'Very true, natural leader': Edward Lennie, known as father of Northern Games, remembered

Edward Lennie died on Nov. 6 at the age of 86. Friends say he was an inspiration to those around him - and one of the best square dancers they'd ever seen.

Lennie, a beloved community member, died on Nov. 6 at the age of 86

A photo of Edward Lennie from July 1971 sitting down in Chief Jim Koe Park in Inuvik, N.W.T. (Inuvialuit Digital Library)

A well-known and respected leader and elder is being remembered and mourned by the community.

Edward Lennie died on Nov. 6. He was 86.

Lennie had spent much of his life in Inuvik and will be remembered as the "father" of the Northern Games, a revitalization project of the Inuvialuit games, and an inspiration to many in the community.

Nellie Cournoyea, premier of N.W.T. in the 1990s, knew Lennie for years — the two grew up together in Aklavik,  N.W.T., she says.

"He was ... a very true, natural leader and a traditional man," she said. 

Back in the 1960s, Lennie had hosted early versions of the Northern Games at his house, Cournoyea says. 

"Within the traditional games, that was very appropriate at that time because very few communities had gyms or any community hall," she said.

The games were meant to be hosted in Inuvik this past summer for its 50th anniversary, but were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lennie also had a following back in the day, