The day Queen Elizabeth came to Iqaluit
Visit by longest-reigning monarch in British history, who died Thursday at age 96, received national attention
NOTE: Queen Elizabeth visited Nunavut in 2002. It was her first trip to Iqaluit since the creation of Nunavut in 1999. To note her death on Thursday at age 96, we are reprinting this article, which Nunatsiaq News originally published on Oct. 11, 2002.
Queen Elizabeth II blessed the newest territory in her realm last Friday in a two-and-a-half-hour visit to Iqaluit that Nunavut residents will not soon forget.
“Your land is indeed your strength,” the Queen said during a nationally televised dedication ceremony for the Nunavut legislative assembly. “For the past three years, this rich expanse has been yours in its most precious sense and it bears the name you chose.”
She ended her short English-French speech with three words of simple but clearly formed Inuktitut: “Nakurmiit ammalu quviasugitsi.”
“Her pronunciation was really good,” Manitok Thompson, the MLA for Rankin Inlet South, said afterward.
The Canadian Forces Airbus A-310 carrying the Queen and her entourage landed in Iqaluit at exactly 12:01 p.m., amid a sprinkling of snow.
As she exited the plane with her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, the sight of Governor General Adrienne Clarkson waiting for the royal couple on the wind-swept tarmac gave rise to the Queen’s first smile.
The trip was the Queen’s 21st official visit to Canada and her first in Iqaluit since the creation of Nunavut in 1999. She has made three previous visits to the eastern Arctic.
“[The visit is] very important because it’s a new territory and it’s great for her to come here in her golden jubilee year, and to start in her last new territory,” Prime Minister Jean Chrétien told Nunatsiaq News during the tour.
The 11-day Canadian tour marks the 50th year of the Queen’s reign.
The monarch, wearing a mocha-coloured coat and matching hat, was greeted by Canadian dignitaries, including Sheila Copps, federal minister of Heritage Canada; Nancy Karetak-Lindell, member of Parliament for Nunavut; John Matthews, the mayor of Iqaluit; and Annette Bourgeois, Nunavut visit co-ordinator.
“The visit was very successful,” Bourgeois said. “Because it was the first stop in her Canadian tour, we wanted to do a great launch, and I feel we did that.”
A wide-eyed Leevee Arlooktoo, 9, handed the Queen fresh flowers trimmed with Arctic cotton.
After receiving the bouquet, the Queen was ushered into a black 2003 Chevrolet Suburban Z71 and whisked to the legislature.
Official welcome to Iqaluit
A crowd of about 300 people watched as the Queen set foot on the newly paved parking lot at the back of the building.
Prime Minister Chrétien and his wife, Aline, descended the red carpet from the legislature and crossed the parking lot to greet the Queen, shaking hands along the way.
“Beige! It’s beige. She’s wearing beige!” a British reporter yelled as the Queen stepped out the vehicle.
A 30-member guard of Canadian Rangers and Junior Canadian Rangers stood at attention in their bright red and green uniforms as the Queen and Prince Philip walked toward the legislature.
Chrétien presented the Queen and Prince to Nunavut Commissioner Peter Irniq, his wife Marie, and to Premier Paul Okalik who, dressed in a multi-coloured sealskin coat, chatted briefly with her.
The royal couple then moved into position to listen to a welcome song performed by the Suqqait Group from Pangnirtung. When the performance ended, Rebecca Kanayuk, one of the singers, offered the Queen a baleen brooch in the shape of a whale.
The Queen accepted the brooch, designed and made by Sandy Maniapik of Pangnirtung, then asked Kanayuk questions about her singing.
Kanayuk said the moment was overwhelming.
“She asked me if I normally sang in the choir and I told her, ‘We formed this group so we could sing to you on this day.’ Then I think she said, ‘That’s very good,’ but I was nervous so I don’t remember exactly.”
Seven-year-old Neoma Kippomee-Cox and nine-year-old Kevin Kiguktak presented the Queen with bouquets of Arctic wildflowers. The flowers had been picked this past summer and dried, and the stems had to be wrapped so they didn’t disintegrate.
Accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen, along with the Prime Minister and his wife, made their way up the red-carpeted metal stairs to the back door of the legislative building, where they were met by Kevin O’Brien, Speaker of the legislative assembly.
Dedicating the legislative assembly
Inside the assembly chamber, the Queen was welcomed yet again, this time in formal speeches by O’Brien, the Prime Minister, and Premier Paul Okalik.
Rev. Mike Gardner, saying a prayer in Inuktitut and English, asked the Lord to bless the royal couple during their travels.
