2023 Indigenous Artist Award Recipient and Finalists

In early October, we announced three outstanding individuals as the finalists of our Indigenous Artist Award. Established in 2021, the award recognizes an Indigenous professional artist or artist collective working in traditional or contemporary practices who has contributed significantly to arts and culture in Toronto and has demonstrated an ongoing association with Toronto.

On October 18, 2023 we announced Sandra Laronde as the recipient of the award. 

The 2023 recipient and finalists were

Yolanda Bonnell - finalist

Yolanda Bonnell is a 2 Spirit Ojibwe, South Asian mixed storyteller from Fort William First Nation. Her play bug was nominated for four Dora awards, while the published version was shortlisted for a Governor General’s Literary Award. Yolanda has facilitated many youth workshops and has an ancestor / land-based practice.

As a finalist, Yolanda was recognized for her work as a playwright, director and performer and as a leader in the Indigenous artistic community. The panel noted Yolanda’s deep respect for generational wisdom, commitment to decolonizing artistic practice and efforts towards creating a safe place for artists to thrive, calling her a “changemaker.”

“I am predominantly a creator. I love to weave and tell stories and I do it a lot. My stories typically come from my own experiences or from what I’ve witnessed or learned about. I tell stories about kwe - Indigenous women, femmes, LGBTQ2S+ - about Indigenous youth. I work towards representation in a way where nearly everyone can find some aspect of their lives or self in my writing. I believe that representation is harm reduction - again, particularly for Indigenous femmes and youth who are consistently made aware how little this country cares for them/us.” - Yolanda Bonnell


Sandra Laronde - recipient

Sandra Laronde is a renowned multidisciplinary artist and leader. Her work is fundamentally based on ‘story’ and her body of work that she has created in performing arts has led to numerous powerful transformational experiences across Canada, USA, Europe, and Asia. Most recently, she wrote an award-winning novel, She Holds Up the Stars. She is also the founder and artistic director of Red Sky Performance.

As a finalist, Sandra was recognized for her nearly 30 years’ of work, creating dance, theatre, music, storytelling and literary experiences that contribute to the Indigenous arts and culture ecosystem of Toronto and across Canada. In addition to her artistic work, the panel noted Sandra’s commitment to mentorship and arts administration, saying that she’s a “great ambassador for Indigenous folks in Toronto.”

“[Sandra’s] life’s passion is to move the Indigenous narrative from the margins into the centre of Canada’s consciousness for seven generations to come. Much of her work is about growing and elevating the Indigenous canon.” - Notes from the nominator


Cynthia Lickers-Sage - finalist

Cynthia Lickers-Sage is a Kanien'kehá:ka Nation, Turtle Clan visual artist from Six Nations of the Grand River. Following her graduation at OCAD U she Co-Founded The Centre for Aboriginal Media, imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival and Tkaronto Music Festival. She has spent the last 30 years working in the not-for-profit arts sector and is currently the Executive Director of the Indigenous Performing Arts Alliance. Cynthia is the proud recipient of the Governor General’s Meritorious Service Cross.

As a finalist, Cynthia was recognized for her work in cultivating Indigenous cultural expressions across many sectors. The panel noted Cynthia’s ability to identify gaps and barriers, resulting in her founding and creating many Indigenous led spaces that are still thriving today. The panel stated that Cynthia is at the “forefront of bringing Indigenous media work to audiences - internationally and in Canada.”

“I've had the honour of programming and producing events that celebrate Indigenous artists for over 30 years. I’ve dedicated my entire career to creating entry points for Indigenous artists and fought to ensure our voices are amplified whenever possible. Being recognized as a finalist acknowledges the importance of the art form, paving the way for future generations to share in the programming enjoyment.” - Cynthia Lickers-Sage


The Toronto Arts Foundation Indigenous Artist Award offers a $20,000 cash prize, with a professional artist mentor/Elder or mentee/protégée designated by the award recipient receiving $5,000, and finalists receiving $2,000. In addition to the prize money, the 2023 recipient will receive a complimentary week-long stay at Valleyview Artist Retreat. The recipient and mentor award is supported by K.M. Hunter Foundation and the finalist awards are supported by Bell

The panelists who helped assess nominations for the 2023 award are Rebecca Baird, Graham Paradis and Greg Staats