Canada’s Arctic Rose: Susan Aglukark Receives Humanitarian Award

Susan Aglukark © Photo by Denise Grant

By Raye Mocioiu

Canadian folk-pop icon Susan Aglukark calls herself an “accidental artist.” Though she grew up with no musical background or practice, she loved music and had the soul of a writer. She spent the first part of her career learning the ropes of the music industry while performing on small Ontario stages, gaining an audience and establishing herself as a unique presence in the music world.

Her early songs from the 1992 album Arctic Rose, drew inspiration from her early life in Canada’s north and the feelings of uncertainty that clouded her early twenties. With an air of relatability and the weight of the real and often serious stories she shared of her homeland, Aglukark catapulted into stardom. Twenty-five years, nine albums, and three Juno Awards later, the artist has shared her life through her music—a path of healing, cultural connections, and personal discoveries.

A leading voice in Canadian music, Aglukark’s way of blending the Inuktitut and English languages and sharing the stories of the Inuit of Arctic Canada set to contemporary folk-pop arrangements captured the ears and hearts of international listeners.

The emotional depth and subject matter of Aglukark’s music paved the way for her other passion, supporting the health and wellness of Indigenous communities, to shine through.

While releasing and touring her first album, Arctic Rose, Aglukark worked with the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, a nonprofit organization that seeks to protect and advance the rights and interests of Inuit peoples in Canada. In 2008, two years after her seventh album, Blood Red Earth, Aglukark was appointed as Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the University of Alberta, working to address the school dropout issue among Aboriginal students across Canada. After leaving to shift her focus back to creating music, she felt a tug to continue the work of improving lives in Inuit and Indigenous communities. She began the Arctic Rose Foundation, working to help address hunger, homelessness, and the health and wellness of Inuit children and youth.

One of the foundation’s primary programs, the Kamajiit (Caretakers) Program, is a youth leadership development program designed to mitigate the root causes of high school dropout rates in three communities in Nunavut and will be piloted in Rankin Inlet this autumn.

“The Arctic Rose Foundation is fundamentally about dignity, and as Indigenous, we know that this is an issue at the root of many challenges, including staying in or finishing school,” Aglukark shared.

susan aglukark
Kamajiit Assistant Training at MUI, Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, 2021 © Photo Courtesy of Arctic Rose Foundation

In Aglukark’s healing journey, art played a significant role in finding her identity. She believes the power of art can be just as meaningful for Inuit and Indigenous youth dealing with identity issues today.

The foundation’s Messy Book Program offers culturally specific after-school art programs for students in Grades 5-12, in a space they can use as an emotional outlet and connect with Indigenous artists, role models and mentorship. Combining art, writing, movement, music, technology, and drama, the program encourages creative cultural and historical exploration, allowing students to connect with their traditional and cultural backgrounds in an intentional way.

This month, Aglukark will be honoured with the 2022 Humanitarian Award, presented by Music Canada in at the 2022 Juno Awards, recognizing her philanthropic efforts and long-standing commitment to improving the lives of youth in Northern Indigenous communities through the Arctic Rose Foundation.

“It is an honour to receive this award and a privilege to have had the opportunity to help create safe spaces for Northern Inuit and Indigenous youth,” Aglukark said in a statement. “I am proud of the work our team at the Arctic Rose Foundation has achieved so far, and look forward to expanding our footprint across the North to bring more culturally-grounded, adaptable programming to young people and help engage, support and inspire them in all aspects of their lives.”

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