September/October 2011 by Mary Simon
National Inuit leader Mary Simon, the current President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), has over the course of two decades distinguished herself nationally and internationally working on behalf of Inuit and Canada. Long a highly regarded advocate for social justice and better opportunity for Canada’s Inuit, Simon served for nine years as our country’s ambassadorial representative on circumpolar issues and subsequently served Canada as our Ambassador to Denmark from 1999-2001.
Passionate about the North and its people and well versed on the broad scale of international issues affecting the daily lives of Inuit, her work to champion Inuit rights and promote higher levels of cultural awareness here at home and abroad has made her a much sought-after advisor on northern affairs. Over the past two years, in her role as ITK President, she has worked closely with governments (federal and provincial) and with Inuit organizations and communities to lobby for better, more culturally relevant and beneficial education for Inuit and on the issue of mental healthcare. In the last year, ITK, the organization she spearheads, released a comprehensive education strategy specifically for her national Inuit constituency.
Simon’s dedication continues to foster hope for a better and brighter future for all of Canada’s Inuit and the North. Born in the tiny community of Kangigsualujjuaq, Nunavik (northern Québec), she continues to be an inspiration to us all.
Acclaimed Inuk filmmaker, Zacharias (Zach) Kunuk, from Igloolik, Nunavut, is also named as a 2011 recipient of the Governor General’s Northern Medal. The award acknowledges his major contribution to the arts, in particular for his authentic cinematic Inuktitut language portrayals of Inuit life experience.
Discovering a strong liking for photography while camping on the land with his parents, Kunuk began his career in the early 1980s with Inuit Broadcasting, a culturally aware television media, production and distribution organization created to train Inuit in the production of television and documentary film and video production in their own language.
Over the span of 20 years, Zach Kunuk grew to become an international award-winning producer of feature and documentary film, working in a variety of cinematic capacities, as a screen-writer, cinematographer, producer and director and an important cultural consultant to the industry.
He is President of the independent production company, Igloolik Isuma Productions Inc., which is 75 per cent Inuit-owned. Isuma took the prestigious Camera d’Or award in Cannes, France in 2001, the best Canadian feature award at the Toronto Film Festival 2001 and five Genies for the outstanding film, Atanarjuat. Other major feature films — The Journals of Knud Rasmussen (2006) and Before Tomorrow (2010) followed along with several documentaries.
Kunuk is dedicated beyond his craft to his cultural roots and is avidly engaged in his community. In the past he has served on the Hamlet council in Igloolik and as director on the boards of several Nunavut organizations. He is presently serving on the board of directors of the Nunavut Development Corporation. In recent years Kunuk has directed his story-telling expertise toward downloadable film, television and web docs focused on the fragility of Canada’s Arctic environment in the face of climate change.
No other Nunavut filmmaker has opened a wider, more informative and pleasurable window on the Inuit cultural experience. It is anticipated that Zacharias Kunuk O.C. is far from done despite difficult economic times and that he still has a great deal of energy left in his creative reserve to preserve his culture and enlighten and delight audiences with his amazing story telling. Certainly that is the fondest wish of his peers and his many, many fans around the world.