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March/April 2011 | by Mary Simon

Elisapie Isaac likes to say that the Arctic is not the top of the world, it is the centre. That is certainly how it felt on February 1, under the cathedral ceiling of the National Gallery of Canada’s Great Hall. An impending blast of wind and snow held off just long enough for more than 400 guests to come together for an annual celebration of Inuit culture we have dubbed A Taste of the Arctic.

With nearly twice as many people in attendance as last year, including a showstopping line-up of Cabinet Ministers, Senators, Members of Parliament, former Governor General Michaelle Jean — even an astronaut — we shone a spotlight on Inuit achievement, on what we can accomplish with the support of those around us. And, of course, Inuit culture is about sharing, so it was fitting that the evening presented us with an opportunity to share all that we have to offer.

We have talent in abundance. Take Isaac, for instance, a chanteuse extraordinaire from Salluit, Quebec. The crowd was mesmerized by her look, her charm and her sweet, sweet sound. Journalists reviewing her most recent album say that she brings a poetic approach to Inuktitut, but she is no less comfortable singing the familiar refrain of an ABBA tune, as she did during her second encore of the evening.

As Maclean’s reported, Laureen Harper, who joined us for a second year, was so impressed with Isaac that she vowed to lobby Heritage Minister James Moore to have Isaac perform for Canada Day on Parliament Hill. I am confident that she will deliver. And that Isaac, as usual, will capture hearts.

We have resources to spare. Muskox is both milder and leaner than beef, and when prepared as a roasted strip loin with a shrimp and candied char salsa, it is truly out of this world. Parliamentarians revelled in the opportunity to sample a tasty ragout of seal with blueberry frangelico.

Indeed, we served a range of foods, from char tartar to smoked goose breast to mini aqpiit dark chocolate ganache tarts, that would be at home on the menu of any fine restaurant in the country. I challenge restaurateurs to expand their menus and their horizons and discover the bounty of Inuit Nunangat.

Finally, in the spirit of reconciliation, we were able to offer a little bit of ourselves in the hope that our guests may better understand us and we may better understand them. That, after all, is what events such as these are all about. And as part of that exchange, we are able to raise some much-needed funds for a range of activities, from youth initiatives to language development projects and beyond.

Although it may seem counterintuitive to celebrate the delights of the North in a Southern city, Ottawa, Canada’s national capital is ideally suited to play host. If you are able to find a quiet moment to reflect, to cast your gaze on a room full of people with smiles on their faces, then, as Isaac says, our place in the world shifts just ever so slightly and all seems right in the world.