Grey Gritt's and Tiffany Ayalik's hands shook, waiting for the name to be called. Then the envelope was opened, "Quantum Tangle" was read aloud and they were awarded the top Indigenous music album at the 2017 Juno awards gala.
"We just jumped up, screamed, hugged each other and cried," Gritt said. "There's nothing else like it."
The two earned the award for their album Tiny Hands, a work combining Ayalik's traditional Inuit throat singing with soulful blues from Gritt.
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"We're a bundle of raw feelings, we're able to cry at any given second. We're so happy," Ayalik said. "We're re-watching the video clips, checking our vibrating phones that are going nuts and it's pretty shocking.
Ayalik, who is Inuk, was born in Yellowknife, while Gritt, who is Oji-Métis, has lived and performed in the city for a number of years. Their shows, which feature storytelling and an examination of identity, are a hallmark of the local arts scene.
"We didn't set out to win anything," Ayalik said. "We didn't set out to impress anybody other than ourselves. We both have strong tastes and a clear aesthetic, the things we like and dislike and we're passionate about what we speak about. That was the foundation."
With a tour scheduled for Europe, the band doesn't plan on slowing down. Ayalik says she's hoping to use this Juno to inspire the next generation of Northern artists.
"Especially if you come from a small, remote community, it's easy to buy into the notion that just because you're isolated you have less of a right to participate in the arts," Ayalik said. "That's not true."
"I hope people from small communities can understand we're small-town kids and we're the product of a good support system, great teachers and a lot of hard work," she said.
Silla + Rise, featuring Nunavut's Cynthia Pitsiulak and Charlotte Qamaniq, were also nominated for Indigenous Album of the Year for Debut.