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Northern organizations receive generous gift

Sima Sharifi and Arnold Witzig. © Arctic Inspiration Prize/Patrick Doyle (9)

Eight teams from across Canada’s North were awarded a share of over $2.4 million for their innovative projects to improve the quality of life in their communities at the Arctic Inspiration Prize (AIP) awards ceremony. It was held at the end of January in conjunction with the Northern Lights Business and Cultural Showcase in Ottawa, Ontario.

At the beginning of the awards ceremony, Natan Obed, National Inuit Leader and President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, announced that the founders of the Arctic Inspiration Prize, Sima Sharifi and Arnold Witzig, immigrants with a deep love of the North and northerners, have given the AIP Charitable Trust another boost with a gift worth $60 million.

Madeleine Allakariallak from CBC Igalaaq hosted the awards ceremony along with Kevin Kablutsiak, AIP Executive Director, who was also given the reins to continue to manage the charitable trust. The Arctic Indigenous Wellness Project, an urban land-based healing program to improve the health of at-risk Inuit, First Nation and Métis peoples in Yellowknife and surrounding communities in the Northwest Territories received the top award of $1 million. Three prizes were awarded in the up to $500,000 category:

  • The Unaaq Men’s Association of Inukjuak, Nunavik, received $500,000 for its Intensive Traditional Program Development project that pairs youth participants with Elders and experienced hunters to promote self-esteem, leadership, and pride while sharing traditional Inuit knowledge.
  • Our Families, Our Way: The Peacemaking Circle program in the Yukon will use their $500,000 award to train community members and professionals in the traditional practice of peacemaking circles to help deal with trauma and work through differences to support families and children at risk.
  • The Qajaq Program, based in Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut, was awarded $140,000 for its plan to engage knowledge keepers and Elders to teach the youth of Nunavut how to build and paddle their own qajait based on the design and shape that was used in the area hundreds of years ago.

Four teams received funds for projects in the newly-created category for youth that awards up to $100,000 each to up to seven teams.

  • A youth leadership team from Colville Lake, Northwest Territories, was awarded $100,000 for its Dene Heroes Publication Project that seeks to build literacy and leadership skills among Indigenous youth as they lead the annual development and publishing of a collaborative book about Dene heroes to be distributed to all five communities in the Sahtu Region and beyond.
  • The Rankin Rock Hockey Camp received $80,000 for its project to develop youth leadership capacity and promote healthy active lifestyles in Rankin Inlet, Baker Lake and Arviat, Nunavut, by providing youth with hands-on experiential learning opportunities as coaches and leaders of a hockey camp.
  • Rivers to Ridges was presented with a cheque for $100,000 to open a forest school – a land-based education initiative – in Whitehorse, Yukon, to meaningfully connect young people to the land and provide access to a natural space for child-directed, emergent and inquiry- based learning. The school will also integrate First Nations knowledge and teachings through Elder involvement, and work to break down traditional barriers of accessibility for staff and participants.
  • The North in Focus: Nunavut, Our Land, Our People team was awarded $20,000 to prepare a larger nomination in 2018 to deliver mental health workshops and connect individuals with mental health resources to tackle stigma associated with mental illness and help youth 12 and older realize their strengths and build pride.

Sharifi noted that “the partnership agreement between the AIP Trust and the Rideau Hall Foundation (RHF) secures management service and coverage of all the operational costs by the RHF for at least the next five years. The southern commitment allows that 100 per cent of funds from all the AIP prize partners goes directly to the Northern laureates and provides crucial stability for the AIP.”

A production of Kiviuq Returns was also part of the awards ceremony. Kiviuq Returns is a creative collection performance based on the legends of the Inuit hero Kiviuq and shared by the Inuit Elders — the last Canadian indigenous people to have lived traditionally on the land in iglus, sealskin tents and sod houses.