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’She did it with love’; remembering Millie Kuliktana

Millie Kuliktana, Teacher and inspiring leader from Kugluktuk passes away on Monday January 9th 2023
Millie and her grandchildren: Nolan, Aqpaaq, Aili, Amelia, Saveah and Leighton. Photo courtesy of Wynter Kuliktana Blais ᒥᓕ ᐃᕐᖑᑕᖏᓪᓗ: ᓅᓚᓐ, ᐊᖅᐸᖅ, ᐊᓕ, ᐊᒦᓕᐊ, ᓴᕖᓚ ᐊᒻᒪ ᓕᑕᓐ.

After the passing of Millie Kuliktana on Friday, Jan. 13, members of her family are helping to paint a picture of her life as an uplifting leader in Kugluktuk, but also for the rest of Nunavut. Wynter Kuliktana Blais, Millie’s daughter, shared how during her lifetime, her mother inspired the community to better itself.

Q: Where was your mother born?

A: My mother was born in Coppermine (NWT). Coppermine is now Kugluktuk, after they changed the territory to Nunavut, they changed the name. She was raised there and in Ulukhaktok (NWT). Our family has lived in multiple communities as well.

Q: How do you remember your mother growing up? What was she like during your childhood?

A: How much drive she had. She had so much passion for all the work that she did. Rather, it’s her career in education, language revitalization, her work towards a healthier community, and through all of that being the most incredible, loving mom at the same time. She really had this gift about her to be able to do it all, anything she set her mind to.

Q: What are some values that she has taught you and your siblings?

A: I think for us it’s the love of our community, and the love of our family first and foremost. We have a lot of family friends, being raised by a mom like her. It has been instilled within us since we were as young as I can remember I was volunteering alongside her as a little girl, and right up to my teenage years. And as I moved into adulthood, it was so important for her that we be active members of our community. She taught us a lot about having faith and hope and being guided by love throughout all these years. When she was first diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension in 2010, at the time we were told she only had three months to live and we knew it wasn’t her time and that she would fight through it. We have always told her since the very beginning of the diagnosis that she would never have to face the sickness alone and that her family would always be alongside her through the entire journey. Even more so, we were so blessed to have the whole community standing behind her and rooting for her always.

Q: What would your mother want for Nunavut in the future?

A: I think she would want people living their best lives. I think she was such a huge advocate of making sure we gave our all and there was always room for us to improve and be better and be part of a healthier community. Not just for our community but for communities all across the North. It was so important to her that people were living healthy lives with healthy minds and making healthy decisions for themselves because, ultimately, when you lead with love, especially for yourself first, you can be part of the larger healthy community, living and building.

I think she would also like to see our people strive with our culture and embrace our language. To continue practising those activities that are part of who we are as Inuit. Our family did that, she made sure all of us children — even as far as her grandchildren — she has always made sure our kids were part of the culture. It’s simply part of our lives and it is very well instilled in us and our children through our mom.

Q: What would your mother be doing on a typical day like today?

A: I think today we would be celebrating Christmas, she would be in her kitchen baking with the grandkids, she would have food on the table, and people coming in and out. That is the thing about my mom: her doors were never locked. They were always open as young as I can remember, her doors were always open to anybody. She always had food on her table and she was always available for conversation and counsel and love. She was really just a place to go for love. She loved her grandchildren without a doubt.

with family

Millie’s last moments were spent with family:

“My mom was so fierce, and rarely showed fear. She was a fighter. She has proven to us multiple times that miracles do happen, and throughout the years of her illness, even through a lung transplant. Through all of these experiences that we’ve had, our family had always said: this ain’t our first rodeo. We didn’t realize this would be her last. She showed bravery right through to the end. I would like readers to know that she was not in any pain as she passed. Her soul left this world so courageously. Myself, my two brothers and my sister were along the bedside with our mom and we chose to honour her passing by giving her that space — we made sure it was a very peaceful environment. We chose not to cry for the first five minutes following her passing to allow for her to leave in honour and peace. It was a very beautiful experience for my siblings and I to be able to do that for her. I’m so proud of my siblings for their strength. I think my mom has shown us an incredible amount of strength over the last many years and it was the only way for us to send her off.”

Funeral arrangements:

“My mom requested to be cremated,” said Wynter. “She also requested for the funeral service to be provided in English and Inuinnaqtun. Our current minister at home is able to provide English service. However, our family have been given approval to allow Jeffrey and Rosaline Dixon to fly to Kugluktuk to provide the service in Inuinnaqtun. Our family took it upon ourselves to cover the costs of travel and accommodation, to make sure we honour my mom and to be able to provide her service in both languages. We are so blessed that our minister in Kugluktuk is so supportive and so willing to help proceed with the service alongside reverend Dixon, which is actually the one who married my parents.

