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Inuit Heritage Trust encourages Nunavummiut to nominate elders for award

Every two years, since 1999, the Inuit Heritage Trust (IHT) recognizes elders from across the territory.

"One per region but, in the past, before my time, there were a lot of elders being submitted. There were more than one per region in the past," explained IHT's heritage manager Ralph Kownak.

"A lot of our elders are passing on so submissions are getting fewer and fewer by the years."

Susan Avingaq of Iglulik, seen here with Nunavut Commissioner Nellie Kusugak receiving a lifetime achievement award for her outstanding contribution to the Nunavut performing arts from the Qaggiavuut Society in August 2018, received recognition from the Inuit Heritage Trust in 2017 for similar reasons. Sally Qimmiu'naaq Webster of Baker Lake and Inuk Aiyout of Taloyoak were also recognized for their contributions to helping other Nunavummiut understand Inuit culture and heritage that year.
photo courtesy of Jamie Griffiths

Kownak says anyone can nominate an elder, including family.

"I recommend to the youth to submit their elders forward to our committee," he said, adding there's no cost to nominate.

"The more the merrier."

And while Kownak said they have received submissions for the 2019 recognition awards, he encourages people to think about which elders should be recognized in future.

"It could be any elder who has been proactive with teaching Inuit knowledge in schools … The criteria would be teaching, a lot of teaching youth, going to schools or sharing their knowledge of the history of Inuit. How to hunt or to sew. It's a variety of different aspects elders are recognized for," Kownak said.

"The more information is provided in the submission, the more clear it is, the better chance they'll have being selected."

In 2017, for example, Sally Qimmiu’naaq Webster of Baker Lake was recognized for working tirelessly over the years to share her knowledge and culture with Inuit in various communities in Nunavut. Taloyoak's Inuk Aiyout was recognized for telling children stories of the past and teaching how to survive on the land. Iglulik's Susan Avingaq received her award for being an ambassador of the arts, in the territory, nationally and internationally.

IHT has also recognized elders who have played "an invaluable role to the work of IHT in sharing traditional knowledge about place names, archaeology, oral history and how to appropriately deal with Inuit cultural materials."

In an email, Kownak stated, "This year IHT particularly encouraged suggestions of female elders whose role of keepers of knowledge and backbones of families often is under-acknowledged. Passing on Inuit traditional knowledge to the younger generations helps our children to find their cultural identity in the modern world and encourages them to become strong, self-confident adults."

The IHT board will meet sometime in November to review submissions for the 2019 awards.

"Then we send a plaque and cheque ($1,500) to the hamlet office for the mayor to present to the elder, let's say during a Christmas games event or community activities. So the community will recognize them, as well, that they've done a great job with Inuit knowledge," Kownak said.