Juno Award winner Susan Aglukark, left, founder of the Arctic Rose Foundation, at a workshop in Ariat, Nunavut, that trains two Indigenous youth to serve as Community Artist Liason and Mentor (CALM) workers. Photo courtesy Arctic Rose Foundation

Arctic charity resilient in challenging times

By  Bernadette Timson, Youth Speak Newa
  • December 22, 2020

Like most charities across Canada, the Arctic Rose Foundation finds itself operating in a landscape that is, and will remain, uncertain for some time.

Founded by three-time Juno-winning Canadian-Inuk singer/songwriter Susan Aglukark, Arctic Rose strives to support Indigenous communities — particularly children and youth — in northern Canada, especially its most remote and isolated regions. In this challenging time of COVID-19, which hasn’t spared any corner of this vast land, executing the foundation’s annual Christmas Food Program is a chief priority. So far, food stock is solid for the Christmas holidays, said Aglukark, but Arctic Rose has deferred the operation until mid-January, when data suggests another food crisis is slated to hit those Nunavut communities.

The 2019 food bank campaign delivered approximately 200 food hampers throughout Arctic Bay, Nunavut, alone and has helped a variety of towns and communities across the territories, including Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet and Cambridge Bay. All the money accrued by donations is used to purchase food from its partner Arctic Co-operatives Limited, which is then doled out to local food banks to distribute.

Named after Aglukark’s 1992 debut album Arctic Rose, the foundation also supports youth through after-school arts programs, leadership opportunities and mental health support. Maintaining this face-to-face support is tricky during a pandemic, said Aglukark, who has delivered presentations at Catholic schools across Canada.

“As a charity, the human contact is a critical element to the work that we are doing and that we haven’t been able to do since March of this year. In communities that are isolated, it’s been a challenge to be as effective in the work that we’re doing,” said the singer who was raised in Arviat, Nunavut.

Coronavirus restrictions are very strict in northern communities due to a multitude of ongoing crises, in particular a housing crisis. According to the Statistics Canada, in 2016 “51.7 per cent of the Inuit population, living in Inuit Nunangat, are in crowded housing.” Aglukark references this culture of crisis, while describing the origins of the foundation, which achieved charitable status in 2016.

“I quickly learned that, and we’ve known this for a very long time in the Indigenous community, that everything is in crisis; food crisis, housing crisis, mental health crisis, suicide crisis, everything’s in crisis,” she said. “I had a very hard time picking one area to target, so I made a couple of decisions. I decided to create my own charity, because I could create a place where we could address all of the issues somehow.”

While young people remain the highest demographic to be afflicted with mental health troubles resulting in suicide, Indigenous youth are at even higher risk.

Aglukark, an Order of Canada honoree in 2005, has been personally impacted by suicide. The song “Kathy” from her 1995 album The Child is a reflection about her cousin Kathy’s suicide. “Arctic Rose” is about suicide too.

“I was 17 when I first experienced loss to suicide and so the ‘Arctic Rose’ song on the Arctic Rose album is all about that experience....

“What I understood and knew in the early parts of the Arctic Rose Project was that I had to use a story, a living story, as an example of how a person’s healing journey could be a stepping stone towards addressing all of these issues and all these areas of crisis that we are in. So, it became my story, how I’ve come to belong to the life I’ve stumbled into, the life of an artist and how this has become my healer and sharing that story.”

More information about the foundation is at arcticrose.org.

(Timson, 22, is a sophomore student at John Paul the Great Catholic University in Escondido, Calif.)

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