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Northern Compass awarded $1-million Arctic Inspiration Prize

A photo published by Arctic Inspiration Prize organizers shows leaders of the Northern Compass project accepting their $1-million award
An image published by Arctic Inspiration Prize organizers shows leaders of the Northern Compass project accepting their $1-million award.

The $1-million Arctic Inspiration Prize has been awarded to a project that prepares NWT and Nunavut youth to transition from high school to post-secondary education and successful careers.

Northern Compass received the top prize on Wednesday night at a ceremony in Ottawa. This was the second year in a row in which the project had been nominated.

Missing out last year, Northern Compass this year was selected over Nunavut music mentorship and teaching program Imaa, Like This.

The Northern Compass team says the project addresses problems that stop northern youth succeeding in post-secondary education or starting a career.



Those issues include a “lack of information, absence of relevant tailored transition supports, no centralized system investing in youth success, and young people lacking the confidence and ability to navigate these foreign systems,” the group stated.

One leader of the project, Dehcho educator Lois Philipp, said Northern Compass would seek to place supports in every stage of a young person’s transition from school to career.

Coaches, accessible and culturally relevant resources, on-campus programs, and a network of “role models and volunteers” are expected to be funded in the two territories as part of the project. Young people aged 15 to 25 are the target audience.



“It’s time for northern youth to have equitable access, to feel confident, to feel supported in their choices, and to excel in any pathway they choose,” said Rebecca Bisson, executive director of Northern Youth Abroad and a member of the project.

Northern Compass also involves University of Ottawa student Karen Aglukark and Elijah Smith Elementary School’s Jim Snider.

Members of the group dedicated their award to “all the northern youth in the territories” who are “full of potential and possibility.”

‘Dream’ Dehcho river project

Other NWT projects had success in smaller prize categories at Wednesday’s ceremony, among them Dehcho: River Journeys, which received $370,000.

The project aims to tell the history of the Dehcho since 1921, when a treaty party from Ottawa made its way down the Dehcho (Mackenzie River). Sharon Snowshoe, director of the department of cultural heritage at the Gwich’in Tribal Council, said the project had been a dream for many years as she accepted the award with Martina Norwegian.

Youth in communities along the river, from the Dehcho to the Delta, will create two short films – one from archival material and the other about a modern-day journey along the river. Elders will share knowledge of the river as they’ve known it throughout their lives.

With the funding received on Wednesday, Norwegian said the group will “travel to schools along the Dehcho so that the youth in our communities can hear the stories told by their great-great grandparents, and create short stories and films that tell the story of the treaty from our perspective.”

She said: “We also want to tell the story of the river today, how it is changing year by year through the ravages of climate change.”



The multimedia project will eventually contribute to an exhibition at the Fort Simpson Heritage Centre that tells the story of the Dene since Treaty 11 was signed.

River Journeys was among four prize winners in its category.

Others included a Yukon project addressing mental health challenges among youth and wildland firefighters; the Nunavut Law Program; and Kamajiit, a Nunavut project led by artist Susan Aglukark that addresses causes of suicide and high-school drop-outs in Inuit communities.

A still from APTN’s live broadcast shows Lawrence Nayally opening the Arctic Inspiration Awards.

A youth project with NWT links, Trades of Tradition, was awarded $100,000 at the ceremony. The project provides opportunities to practise cultural activities largely eroded by “colonialism, inter-generational trauma, and residential schools.”

CBC broadcaster and musician Lawrence Nayally opened the night musically, followed by artists from all three territories. The NWT’s Leela Gilday, a member of the Arctic Inspiration Prize selection committee, directed the musical portion of the evening.

More than $2.6 million was awarded at this year’s ceremony. The Arctic Inspiration Prize is designed to fund and celebrate the achievements of northerners.

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed said the prize was one way in which the often “large and unwieldy family” of northerners was united.

Obed addressed tweets published by filmmaker and advocate Alethea Arnaquq Baril, who earlier on Wednesday alleged Inuit actor Johnny Issaluk had sexually assaulted multiple women.

“I stand with Alethea, I believe her, and I support her,” said Obed. Issaluk, who has yet to publicly respond to the allegations, was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2019 and is a 2020 Indspire winner.