$1.5M Arctic Inspiration Prize split among 3 finalists

A project to train recreation leaders, help for hearing impaired children in Nunavut and a program to support Arctic performing artists will share the 2015 Arctic Inspiration Prize, which was bumped up this year to $1.5 million.

Surprise increase in prize money will be split 3 ways among sports, arts and hearing projects

Iqaluit performer Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory accepts a $600,000 cheque as its share of the Arctic Inspiration Prize from Governor General David Johnston at a ceremony Jan. 27 in Ottawa. Williamson Bathory is flanked by Nunavut artists, including director Zach Kunuk and singer Aaju Peter. (Arctic Inspiration Prize)

A project to train recreation leaders, help for hearing impaired children in Nunavut and a program to support Arctic performing artists will share the 2015 Arctic Inspiration Prize, which was bumped up this year to $1.5 million.

The prizes were announced at a ceremony in Ottawa Wednesday night.

The annual prize is usually set at $1 million, but it was announced at the ceremony that the amount was increased due to increased support from partners.

Vinnie Karetak with the group Qaggiq inspects the cheque. He's flanked by organizer Ellen Hamilton, on far left, and performers Kathleen Merritt and Kakee Peter. ( Fred Cattroll)

'Training that's not trades-related'

Qaggiq: Nurturing the Arctic Performing Arts received $600,000, money it will use to connect circumpolar artists by creating mentorships, collaborations and teaching opportunities

"For us to get this funding means we will be able to do something that will help our younger folks," says Vinne Karetak, who's with the group. 

"[To help] our artists to be able to pass on their knowledge or be able to teach how they do their artwork, be it drum dancing, throat singing or printmaking.

"It's so great to see that there's a push for better or different kinds of training that's not trades-related." 

'A huge difference' for hearing-impaired kids

Pam Millett, a York University professor and team member with Better Hearing Education for Northern Youth, is equally thrilled. She received $300,000 to outfit teachers on Baffin Island with microphones and classrooms with speakers "so students can hear no matter where the teacher is." 

"This money will make a huge difference to the the project."

Better Hearing in Education for Northern Youth, which would see amplification systems installed in every school in each of the 13 communities in Nunavut's Qikiqtani region to help children with hearing problems, won $300,000 of the money. (Fred Cattroll)
According to Millett, at least forty per cent of children in Nunavut suffer from hearing impairment because of complications from ear infections rarely seen in the south.

"Ear infections are just more common because the air is so dry, but also because access to treatment, healthcare and geography make it hard to have consistent treatment that would prevent those complications," she said. 

Millet expects to have the first amplification system installed in September. 

She says it will take two to three years to outfit all the schools in the Qikiqtani region.

Building 'confidence, skills and friendships'

The third winning group is also focussed on improving the lives of Northern youth. 

The Tri-Territorial Recreation Training project received $600,000 to train future leaders across the North in recreation programing. 

"In Northern communities there are always people who are willing to support positive recreational programming, but a lot of times they are ill-equipped," says Olympic cyclist Zach Bell. 

Bell grew up in Watson Lake, Yukon, and knows first-hand how important recreational activities are to young people in the North. 

"Positive programming doesn't just give youth a new thing to focus on that may take them away from the more negative distractions.

"Getting kids outside their comfort zone, allowing them to try new activities; that builds confidence, skills and friendship."

Bell says the program will roll-out in "fairly short order."

Since 2012, the Arctic Inspiration Prize has awarded $3 million to eight different teams. Last year the entire prize went to FOXY, or Fostering Open eXpression among Youth, which is a sexual health and leadership education program for young women in the Northwest Territories.