A Nunavut preschool is the winner of this year’s $1 million Arctic Inspiration Prize.
The winners of five awards worth a collective $2.6 million were announced at a ceremony Tuesday night at the Yukon Arts Centre in Whitehorse.
Pirurvik: A Place to Grow is an early childhood education centre in Pond Inlet, Nunavut. The program, which began in 2016, is based on the Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit principle pilimmaksarniq, which allows children to learn at their own pace, according to the prize’s website.
“The Pirurvik preschool was born from a dream,” said an emotional Tessa Lochhead, a co-director at the centre, with her baby strapped to her back. “We had this dream for our children, and now we have realized that dream.”
According to their website, Pirurvik’s program aims to “change the lives of children” in Nunavut by offering education rooted in traditional child-rearing practices and is responsive to the needs of each community.
“Children learn at their own pace, they’re guided by their natural curiosity,” Lochhead told CBC in November.
“[Children] see seal skins on stretchers that they’re able to learn how to stretch and weave,” Karen Nutarak, who works alongside Lochhead at Pirurvik, previously told CBC. “They see Inuktitut syllabics.”
The project’s goal is to expand programming for toddlers and infants in seven Nunavut communities and, eventually, across the territory.
The Arctic Inspiration Prize rewards northern projects committed to addressing the “causes rather than the symptoms” of issues facing the North. This year’s awards mark the first time the awards ceremony has been held in the North.
The prize is the brainchild of Arnold Witzig and his wife Simi Sharifi, who donated millions to fund the awards.
Cambridge Bay youth win $100,000
Pirurvik was not the only winner at Tuesday night’s ceremony.
A youth prize of $100,000 was awarded to From Scrap to Art, a program in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, that teaches workshop skills by getting youth to convert scrap metal into art.
“Sculpture represents our resilience, our time, and our future,” said Andrew Kitigon, who is involved in the program, as he received the award.
“For youth like us, there’s not a lot of places or things we can do in a small community… our imagination runs a million miles a minute, but in the end, what do we do with all the ideas?”
“It changed our lives,” said Kaitak Allukpik, another student. “We thank God every day we’ve been given the gift to become leaders and share knowledge with other youth and young people like us.”
Federal government matches $500k prize in surprise announcement
Three projects won in the AIP category, which allows for a prize of up to $500,000.
Yukon’s Tr’ondek Hwech’in Teaching and Working Farm received $500,000 for its program that offers farm training and locally-grown food to community members.
In an emotional surprise announcement made as they collected their award, Yukon MP Larry Bagnell said the federal government would be matching the prize.
“We couldn’t have done this if the Inspiration Prize money hadn’t been there,” said Bagnell, adding that the program could be imitated “across the North.”
The $1 million will go toward the construction of a cold-climate greenhouse on Tr’ondek Hwech’in traditional territory.
Two other projects won prizes in the AIP category. Nunavik’s Nunami Sukijainiq won $466,000 for a land-based ecology program.
The program will offer camps pairing elders with youth from Inuit communities in northern Quebec, covering topics like permafrost, lake ecology, and contaminants.
The final $500,000 prize was awarded to a project called Traditional Techniques Tweaked to Galvanize Indigenous Northern Artisans, led by Sue McNeil.
Based in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region and Gwich’in Settlement Area, the project would create an association for local artists and crafters to assist them in developing their business.