As part of the National Arts Centre’s Northern Scene Festival, three extraordinary women from the North were honoured at a luncheon hosted by the Famous 5 Foundation in Ottawa. Each of them has played an integral role in the development of the North over the course of their lives, negotiating land claims treaties, the creation of the 14 year old Territory of Nunavut, and speaking on behalf of indigenous people around the world on issues of language protection, environmental sustainability, and culture.
But what unites them more than anything else are memories of their youth.
“We all travelled by dogsled when we were young,” said Sheila Watt-Cloutier. Cloutier was a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work on the Environment.
The Premier of Nunavut spoke of the chores they did as children. “I collected the ice we used for water, and would make sure we had oil for our lamps,” said Eva Aariak, Premier of Nunavut.
To them the past is like, “5 seconds ago,” said Sheila Watt-Cloutier—the Inuit have faced extraordinary change over the course of a single generation.
“We are making progress, but there is so much to do,” said Mary Simon, the former President of ITK. “The majority of our population is young, under the age of 25. And we know from statistics that only 25% of young people are actually graduating from High School, we need to do better.”
They were asked why it appears that their system of Government is more respectful than what is found in the South.
“We have a consensus model, there are no political parties,” said Eva Aariak, the Premier of Nunavut. “Our territory is only 14 years old, and we are building everything, so there isn’t much time to disagree. We can disagree, but always with respect, and then we find common ground to move forward.”
Each of these nation-builders said how wonderful it is to have 300 young artists from the North at the NAC for the Northern Scene Festival. “They are the torch-bearers, the role models for our young people,” Eva Aariak said. “We are very proud of them.”