8 Ground-Breaking Arctic Innovations You Should Know About

Celebrating the North

Why It Matters

Inuit innovations have been improving lives around the world, from life-jackets to goggles, ice-fishing to snowshoes. Every year, the Arctic Inspiration Prize (AIP) recognizes the extraordinary work being done in the Arctic for culture, technology and the environment. Below, we speak to the eight winners of the 2020 AIP who are transforming Canada’s North.

For centuries, Inuit innovations have been improving lives around the world, from life-jackets to goggles, ice-fishing to snowshoes. Today, with a population of over 100,000, the Arctic population is young and growing, with 33 percent under the age of 15 — as compared to 17 percent for the rest of Canada. Reflecting this is Nunavut’s MP, Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, one of Canada’s youngest MPs.

The Arctic Inspiration Prize (AIP) focuses on the Arctic’s inspiring achievements, annually awarding up to $3 million to eight teams for their groundbreaking projects. After reaching the finalist stage twice, Northern Compass was awarded the top prize of $1 million this year. The project creates culturally relevant pathways, including coaching and mentorship, for youth from Nunavut and the Northwest Territories (NWT) to pursue careers of their choice, and inspire future generations to set and achieve ambitious goals.

Team co-lead Karen Aglukark explains that barriers arise after high school, during the university and college application process. “We wanted to find a way [to] take all of our knowledge, expertise [and] experience to give youth tailored support, and to take [our] model that inspires success in high school, and supplant that on to inspiring and supporting success in later careers and post-secondary,” she says. “We have a fairly high success rate — about 85 percent [graduate high school].” In 2016, 47.8 percent of people aged 25 to 64 in Nunavut had a high school diploma or equivalency certificate, compared with 86.3 percent in Canada. 

AIP also awarded Dehcho: River Journeys $370,000. It’s a multimedia project chronicling how the past 100 years transformed the Mackenzie River, from the Dehcho to the Delta. 

Director of Gwich’in Tribal Council, Sharon Snowshoe, said during her acceptance speech: “The Arctic Inspiration Prize will give [us] the opportunity to realize a dream we have held for many years.”

Students in the community will collaborate on two short films about the river, one using archival materials, and the other following a modern-day journey on the river with present-day Elders, who will explain the changes they’ve seen throughout their lives. 

In the same category of winners was the ᑲᒪᔩᑦ Kamajiit program, which won $450,000 for its work addressing high school drop-out rates and suicide rates in three communities in Nunavut by offering services like mental health support. “This prize has allowed us to go ahead and begin the critical next steps in two of our three communities,” says team leader Susan Aglukark. 

$140,000 was awarded to The Nunavut Law Program (NLP) to provide a Nunavut-based legal education to Nunavummiut. 

Director Stephen Mansell says the funds from AIP will enhance the opportunities NLP offers outside of the classroom. “We’re using that money for some hands-on experiential learning, supporting students to do independent research on anything that they might have gained interest in. We’re hoping to see some in-depth independent research on traditional law, and Nunavut-related legal issues.”

Mansell explains that there are about 75 resident lawyers in the territory of Nunavut — “but very few are actually from Nunavut, and fewer still are Inuit. These students are going to have a lasting impact on access to justice in our territory. They’re going to be the future of the legal bar in Nunavut.”

The final laureate was The Resilience Training and Healing Program (RTHP), which was awarded $410,000. As part of the Yukon First Nations Wildfire company, RTHP is based on traditional knowledge, and addresses trauma through traditional practices, land-based healing, mentorship and financial education. 

A top-tier wildfire fighting service, Yukon First Nations Wildfire was recently in Australia. Of its 80 staff, 70 are youth. “We have a lot of folks who are dealing with mental health issues because of things that they’ve seen on the line,” explains Chad Thomas, CEO of Yukon First Nations Wildfire. “If we don’t get help to them right away, then we find that they’re resorting to addiction issues.”

“We need to mix a concept of First Nation healing practices with traditional Western medicine,” Thomas says. “Everybody learns differently, so everybody will heal differently as well.” 

Photos: Justin Tang / Arctic Inspiration Prize

This year’s youth category includes The Baffin Youth Outdoor Education, which was awarded $100,000. The program facilitates connections between youth and knowledge holders through experiences like dog sledding. 

Trades of Tradition was also in the youth category, being awarded $100,000 to help community members develop traditional skills such as hunting, sewing, drum-making and drumming. In preserving traditional knowledge, this project builds connections between youth and elders to strengthen cultural identities, and address the root causes of issues like substance abuse and suicide.

Founder Nathan Maniapik explains, “I want youth and the next generation to know and be proud of our tradition, and be proud of our ancestors.”

The final winner in the youth category was the Yukon Youth Healthcare Summit, with $90,000 going towards getting more Indigenous youth to post-secondary school, with a focus on career paths in healthcare. The multi-day summit showcases healthcare professions in partnership with the Whitehorse General Hospital. 

“We’re also hoping to get [youth] a Standard First Aid Certification, to have a tangible experience that they can bring forward,” says team lead Anna Billowits.

Every one of these innovations, contributions, and solutions are improving the lives of those in the North, with a focus on creating opportunities for youth — from leadership to health.

Reflecting on the AIP awards ceremony, Mansell says, “We’re so honoured to be laureates. I grew up in Iqaluit, I finished my high school in Whitehorse and I practice law in Yellowknife. I consider myself a Northerner for sure, and meeting the other laureates from across the territory and seeing the amazing programs that are happening, particularly with youth, was pretty inspiring. We’re honoured to be part of that group.”