'By and for the North.' $1.5M Arctic Inspiration Prize awarded to 3 projects

A safe house for Inuit children and families, a new computer science curriculum for Nunavut schools and a sea ice social enterprise share the 2016 Arctic Inspiration Prize.
Olympian Clara Hughes and Andrea Brazeau from Nunavik co-hosted the awards ceremony that included remarks by His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston and Governor General of Canada. (Arctic Inspiration Prize)

A safe house for Nunavik families, a computer science curriculum in Nunavut and a Nunatsiavut sea ice social enterprise will share the 2016 Arctic Inspiration Prize, which was awarded Thursday night at a ceremony in Winnipeg's Centennial Concert Hall.

The three winners were chosen from among eight finalists and will split the $1.5-million award.

The 2016 Arctic Inspiration Award laureates at Winnipeg's Centennial Concert Hall. (Arctic Inspiration Awards)

"This is by and for the North," says Kyla Kakfwi-Scott, chair of this year's selection committee. The prize supports multidisciplinary northern teams working toward a better Canadian Arctic.

Kakfwi-Scott says the proposals excelled for "the diversity of the team, the people who are going to be involved in the execution of the project and how are they collaborating in unusual ways to achieve something that has otherwise not been possible."  

"This is by and for the North."  - Kyla   Kakfwi-Scott

This year's prize totaled $1.5 million, the largest sum of $700,000 going to Qarmaapik House in Kangiqsualujjuaq, Quebec. Qarmaapik provides social and cultural resources to help families rediscover and build their own care providing capacity, as well as a "safe house" to allow children taken out of the home to remain in the community.

Qarmaapik House accepts their award. (Arctic Inspiration Prize)

The teams behind the projects te(a)ch and SmartICE, the night's other winners, were awarded $400,000 each.

The Nunavut-based te(a)ch has developed an online curriculum in programming, game design, engineering and computer science — subjects not currently taught in Nunavut schools — from beginner to advanced levels.

SmartICE, from Nunatsiavut, is working on a system that monitors and disseminates near real-time information on sea ice levels. The system integrates in-situ sensors and satellite imaging with traditional and land-based Inuit knowledge.

"We're going to be able to expand out of pilot communities into communities across the arctic," says SmartICE team lead professor Trevor Bell when asked how the prize will impact their work. The team hopes to expand even internationally to Alaska, Greenland or Russia, "wherever the service is needed."

The SmartICE team accepts their award at the Arctic Inspiration Prize. (Arctic Inspiration Prize)

Not only will the reach of the project expand with this new funding, but also the delivery methods. "Everything from an app on a smartphone for those communities that have cell phone access, to putting it on flat screen TVs in locations around the community, to just printing off the map and having people sit around with a cup of coffee and talking about what they see," says Bell.  "The community is centre to it. It's a service by them for them. [They tell] us how it operates in the community and how that information is shared."

Since the award's launch in 2012, eleven teams have received prizes totalling $4.5 million for projects designed to address the causes, not the symptoms, of challenges facing northern communities. The projects address issues in the areas of education, human health, socio-cultural issues, the environment and the economy.

Kakfwi-Scott says that as the prize has established itself, the selection committee has seen many exceptional ideas proposed. The opportunity provides "almost the freedom to come up with crazy ideas," she says. "Something that maybe was a smaller idea that an organization was going to do, they're able to think 'what would the million dollar version of this be?'"