2017 The Jerry Cans
The Iqaluit rock group started their own music label and quickly signed on other Northern musicians, sharing their knowledge of the industry and connections to it. They established Nunavut Music Week and co-ordinated panels, workshops, and a few raucous parties to bring together Northern musicians and southern industry folks. They continue to make their success Nunavut's to share. In November 2018, the band's Aakuluk Music label released Iglulik hard-rockers Northern Haze's new record, Siqinnaarut—an album 33 years in the making.
2016 Gary Bailie
The Yukon's philosopher on skis and community builder, Gary Bailie, runs the Kwanlin Koyotes ski team and is the driving force behind the Blue Feather Music Festival. He believes 'money is not the only currency' and heals the wounds of a hard past, by volunteering.
After winning $1 million to help bolster their groundbreaking empowerment program for girls and young women in the North, FOXY—Fostering Open eXpression among Youth—is maintaining its momentum. It has now launched a companion program for boys and young men: SMASH, or Strength, Masculinities And Sexual Health. A 2018 study found that FOXY's programs are working to educate youth and develop healthier attitudes around sex and relationships
Louie Kamookak’s interviews with elders and their recounting of the disappearance of Sir John Franklin’s ships helped lead to the way to the HMS Erebus. In 2016, Franklin’s HMS Terror was discovered, based on a tip from an Inuk search crewmember.
“It was kind of a relief that both ships are found now, but it also seems for me that it’s kind of sad. Even when Erebus was found, it was a happy feeling but also seems like deep down, as a mystery-seeker or mystery historian, it’s almost like the ballgame is over or something.”
“Erebus was found mostly based on oral history. Terror, I feel, was based on modern sightings. It was two different methods for finding them.”
“I started hearing modern sightings of the ship about 10 years ago: people would say they flew through Terror Bay and saw the outline of the ship. Or out sealhunting, one elder said she’d seen a mast under the water.”
“I was out there [this summer] with a couple of students, we were planning to go further—our goal was to go to Erebus Bay, which is north of Terror Bay and to actually try to find a grave that my great-grandmother once saw when she was young. I think that will always be my interest, to actually see what she saw.”
“We’ve found the ships now but there’s still a mystery as to what happened.” Kamookak died in 2018 at age 58.
2013 The road north
Construction had just begun on the Inuvik-to-Tuktoyaktuk highway when Merv Gruben, vice-president of E. Gruben’s Transport, and the guy who got the road federally approved, lost his mayoral seat. (He won it back last year.) In November 2017, the highway was officially opened.
2012 Leesee Papatsie
Leesee Papatsie was one of the loudest voices decrying the cost of food in Nunavut when protests erupted around the North. Since then, her Facebook group, Feeding My Family, has amassed nearly 25,000 members and she’s still bringing attention to a problem that has yet to be solved.
2011 Richard Van Camp
In 2016, Richard Van Camp hit two major milestones in his life and career: he turns 45, and released his 20th book. That marks 20 books he’s put out in 20 years. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Since we profiled him as our Northerner of the Year, he hit it big with a film adaptation of The Lesser Blessed, and he’s hard at work making more of his stories into films, shot in the NWT, while continuing to write stories, baby books and graphic novels.
On his career so far: “There are so many writers now who are writing, securing book deals, winning awards, making their own movies—it’s a really exciting time to be in the Northwest Territories.
"I’m a trailblazer, I’m mid-career, and the best part of this is that you never know who’s going to come out of left field and knock you on your bum. That keeps me fresh. That keeps me on top of my game.
"I’m really proud to have the 20 books out that I do. I’ve been able to work with 10 different publishers, the most incredible editors in the world, the most wonderful artists, and I certainly couldn’t have done it without family, friends, culture and Fort Smith. Fort Smith has given me the most beautiful spirit—I’ve got the humour, I’ve got the strut, I’ve got the cheekiness, and I’ve got the humility to just give the utmost thanks to everyone in Fort Smith.”
