Nunavut research projects clean up at first-ever Arctic Inspiration Prize

Three projects to be given more than $200,000 each


Nunavut came up trumps at the first-annual Arctic Inspiration Prize at the ArcticNet Annual Scientific Meeting in Vancouver, B.C. Dec. 13.

The prize is awarded to four research projects that “address pressing issues facing Canada’s Arctic and its Peoples.”

All four get a selected chunk of a $1-million prize given by the S. and A. Inspiration Foundation.

The winning four include:

• The Arctic Food Network — $360,000;

• The Nunavut Literacy Council — $300,000;

• Inuit elders writing a book on Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit — $240,000; and

• The Thaidene Nene Initiative — $100,000.

The Arctic Food Network won its money by creating a scheme to build regional food cabins along a network of “food highways” or snowmobile trails across the territory.

The project — which started in 2011 — is still in its infancy, but Mason White, one of the architects of the project, says this project can do wonders for Nunavut’s food security issue.

“We’re just hoping it can be a talking piece of a model for addressing issues of food security, strengthening traditions and making being out on the land, safe,” White said.

Through the network of trails and stopping stations from community-to-community, he thinks hunting can be a contemporary thing in the future, and not just “something my father and grandfather did.”

Although White said the project is still a prototype, the $360,000 award can help contextualize the idea, strengthen ties with partners, and can move towards more prototyping with structures.

“We like the idea that architecture can be a social connector and can also address unique context and unique cultures. And I think that that’s the most inspiring thing by the award,” White said.

White will be at the Nunavut food security symposium in January to pitch the project to the public.

The Nunavut Literacy Council won its $300,000 with its three-year research project about embedding literacy skills into traditional programs.

“What we did was we had groups do activities that are contextualized,” said executive director of the Nunavut Literacy Council Kim Crockatt.

Participants would join in on a traditional sewing class, for example, and the instructor would add Inuktitut words and phrases in while teaching the class.

“They’d write down instructions on how to make certain patterns, and this was done in Inuktitut, and English, but mostly we were trying to increase their language skills in Inuktitut,” Crockatt said.

Participants would then document new terminology in a journal every day — and Crockatt said the project seems to be working.

“The early results, what we’re seeing is quite remarkable. It really does make a huge difference,” Crockatt said.

Now the goal is to reach out to other programs and start embedding literacy in their learning environment as well.

“We hope the impact is as impressive as we saw with our program,” Crockatt said, although a lot more analysis on the initial project still needs to be completed before that can happen.

The final prize winners from Nunavut are a group of elders who have been working on a book about Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit — What Inuit Have Always Known to be True.

Ten elders from across Nunavut, along with a subset of many other elders, are writing a book about traditional knowledge and culture.

The book is intended for the next generation of Inuit, and serves as a reference for academics, researchers and educators for the future.

“They see this as absolutely essential for the health of Nunavut,” said Shirley Tagalik, an Inuit educator committed to helping the elders organize the book.

“It is for the children and grandchildren. They see this as absolutely essential for the health of Nunavut,” Tagalik said.

“But it also needs to get to service providers and people who are coming into the communities who don’t understand culture and are working in systems that are not culturally supportive,” she said.

Tagalik said there’s two more years of work until the book can be completed and published.

The money won from the prize will help gather the elders in meeting groups, and to “give elders the opportunity to do this absolutely on their own without any restrictions or encumbrances.”

The $260,000 will also go towards editing in Inuktitut and English.

The selection committee that picked the prize winners include former Governor General Michaëlle Jean, former Nunavut politician and Nobel Prize nominee Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Juno-award winning songwriter Susan Aglukark, former commissioner of Yukon Geraldine Van Bibber, and CBC news anchor Peter Mansbridge.

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