The Lifetime Achievement Awards and the First Book Competition Awards

The Native Writers' Circle of the Americas was organized on the second-to-the-last day of the original Returning the Gift festival in July of 1992. A day earlier, N. Scott Momaday was given a Lifetime Achievement Award, the first one to be awarded. As NWCA began to formalize itself, it was decided that every year, as long as NWCA existed, a Lifetime Achievement Award would be bestowed on a contemporary Native American author and that this would be determined by vote by mail. The first year's voting saw only fifty or so votes cast and Simon J. Ortiz was selected as the awardee. Each successive year saw an increase in the number of votes cast. Professor Ortiz was honored in the second Returning the Gift Festival (1993). After that, the award continued through the dispensation of snail mail. The process with internet voting started around 2008 and continues to the present day. 

The First Book competition also began with the 1992 festival, with Joseph Bruchac and his press, Greenfield Review Press, making the initial awards. The next year, the supervision of the awards continued through Greenfield Review and Joseph Bruchac until it was turned over to Geary Hobson, the project historian of NWCA, in 1999. This completion lasted until 2010, but it is hopeful that the program may be restored. These awards totaled 41 unpublished manuscripts in prose and poetry. So far, 30 of the winning manuscripts have been published as books.  

For a few years following the inaugural festival, an award was made annual to competing Oklahoma Native American high school students entitled the Theresa Palmer Award. These award-winners will be posted at a later date.