She made a brief speech, saying that the struggles of the elders “are part of the foundations upon which you are building a bright future for the Nunavummiut,” and that youth “are the key to increasing prosperity in the Nunavut of tomorrow.”
Then, accompanied by O’Brien, she made her way outside the chamber. In the lobby of the assembly, the Queen and the Duke signed two guest books: the Government of Canada Golden Book and the Nunavut Official Guest Book.
They walked past the mace and remarked on the jewels and workmanship, then were met by Health Minister Ed Picco, who showed them a model of the future hospital to be built in Iqaluit.
The tabletop structure shows the approximate shape of the new centre and its size in relation to Baffin Regional Hospital.
As they walked to the front doors of the legislature, the royal couple shook hands with a receiving line of Nunavut MLAs and dignitaries.
Outside the legislature, the Queen walked with O’Brien to a large rock sculpture by the roadside. She pulled a piece of sealskin from it to reveal a small plaque, officially “dedicating” Nunavut’s legislative building.
During a walkabout from the sculpture to the Four Corners, the Queen accepted flowers from well-wishers, but held her hands folded in front of her as she walked past the extended palms of people who wanted to shake hands with her.
At the corner, she was greeted by Iqaluit Mayor John Matthews and shown the road that bears her name. The day before, the City of Iqaluit renamed the Ring Road in her honour, calling it Queen Elizabeth II Way.
“Until yesterday our streets didn’t have names on them,” Matthews said, gesturing to a bilingual street sign that had been unveiled at the Four Corners.
Matthews said the Queen asked him if Iqaluit’s streets ran in a north-south, east-west grid pattern, as they do in some European cities.
The mayor’s response was a simple “no,” accompanied by a smile.
Elders and youth
The royal motorcade made its way to Inuksuk High School for what was billed as the highlight of her Iqaluit visit — a full 18 minutes for the Queen to learn about Inuit culture at a display designed by David Serkoak, principal of Joamie School.
The Queen separated from Prince Phillip, who presented his Duke of Edinburgh awards at a private ceremony in the school’s cafeteria.
Moments before her entrance into the Tisi, or gathering area, 16 anxious Joamie schoolchildren and some equally nervous adult volunteers busied themselves at the site’s five stations.
Some practised nugluktaq — a traditional Inuit game where 10 or more people try to spear the hole of a dangling object, while others practised drum-dancing. Some sat still, with shy smiles on their faces.
The Queen finally broke the suspense when she entered the Tisi with Premier Paul Okalik and an entourage of security people and personal assistants.
For 18 minutes, the Queen gave Serkoak and the young volunteers her undivided attention. Sometimes she smiled or leaned in to look at a particular demonstration more closely.
Serkoak said he was proud of the display.
“It shows we still have traditions to share, culture to share. Even though everything is changing, many of us, we still are trying to keep our culture alive through what we learn at school and through our elders,” Serkoak said.
Celestine Erkidjuk, an elder who helped organize the cultural site, said he held the Queen’s arm during her 1972 visit to Iqaluit. He said he’s happy the Queen returned after the creation of Nunavut.
Erkidjuk added he feels no animosity toward Canada’s head of state, even though the Inuit experienced many wrongs during her reign, such as the dog slaughter of the 1950s.
“Inuit are generous by nature, and as a child growing up, my parents used to tell me no matter how badly treated you are, be patient. Don’t act badly and they’ll start treating you much better,” he said.
Royal sports fans
After the cultural presentation and the Duke of Edinburgh awards, the Queen and Prince entered the school gym together to view a demonstration of Arctic sports by Andrew Atatahak, Heather Kolit, Hannaq Ikkutisluk and Stevie Amarualik.
After completing a knuckle hop demonstration around the small stage, Atatahak bowed at the waist before the Queen, then took his seat.
Amarualik performed the one-foot-high kick at a record-breaking height of eight feet, eight inches, which won him a gold medal at the 2002 Arctic Winter Games in Nuuk, Greenland.
The Queen watched with a subdued smile, but the Prince gasped and laughed during the presentation.
After Amarualik’s finale, the royal couple returned to the motorcade, which took them to the sculpture garden beside the Arctic College Arts and Crafts Centre.
There they were met there by Malcom Clendenning, president of the college and Andrea Duffy, president of the Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association.
During a tour of the garden, the Queen met sculptors Lydia Qayak and Paul Mallaki, who described their work for her.
Curious Iqaluit residents surrounded the area, while others waved from the windows of an adjacent apartment building.
Afterward, the royal couple headed for the airport. At 2:20 p.m., the Queen and her entourage arrived at the airport for their departure.