuals were distinguished alumni, community partners as well as former and current college employees.
Hamilton had taken Langara College’s one-year Journalism program, starting in 2006.
He completed his Master of Journalism degree from the University of British Columbia in 2016.
In recent years his writings have focused on Indigenous issues and First Nations people.