First Nation Dancers Crowned Winners of 'Canada's Got Talent'

Canada's Got Talent First Nation Winners - H 2012

Canada's Got Talent First Nation Winners - H 2012

The unexpected win for Sagkeeng's Finest follows three young men from rural Manitoba making clogging cool as they won over Canadians with their Cinderella story.

TORONTO – Going into the Canada’s Got Talent final results show Monday night, Sagkeeng’s Finest were not supposed to be crowned the country's most talented performers.

If you’ve ever been to Sagkeeng, Manitoba, the First Nations reserve where Vincent O’Laney, 17 years old, and brothers Dallas Courchene, 16, and Brandon Courchene, 18 years, come from, you would know this is not where Canadian competition winners usually come from.

A Sagkeeng couple in 2010 briefly made national headlines when they won a $50 million lottery prize.

Otherwise, young Canadians on First Nations reserves mostly make TV news headlines for getting in trouble with the law.

Not since singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie won an Academy Award for her 1996 theme song Up Where We Belong for the Hollywood movie An Officer and a Gentleman has the Canadian First Nation community had a nationally-recognized role model to cheer for.

But all that changed when O’Laney in August 2011 saw a TV commercial for the first season of Canada’s Got Talent, and urged his best friends to form a dance group to audition.

The trio started first with traditional jigging, an First Nations tradition, then fused more modern dance styles, like tap dancing, into their act.

Dallas Courchene said they wanted to show young people like themselves what they could do so they might follow them onto the dance floor.

“We just wanted to show our community that we could do this,” he recalled.

So the dance trio joined just over 11,000 anonymous Canadians who also came from nowhere to audition for Canada’s Got Talent, and possibly grab themselves a place in this country’s entertainment pantheon.

Sagkeeng’s Finest did make into the nationwide TV talent search competition and, to everyone's surprise, progressed to the final round of 12 contenders as the classic underdog Canadians love to support.

“It was a little unexpected, but they’re terrific role models, and they just have a heart-warming story,” Scott Moore, broadcasting president at Rogers Media, which airs Canada’s Got Talent on its Citytv stations, explained back-stage on Monday night.

Sagkeeng’s Finest also gained the support of the competition judges, including Martin Short who at one point during the competition told the three young men to stop looking at their feet as they danced, which is a First Nations tradition.

They followed Short’s advice and, now looking directly into the TV cameras, won over Canadians with their broad smiles and glowing eyes.

And their hard work.

“We had to think outside the box,” O’Laney recalled as they prepared for the final performance show Sunday night.

The trio went to YouTube and saw some hip hop steps that they added to their traditional clogging and tap dancing act, and then performed in front of a nationwide audience to a mashup of Raghav's Fire and Metro Station's Shake It.

Then it was Canada’s chance to vote, and the country did something that rarely happens here.

Canadians took to their phones and voted three members of a First Nation reserve winners of the $100,000 first prize, a $105,000 Nissan GT-R sports car, an opportunity to perform in Las Vegas and an appearance at the Citytv New Year's Eve bash.

The three young men wept on stage as series host Dina Pugliese announced their upset victory, while runner-ups New Brunswick rockers Angry Candy and the Vancouver-based dance troupe Freshh stood by and applauded.

Backstage after their surprise win, Vincent Courchene said their initial plan to try out for Canada’s Got Talent had turned into a life-changing moment.

“Hopefully we can fulfill our dream to have a career in dancing, to be performers,” he said.

And Rogers Media’s Scott Moore said the win for Sagkeeng’s Finest underlined the generosity of Canadians for an underdog that's not supposed to come out on top.

“It shows the diversity and the acceptance of Canada,” he insisted.