2010 Paul Nicklen
Paul Nicklen’s life has followed a unique course—growing up in the Arctic, he became a biologist and would go on to become one of the world’s top nature photographers. His breathtaking photos are still filling the pages of National Geographic.
2009 Leona Aglukkaq
Leona Aglukkaq made the jump from serving in Nunavut’s territorial cabinet to serving in Canada’s. As a Conservative MP, she helmed the health and environment portfolios between 2008 and 2015, when she lost her seat to then-Liberal Hunter Tootoo.
2008 Guillaume Saladin
Guillaume Saladin’s Iglulik-based Arctic circus troupe has become world renowned for its athletics and Inuit cultural performances. Artcirq has collaborated with groups in France, Africa and Mexico, among other countries, and performed at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games and the Queen’s 2012 Diamond Jubilee at Windsor Castle.
2007 Leela Gilday
A Dene singer-songwriter from Yellowknife, Leela Gilday has released four albums and become one of the North’s most well-known and beloved performing artists. She's currently at work on her fifth album.
2006 Jack Kobayashi and Antonio Zedda
Yukon architects Kobayashi and Zedda made sustainability their focus early on in their careers. In 2016, the Centre for Northern Innovation in Mining opened in Whitehorse. It was a huge project, and their design.
2005 Sheila Watt-Cloutier
Kuujjuaq, Nunavik’s Sheila Watt-Cloutier used her role as president and then international chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council to help bring about the banning of DDT, and has since been an advocate in the fight against climate change.
An officer of the Order of Canada and a 2007 nominee for the Nobel Peace prize, her first book, The Right to be Cold, was published in 2015.
2004 Yukon firefighters
More than a decade ago, after an especially arid summer, at least 275 fires burned two million hectares in the Yukon alone. They were held back by a brave crew of firefighters, many of whom continue to do this dirty job every summer.
2003 Jordin Tootoo
Tootoo is the only Inuk to play in the the NHL. He was picked in the 2001 draft and played his first game in 2003. Since then, he’s overcome alcoholism and penned a memoir—All The Way. He retired from the NHL in 2018.
2002 Gino Pin
Gino Pin helped design the domed NWT legislature, schools in Ndilo and Tulita, NWT, and Inuvik’s Western Arctic Research Centre. Today, Pin is involved in lobbying government for initiatives to combat homelessness.
2001 Zacharias Kunuk
We profiled Zacharias Kunuk just after Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, a film he’d directed, was released—to immediate international acclaim.
His latest film, Maliglutit, is a western, filmed in and around his home of Iglulik.
On his inspiration: “We've been talking over the years we want to do something like that since the ‘70s—that's what we watched when we went to our little community hall to watch 16mm films that were coming in—westerns, cowboys and indians and John Wayne.”
On the troubles of shooting in winter: “That month [March 2015] was extremely cold. It was one of the coldest winters we had. At first we did only the interiors since it was too cold outside for exterior shots. We waited around till the middle of the month then we went out to our two other shooting locations. These days, with digital technology, using SD cards instead of film, it’s now possible [to film in more extreme conditions.] We made sheepskin jackets for the cameras, sound equipment, boom equipment."
On prospective local actors: “People are interested, especially the younger generation. They know how to get into character—life's an act anyway.”˚
2000 Marie Wilson
Marie Wilson received this honour for her pioneering work in Northern media, as she stepped away from her role as CBC North’s regional director. She’s been busy since. Wilson travelled the country to hear residential school survivor stories as one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s three commissioners. “The work with the TRC, on one level, felt like the biggest piece of journalism I was ever involved in,” said Wilson, named to the Order of Canada this summer.
On reconciliation: “The thing I think everybody has to do as a minimum is to read the [TRC’s] 94 calls to action. What I always say to people is, as you read them, think about where you belong. I really firmly believe that, for all of us, our initials belong in several places. Because we live in many collectives—whether it’s our workplace, our profession, our extra-curricular activities, our athletic associations, our service associations, our kids’ or our grandchildren’s schools, our friendships, our dinner tables—I think we can all do something big or small in several places.
