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artist, activist, spirit of the North Susan Aglukark

by Frances Rooney | October 20, 2006

Susan Aglukark’s life, singing and songwriting embody this motto. Her music, which she writes in her first language, Inuktitut, and English, speaks of her strong beliefs that all people need to:

know that we’re all part of one human family,
stay connected to the earth that gives us life,
stand up for what we believe in and
celebrate the cultures that nurture us.

Her songs also tell of her love for the wild and the North and of the difficulties of life in general and the lives of Aboriginal people in particular. And although she sings of some very harsh realities – breakdowns, suicide, poverty, sexual abuse – her ultimate message is one of hope and optimism.

Susan, whose Inuit name is Uuliniq, was born in Churchill, Manitoba on January 27, 1967. She grew up with her parents and six siblings in Arviat (near Rankin Inlet), Nunavut. Her father was the local Pentacostal minister, and it was in his church that she first sang in public when she was nine.

After high school, Susan went to Ottawa as a linguist with the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. She then returned to the North West Territories to work as executive assistant for the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada. Back in the North, she continued to sing and play the guitar. Her first national exposure came in 1990, when she was in a CBC video featuring new Northern musicians.

In 1992, Susan produced her first CD, Arctic Rose. Almost immediately, she was offered a contract with EMI, and the next year, they released Christmas, her second CD.

This Child, released in 1995, went triple platinum in Canada. Susan’s song “O Siem,” became #1 on the charts and the CD, the song, and the music video, also called “Siem,” earned several nominations and awards.

Soon after the release of This Child, Susan found herself thinking about the man who had gone into her home and sexually abused her when her parents had been away. “I think about all the young girls who aren’t victims but will be and I think about all those young girls who are victims and will continue to be all their lives, and I think, ‘Why should I keep my mouth shut?’”

She decided not to keep her mouth shut and began to use her fame to help Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal audiences focus their attention on the social and spiritual needs of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples:

  • She came out as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and for ten years has been encouraging other survivors to tell their stories and to work to heal themselves.
  • She speaks about alcohol (her grandmother froze to death because of alcoholism) and drugs and how they ruin lives.
  • She urges Aboriginal kids to finish school.
  • She is passionate about suicide among Aboriginal peoples in Canada (five of her cousins committed suicide, her sister tried it, and Susan herself considered it at one time).
  • She speaks and sings of the damage done to Inuit society and the need to rebuild that society.
  • She calls for strong communities where people may live together with dignity, cherishing their heritage.
  • She gives self-esteem workshops for Inuit youth.

Because of her music and her social justice work for her people, Susan has been called the Spirit of the North, and in 2005 she was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Susan Aglukark identifies herself first as a singer, songwriter and entertainer. She is also a tireless advocate for Inuit and other Aboriginal people. Firmly based in her Inuit culture and traditions, she looks straight into the face of the demons that haunt her society. From that base she speaks, sings and participates tirelessly in local, provincial, national and international gatherings, conferences and summits in her work to improve the lives of Aboriginal peoples and their ability to move into the future as individuals, distinct societies and part of the larger world. This year, the theme for Women’s History Month is “Aboriginal Women: The Journey Forward.” Susan Aglukark is a wholehearted mentor and participant in that journey.

discography
  • Blood Red Earth | 2006
  • Big Feeling | 2004
  • This Child | 1995
  • Unsung Heroes | 2000
  • Christmas | 1993
  • Arctic Rose | 1992
other honours and awards
  • Order of Canada | 2005
  • Best Recording of Aboriginal Canada | 2004
  • Dream Catcher Tour | 2001
  • Command Performances for: HRH Queen Elizabeth (twice), Canadian Prime Ministers Jean Chretien and Brian Mulroney and French President Jacques Chirac
  • CBC Television, Life and Times | 1998
  • Triple Platinum Certification for This Child | 1997
  • Four Juno nominations | 1996
  • Three CCMA nominations | 1995
  • Two CCMA award nominations | 1994
  • First-ever Aboriginal Achievement Award for Arts and Culture | 1994
  • Maclean’s Magazine 100 Leaders to Watch | 1993
  • Northerner of the Year, Up Here magazine | 1993

This feature was first published on section15.ca’s predecessor site CoolWomen.

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