Beloved Nunavut elder June Okalik Klengenberg dies at age 105
“She was amazing,” grandaughter says
Nunavut lost more than a century’s worth of memory and experience last week, when June Okalik Klengenberg, 105, died at Gjoa Haven’s continuing care centre for elders on Jan. 8.
One of the Kitikmeot region’s most beloved elders, Klengenberg may have been Nunavut’s oldest person prior to her passing. She leaves an enormous extended family that stretches from the Inupiat region of Alaska to the Kitikmeot region of Nunavut.
“She was amazing. She was always sewing and always ate traditional food,” Klengenberg’s granddaughter, Leslie Ann Klengenberg, told Nunatsiaq News.
She also loved singing. Her favourite song in recent months was “You Are My Sunshine,” her granddaughter said.
According to her birth certificate, Klengenberg was born on June 1, 1914, in Ulukhaktok, formerly known as Holman Island, and spent most of her life in Kugluktuk.
In 1932, she married Andrew Klengenberg, the youngest son of Christian Jorgensen Klengenberg, the famous Danish trapper, fur trader and whaler. Andrew Klengenberg died in 1982.
In August 2012, Edna Elias, while serving as commissioner of Nunavut, presented a special commissioner’s award to Klengenberg.
The award recognized her for a lifetime spent passing on skills in sewing, drum dancing, and child rearing.
“As the eldest person in Kugluktuk, she demonstrates a healthy lifestyle and inspires others,” Elias said at the time.
As Klengenberg grew older, each of her birthdays became a cause for celebration, such as her 100th birthday in 2014, when the people of Kugluktuk held a potluck feast in her honour at the local recreation centre.
And in 2018, the staff of the Gjoa Haven continuing care facility celebrated her 104th birthday with a big cake and music from the Gjoa Band.
That year, Kugluktuk MLA Mila Kamingoak rose in the Nunavut legislature to congratulate Klengenberg for her long life.
“Last Friday, this lovely elder, who is my late grandmother, Nellie Kanovak Hikok’s best friend, celebrated her 104th birthday. Mr. Speaker, I’m very humbled and greatly appreciate that the community of Gjoa Haven helped to make her day very special,” Kamingoak said on June 6, 2018.
Kamingoak also said it would have been wonderful if the elder were able to celebrate the occasion with her friends and family back in Kugluktuk, where the hamlet has been pushing the Nunavut government to adopt their proposal to build a 24-bed elder care centre in the community.
The family will hold Klengenberg’s funeral in Kugluktuk this Wednesday, Leslie Ann Klengenberg said.