Susan Aglukark – it’s not too late to get this Indigenous-Canada relationship right – SBC
Credit: Speakers Bureau of Canada www.speakerscanada.com
During a career that has spanned more than 25 years, Susan Aglukark’s journey as a singer-songwriter has led her to reflect on who she is, where she comes from and the importance of discovery – discovery of history, culture and self.
Susan is the first Inuk artist to win a Juno (3) and a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for lifetime artistic achievement, she is an officer of the Order of Canada, holds several Honorary Doctorate degrees and has held command performances; but Susan also acknowledges the path has not been easy.
“Here I was, living a life I never imagined, but I was struggling to understand who I was. There was no opportunity growing up to learn about who we were, the Inuit, from our own perspective. In essence, we were institutionalized by being told who we were, how we would live and when you are told a story for so long, you learn to believe it,” explains Susan.
During the past 25 years of reflection and songwriting, Susan kept coming back to one area of profound knowing, the Inuit are an extraordinary people deeply grounded in a culture forged by their Ancestors, their journey is what shaped them.
“Their life experience is the foundation on which our precepts of determination, adaptability and love for life are built, they began the journey to our present-day Nunavut.” (Susan’s Walrus Talks comments)
“The conversations around reconciliation have provided an opportunity to begin to re-write our narrative. The Indigenous people in Canada come from highly organized societies built on knowledge, process and organization – without which none of us would have survived.”
For Susan, art has played a significant role in her healing journey and in the re-writing of her narrative, she believes it plays an important role for indigenous youth who are dealing with contemporary identity issues today. “Our children and youth are strong and resilient, they still believe very strongly in their culture, in Inuit or Indigenous culture, and they are still fighting every day to find their place.”
“They need to be anchored to an identity and so much of those connections are in our ancestors and their stories and we have a duty and a responsibility to engage our children and youth in the process of connecting with and helping them write those stories.”
Susan has always been very open about how her own fears and personal trauma that left her disillusioned and disconnected. Born in Arviat, Nunavut, her parents formative years were in traditional Inuit culture, her formative years were not traditional and were somewhat disconnected from her culture.
Despite the success she experienced in the 1990s, by 1998 she was suffering from post-partum depression and found herself in a dark place in need of time to reflect and heal, what followed was the several years of reflection, healing and making deeper commitments to her singing/songwriting career. And so, began what Susan calls her “awakening”. As she learned more about her culture and the strength and resilience of the Inuit who have been on this land for over 5,000 years, Susan was also engaging her own “inner artist” and falling in love with performing, sharing stories and singing.
“We have an extraordinary culture and an extraordinary past, we must embrace the opportunity to learn about our very own heroes, write those culture bridges and reframe who we are in today’s world.”
Through her music, Susan continues to share her experiences as an Inuk growing up in Nunavut, as well as the challenges faced by northern communities and Indigenous youth.
Susan is actively involved in various projects to bring food and support to northern communities and in 2016 the Arctic Rose Foundation gained charitable status with a focus on helping youth in the north through art and other engaging creative projects.