The funeral will take place on Jan. 25, 2023, at 1:30 p.m. at the Colin Adjun Hall in Kugluktuk. Doors will be open at 1:00 p.m.”

“She was an amazing person. She was always about family… and when we talked, she always spoke so highly of them,” Shane Thompson, Millie Kuliktana’s adopted brother, said of her. Photo courtesy of Wynter Kuliktana Blaisᑖᓐᓇ ᑲᒪᓇᖅᑐᒻᒪᕆᐅᓚᐅᖅᐳᖅ. ᐃᓚᒥᓂᒃ ᐱᔾᔪᑎᖃᐃᓐᓇᐅᔭᓚᐅᖅᑐᖅ… ᐊᒻᒪᓗ ᐅᖃᓕᒪᑎᓪᓗᑕ, ᐅᖃᓕᒪᖏᓐᓇᓲᖑᒻᒪᑦ, ᓴᐃᓐ ᑖᒻᓴᓐ, ᒥᓕ ᖁᓕᑦᑖᓇᐅᑉ ᑎᒍᐊᖓ, ᐅᖃᖅᓱᓂ.
“She was an amazing person. She was always about family… and when we talked, she always spoke so highly of them,” Shane Thompson, Millie Kuliktana’s adopted brother, said of her. Photo courtesy of Wynter Kuliktana Blais
ᑖᓐᓇ ᑲᒪᓇᖅᑐᒻᒪᕆᐅᓚᐅᖅᐳᖅ. ᐃᓚᒥᓂᒃ ᐱᔾᔪᑎᖃᐃᓐᓇᐅᔭᓚᐅᖅᑐᖅ… ᐊᒻᒪᓗ ᐅᖃᓕᒪᑎᓪᓗᑕ, ᐅᖃᓕᒪᖏᓐᓇᓲᖑᒻᒪᑦ, ᓴᐃᓐ ᑖᒻᓴᓐ, ᒥᓕ ᖁᓕᑦᑖᓇᐅᑉ ᑎᒍᐊᖓ, ᐅᖃᖅᓱᓂ.

NWT minister Shane Thompson, and adopted brother of Millie, also had words to share in her honour:

“She was an amazing teacher and superintendent for the Kitikmeot region. She was all about the community and how we can make things better for the residents. The fishing derby was her idea; improvements to the Nattiq Frolics — very part of the team.

Her parents adopted me as their son in 1990. She is my sister and her family (sisters) have called me brother and their kids have called me uncle. To those who knew her, she was a wife, mother, grandmother, friend, mentor, teacher, super volunteer and had a heart of gold. She was about serving others throughout her life.

I would like to share the first time I met her: I was just hired as the recreation coordinator trainee for the Hamlet of Coppermine (now known as Kugluktuk). It was the first week of December, 1987. I was given the task of finding billets for 10 out-of-town volleyball teams. I remember thinking, ‘How am I going to do this?’ Millie’s future husband (Simon Kuliktana) told me: ‘Do not worry, Millie is coming home and she will get everyone looked after.’ True to his word, Millie came in and within an hour they were all looked after. This was Millie. Give her a task, regardless of the difficulty, and she had it solved. Later that day, she and Simon invited me into their home and I have always been welcomed since.

I watched their family grow and saw their children become what she was very proud of and we talked about them a lot. Quentin Norberg, Wynter Kuliktana Blais, Shawn Kuliktana and Tundra Kuliktana were her and Simon’s legacy.

I would like to thank them for allowing me to be with them, three of her sisters (Edna Elias, Helen Larocque and Jeannie Ehaloak) and two lifelong friends (Susie Evyagotailak and Kathy Okpik) at the hospital. It was such an honour.

There are so many things I want to say, but I will just say she was an amazing person. She was always about family… and when we talked, she always spoke so highly of them.

Throughout the years, I had so many amazing conversations with her. It was always refreshing as she spoke her mind with so much honesty, but most importantly she did it with love. She cared and that was why she did what she did for others.

It is still difficult to think that she passed away but I know she is no longer suffering and that makes me happy. To Simon, the children and grandchildren, may God bless you during this difficult time and may you share loving stories about her.”

Millie Kuliktana smiles while in the presence of her husband Simon. After a long illness, Millie passed away on Jan. 13. Photo courtesy of Wynter Kuliktana Blais ᒥᓕ ᑯᓕᒃᑖᓇ ᖁᖓᑦᑐᖅ ᑕᐃᑲᓃᑎᓪᓗᒍ ᐅᐃᖓ ᓴᐃᒪᓐ. ᐋᓐᓂᐊᑯᑖᓚᐅᖅᑎᓪᓗᒍ, ᒥᓕ ᐃᓅᔪᓐᓃᓚᐅᖅᑐᖅ ᔭᓄᐊᕆ 13-ᒥ.