Nunavik musher Harry Okpik never thought he'd be the subject of a documentary, let alone an award-winning feature film, but that's exactly what happened last week when Okpik's Dream took home the Community award at the 25th First Peoples Festival in Montreal.
"My dogs have helped me so tremendously, they have made my life whole, I am very pleased today," Okpik told the CBC in Inuktitut.
Mushing was a childhood dream for Okpik. When he was 11 years old, he witnessed the Inuit dog slaughter – the mass killing of sled dogs in the early 1960s that was only recently acknowledged.
Twelve years later, after a period in residential schools, another tragedy struck when Okpik lost his leg in a hunting accident, an event he said changed his whole life.
"I can tell you that there was period shortly after my amputation that I gave up all hope," he said. "But now, looking back at the point in my life, it was a sad period, but I survived. I am happy and proud today."
Against all odds, Okpik went on to take part in the Ivakkak, the annual 600 km Inuit dog sled race across Northern Quebec.
"Harry's story is one of hope and it really touches on ancestral traits and values of Inuit," said filmmaker Laura Rietveld.
But Rietveld is reluctant to take all the praise for the film.
"No film in the North gets made without the help of many people in the North. We've been filming since 2012 and we finished filming last year, and so many people throughout the North helped us."
Okpik's Dream won first prize in the festival's "community" category, which recognizes the resiliency of aboriginal communities.
Okpik's Dream will air again on CBC television in Quebec on August 29 at 7 p.m.