Two prominent advocates for Canada's northern communities have been appointed to the Order of Canada for making a difference in the political, cultural and social lives of northerners.

Among the 57 Canadians named to the country's highest civilian honour by Gov. Gen. Michäelle Jean on Wednesday are:

  • Judy Gingell of Whitehorse, for her years of service in various Yukon aboriginal organizations, including a precursor to the Council of Yukon First Nations. She was also the Yukon's first aboriginal commissioner — the territorial equivalent of a lieutenant-governor — serving from 1995 to 2000.
  • Murray Angus of Ottawa, who founded the Nunavut Sivuniksavut college program for Inuit youth.

Both Gingell and Angus were named members, which is the starting level within the order. They will be formally invested into the order at a ceremony to be held at a later date.

Empowering Inuit students

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Murray Angus has been in charge of the Nunavut Sivuniksavut college program since he was its founding instructor in 1985. (CBC)

Angus was recognized for his efforts to build "awareness and respect for Canada's native people and their traditions, and for the role he has played in empowering Inuit youth as founder of Nunavut Sivuniksavut."

Nunavut Sivuniksavut brings high school graduates from Nunavut to Ottawa for an eight-month program that prepares them for post-secondary studies and career opportunities while also teaching them Nunavut's history, politics and culture.

"He is such a passionate, wonderful man who has touched so many lives, teaching Inuit students in Ottawa about our history, and our government and our people," Nunavut Sivuniksavut alumna Neevee Wilkins told CBC News.

"I'm so honoured to know such a wonderful man like that."

Wilkins, who graduated from the program 11 years ago, now teaches Grade 1 students at Joamie School in Iqaluit. She also worked at Nunavut Sivuniksavut as an instructor last year.

About 22 new students are chosen for the program each year. More than 300 students have graduated from it since it began in 1985.

Angus and several others launched the program when the Tungavik Federation of Nunavut, which was negotiating an Inuit land claim with the federal government, wanted to train young people to keep people informed about the state of talks.

"Most of the action was happening in Ottawa and they, the leaders at the time, could see that there was going to be a need for giving young people a way to get involved with this whole stuff," Angus said in an interview Thursday.

"They offered the opportunity to work with a few young people first. And then, it wasn't disastrous, so they let us keep going."

Angus, who is the program's co-ordinator, said his appointment to the Order of Canada feels like an affirmation of Nunavut Sivuniksavut and everyone who has contributed to it over the years.

Land-claim negotiations

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Judy Gingell served as chair of the Council for Yukon Indians from 1989 to 1995, and as the Yukon's commissioner from 1995 to 2000. ((CBC))

Along with serving as the Yukon's first aboriginal commissioner, Gingell is also recognized for more than four decades of work to promote and advance First Nations' rights and self-governance in the territory.

Gingell told CBC News that being appointed to the Order of Canada is great recognition of that work, which included her tenure as chair of the Council for Yukon Indians, which acted as the negotiating body of the Yukon Native Brotherhood.

Gingell led the council, which consisted of 14 First Nations, during historic land-claim and self-government negotiations with the federal and territorial governments through the 1990s.

"The biggest challenge there at that time was to have all 14 on side, and that really didn't happen," Gingell said in an interview.

"So, you know, that was a really tough go through the whole negotiations of the Yukon land-claim agreements."

In the end, 11 of those 14 First Nations have ratified agreements. Gingell said those First Nations have come a long way since then.

"It's also very trying to be able to switch from an Indian Act band into self-governing, but I have to say that many of them throughout the Yukon have done very well for the implementation of their self-government and land-claims agreements," she said.

Three First Nations remain in their own land-claim talks: the White River First Nation, the Liard First Nation and the Ross River Dena Council.

Gingell also headed up the Northern Native Broadcasting Corp. and the Yukon Indian Development Corp.

Today, Gingell said she has no plans to slow down, as she keeps busy working on contracts and serving on various boards, committees and non-profit groups.