Society aims to expand beyond Iqaluit; seeks to train Inuit youth as music instructors for young children in a number of communities

The Iqaluit Music Society has a million reasons to celebrate after it was announced late Friday night that the organization is the winner of this year’s Arctic Inspiration Prize (AIP) – and the society’s founders have high hopes for the winnings.

Instructors: Olivia Chislett and Alika Komangapik demonstrate throat singing at the opening assembly for “all our campers” with Naiome Eegeesiak, camp director, stands behind the circle to their left. Photo courtesy of Darlene Nuqingaq

The group plans to use its $1-million prize money to establish a presence in other Nunavut communities through a project known as Imaa, Like This: Children and Youth Expressing Themselves Through Music.

Earlier in the week, the Iqaluit Music Society spoke to Nunavut News about the opportunity that the AIP represents.

“If we were to win this million-dollar prize, the proposed project is an expansion project for us,” said  Darlene Nuqingaq, project leader and co-founder of the Iqaluit Music Society.

Fellow project leader and music camp director Naiome Eegeesiak said, “If we win the money we want to train youth to become music leaders in their communities.

“We’re looking to have all of Nunavut have music programs.”

For 25 years, the Iqaluit Music Society has been offering opportunities to Nunavut youth, including summer music camps and a fiddle club.

As a not-for-profit organization in Nunavut, Nuqingaq says, “We can only get year-by-year funding so you’re always chasing money so you can’t grow.”

With regards to the $1-million, “for us it’s allowed us to dream of what might be.”

The hope now is to expand beyond Iqaluit, as well as “to have more intentionally trained youth leaders from other communities and assist music camps happening across the territory,” Nuqingaq explains.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, they were unable to host their regular summer music camp with as many people as they would have liked.

In the second week of February, however, they hosted a music camp at Nanook School, something that went quite well according to Nuqingaq.

An Inuit drum dance class takes a break from drumming, but still practices keeping a steady pulse using their hands as pretend drum and beater. Clockwise, from top left: Molly Ell, instructor; Benjamin Royal, camper; Kera Ell, junior instructor; Alika Komangapik, instructor; Martha Mitsima, camper; and Rhue Eegeesiak, camper. photo courtesy of Darlene Nuqingaq

“Those kids are just loving it, we had our first day (Feb. 15) and it just went so well just to see what could happen if kids could be exposed on a more regular basis towards cultural opportunities.”

The society sees a gap in music education among Nunavummiut who live outside of Iqaluit.

“Other schools don’t usually have one, I know Pangnirtung has a fiddle club,” Eegeesiak said, adding there might be one in Taloyoak.

“We’re pretty excited about the ceremonies and finding out if we won and if we get to do our project for Nunavut,” Eegeesiak adds.

Second time lucky

Nuqingaq expressed excitement at the opportunity to be finalists for the Arctic Inspiration Prize once again having been finalists last year.

The pandemic has placed a greater emphasis on the society’s goal of training local music educators as travel to and from the south may not always be a sure thing. 

“We’ve always wanted to train more formally local music educators and Covid has taught us that we have the potential here to provide more music education opportunities for youth and not to rely so much on southern music specialists,” said Nuqingaq.

“If you want to reach the whole child, you need the music and the arts education, our music camp has been focused on drum dancing and throat-singing and the traditional dance music of the fiddle and the guitar and accordion.”

Eegeesiak and Nuqingaq exressed their gratitude and excitement.

“Winning the AIP is a dream come true for us all! Many children, youth leaders, parents have asked for more music education opportunities,” said Eegeesiak and Nuqingaq in an announcement from Arctic Inspiration Prize.

The two project leaders in the Iqaluit Music Society are excited to get started on this long-awaited expansion project.

“Now, we can develop and offer a culturally relevant Sistema inspired after-school program for young children, employ local music instructors, and provide mentorship to aspiring youth music leaders from across Nunavut to facilitate music programs in their home communities.”

The two thanked Arctic Inspiration Prize as well as the Music Society’s partners and sponsors, adding their gratitude for “believing in us and the positive power of music education!”

Nunavut food sovereignty project 

Another Nunavut-based winner of the Arctic Inspiration Prize was announced Friday night as well.

Jimmy Oleekatalik, the manager of the Spence Bay Hunters and Trappers Organization in Taloyoak was awarded $451,000 for Niqihaqut, a project to “develop a new model of social economy and food sovereignty anchored in sustainable and innovative harvesting,” according to a press release from AIP. 

Niqihaqut hopes to provide local incomes, contribute to healthier diets, and help preserve local knowledge.

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