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#UofTGrad17: Three things you should know about honorary grad Susan Aglukark

Juno award-winning singer and songwriter Susan Aglukark is helping youth in northern communities through her charity, Arctic Rose

“Feel the fear, and do it anyway”

Juno award-winning Inuk singer and songwriter Susan Aglukark is one of Canada's most celebrated musicians, bridging the world of traditional Inuit culture and the entertainment industry.

Recently, she has shifted her focus to educational and social justice issues.

The University of Toronto is recognizing 16 remarkable people with honorary degrees in 2017. Today, Aglukark receives a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, for “her excellence in the arts as a Canadian musician, and for her outstanding service” in support of Indigenous issues.

Below, are three things you should know about Aglukark and her thoughts on belonging, identity and chasing your dreams.

Susan Aglukark received her honorary degree today from U of T (photo by Steve Frost)

Journey to stardom

Susan Christina Ooliniq Aglukark is from Arviat, Nunavut. She didn't have any formal training, but when she released her 1993 debut album, Arctic Rose, the music industry fell in love with her voice and the Inuit stories and culture she shared through her songs.

Aglukark has won three Juno awards, the Governor General’s Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award in 2016, and was appointed Officer of the Order of Canada in 2005. She received the Order of Canada and has played for Nelson Mandela, Queen Elizabeth II and Billy Graham. 

She is now working on her eighth studio album, set for release in early winter 2017.

A generous spirit

Through her music, Aglukark has shared her experience growing up in Nunavut as well as the challenges faced by northern communities. 

She has been actively involved in various projects to mentor Indigenous youth, and provide support and food for northern communities. In December 2014, Aglukark raised money to purchase hundreds of kilos of non-perishable foods for food banks in Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet. It was the first initiative of the organization she started, Arctic Rose Project, named after her debut album.

In a CBC News story, Aglukark said that many Indigenous communities live in food crisis all the time.

“It's really just a morale-boosting campaign because that's the toughest time of the year for these communities that are already struggling,” she said.

In 2016, Arctic Rose gained charitable status. The organization focuses on helping youth in the north through art therapy and other engaging, creative projects.

Identity and belonging

Aglukark says that being Indigenous in Canada can feel like being caught between two worlds – an Indigenous one and a western one.

She says she comes from a generation whose parents still very much hold the traditional, emotional and cultural DNA of being Inuit, but that her generation has very much been influenced by an onslaught of western culture which has been fast and furious.

She told students who were graduating today that earlier in her life, she avoided the spotlight, comfortable in the shadows.

“As I thought on it, I realized I was afraid to own my own life,” she said.

She said that for Indigenous people pursuing a dream can be much more complicated – due to institutionalization. They have to simultaneously heal or recover.

“We don’t have to give up one to belong to the other,” she told the graduates.

Her advice to new grads?

“Feel the fear, and do it anyway,” she said.