"It’s about making it normalized to be functioning and speaking and engaging with each other in different ways that, first of all, do reflect relationship as opposed to parallel tracks that never cross, and secondly, that exemplify respect—mutual respect.
"There’s been so much disrespect and disregard in the things that we’ve been taught or not taught and in the negative stereotypical ways that we have been allowed to speak to—and about—each other. That has to come to a halt and that belongs to all of us—to call each other on that.”
1999 Paul Okalik
Paul Okalik was called to the bar in 1999. Within a year, Nunavut’s first Inuk lawyer became Nunavut’s first premier. He was re-elected in 2004 and has been in and out of politics since. He was not re-elected in the 2017 general election.
1998 Ruth Gotthardt
Still a prominent Yukon archeologist, Ruth Gotthardt entered the field at a time when archeology was conducted—and peer-reviewed—by southerners. As the Yukon’s chief archeologist, she’s spent decades facilitating community-led research, and has made the Yukon into a world archeological leader.
1997 Jan Stirling
Jan Stirling devoted her life to community service. She worked at Yellowknife’s public health clinic for 25 years and retired in 1997. The city’s public health building is named after her. She died in 2017 at the age of 89.
1996 Elizabeth Mackenzie
Behchokǫ̀ , NWT educator Elizabeth Mackenzie believed Tłįchǫ youth should learn to navigate Northern and southern political systems. She died in 2009 at 91, after seeing the Tłįchǫ Agreement—the NWT’s first joint self-government and land claim agreement—signed at her school.
1995 Joanne Barnaby
As a teenager, Joanne Barnaby worked for the Dene Nation and edited a photo-history of the NWT Métis. She helped document Dene traditional knowledge, and has helped ensure its incorporation into the United Nations Biodiversity Convention.
1994 Rock stars
Gold was tanking and the North was going bust. But then diamonds were found. Who were these prospector heroes? Chuck Fipke, the high-tech geologist; Walt Humphries, the traditionalist; and Dave Smith, the rock-hound with a day-job. They all made out okay in their own ways, but Fipke’s Lac de Gras discovery made him a billionaire.
1993 Susan Aglukark
Susan Aglukark wanted to be a lawyer. After putting out nine albums, she instead became one of Canada’s most celebrated musicians. (She’s earned two honorary law degrees along the way.) She shared her own experiences with abuse as a child during the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women inquires in Nunavut and supports Indigenous youth through her Arctic Rose project.
1992 Rosemarie Kuptana
In 1992, Rosemarie Kuptana was at the height of her political career. Just 38, she’d been negotiating for Inuit with the federal government for 17 years, and as president of Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, Kuptana had just helped draft and submit the Charlottetown Accord for Brian Mulroney’s Conservative government.
1991 Kayy Gordon
Female evangelical missionary Kayy Gordon travelled the tundra by dogsled and bush plane. Today, she oversees 12 Glad Tidings Missions in the North. She continues to minister internationally.
1990 Blondin family
We profiled the Blondin family when Ethel Blondin-Andrew was first elected to Parliament, as Canada’s first female aboriginal MP.
While many of the members of the Blondin dynasty have since passed on, Ethel is still advocating for her people as chair of the Sahtu Secretariat.
1989 Duncan Grant
Legendary bush pilot Duncan Grant helped biologists find muskoxen groups they thought were dying out, and knew the locations of significant historical sites in the Arctic. Grant died in 2007 at 86.
1988 Ellen Bruce
Reverend Doctor Ellen Bruce grew up on the land before switching to settlement living and taking a spot at the head of the Anglican Church in Old Crow, Yukon. She died in 2010 at 98.
1987 Tagak Curley
Our first Northerner of the Year, Tagak Curley was a young NWT cabinet minister. He went on to serve in various cabinet positions in Nunavut after division, before retiring from politics in 2013 at age 69.