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by Teevi Mackay

The second Arctic Inspiration Prize ceremony took place in Halifax in December at the Annual ArcticNet Scientific Meeting.

The ceremony began with an extraordinary performance organized by the National Arts Centre as a spin-off from Ottawa’s successful Northern Scene festival last spring.

Sylvia Cloutier and Beatrice Deer — both originally from Nunavik — began the ceremonial performance with throat singing while the uniquely talented Nelson Tagoona of Baker Lake chimed in with his personally invented throat boxing (mix of throat singing and beat boxing).

He literally grabbed the attention of everyone in the room. Leela Gilday of the Northwest Territories wowed the audience with her extra – ordinary singing and guitar playing. Alongside her were two upbeat drummers who set the stage for the laureates to receive their well deserved prizes.

I felt a great sense of Northern pride during this performance. Throughout the ceremony, this feeling only grew.

On the Arctic Inspiration Prize’s website, the generous donors of the Prize, Sima Sharifi and Arnold Witzig, say, “The purpose of the Prize is to recognize excellence and encourage teamwork among diverse groups in order to use or expand Arctic knowledge and bring it into action for the decisive benefit of the Canadian Arctic, its inhabitants and therefore for Canada as a whole.”

Impressively Inuit, Northerners and Southerners are taking on incredible Northern projects and are being recognized and financially supported through this prize. As they work towards bettering the North today, they are simultaneously working towards improving and developing the North’s future.

I was thrilled that I knew at least a few if not all the people from each of the three awarded teams. All three shared the one million dollar prize.

Education
Mobilizing parents is one of the 10 priorities of the First Canadians, Canadians First: The National Strategy on Inuit Education of The Amaujaq Centre for Inuit Education. The Amaujaq Centre is housed within Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the national Inuit organization. Mary Simon is its team leader and Chair of the National Committee on Inuit Education.

The Amaujaq Centre won one of three Arctic Inspiration Prizes to implement the national parental mobilization initiative, which aims to engage parents as partners in education.

“The goal of our national campaign is to work with regional partners to give parents the resources they need to get their children to school all day, every day, well rested and ready to learn,” said Mary Simon.

I believe strongly in the work that the Amaujaq Centre is doing for young Inuit in Northern communities. As I have just graduated from the very intensive journalism program at Carleton University, I know first hand the benefits of earning an education.

Housing
A proper, adequate and healthy home is fundamental to the well being of any individual. It is a universal need. This is why I was pleasantly surprised to learn about the project SakKijânginnatuk Nunalik: Healthy Homes in Thriving Nunatsiavut Communities.

This housing project is founded on the importance of access to culturally suitable and environmentally adapted housing — as this is one of the most important issues that face Northerners across Canada. Specifically, this initiative will focus on Northern Labrador as this region, like many others in the North, is facing a major housing crisis.

The SakKijânginnatuk Nunalik project draws on local Inuit knowledge as well as literature reviews, professional assessments with the Nunatsiavut Government team members, the Nunatsiavut Joint Management Committee, the Nain Research Centre and Memorial University for its plan to move towards a new way of developing sustainable, needed housing.

The housing problem in Canada’s North has been going on for some time now and it’s refreshing to see an initiative that is taking pragmatic steps to address this dire, and vital present need. I believe that this initiative can serve as an example to other Northern regions.

Cross-Cultural Bridges
I was also very pleased to see the project Ikaarvik: From Barriers to Bridges win the third Arctic Inspiration Prize. The team members include Northern community members — hamlets, ARCTIConnexion, the Vancouver Aquarium and other aquariums and zoos.

The plan of the Ikaarvik project is to create a bridge between Inuit in Northern communities and scientists who undertake projects within Northern communities. Living up to its name, Ikaarvik means ‘bridge’ and is reflective of the baseline principles of the project: a place where respect, sharing and exchange are revered and where human capacity is developed.

As part of Ikaarvik, Inuit youth will have the opportunity to travel to Southern institutions, such as universities, to learn more about the culture of the South. Southern institutions and its members will discover and learn from Inuit knowledge and Inuit will learn more about how scientists can better help them with assessing Northern environmental issues.

This Ikaarvik project, I believe, is unique in its own right. Personally I have not seen this type of project undertaken before. I believe that this project carries some degree of difficulty because part of it is bringing two different cultures together, aiming to have both teach one another, while creating a working, synergetic relationship. Its task is not easy but I do know that those involved in this project are dedicated, which makes all the difference in making it possible.

All in all, the Arctic Inspiration Prize sets the stage for change in the North. From speaking to the coordinators of this prize, I know that they would like more applicants. It is quite new, but its beginning is already remarkable.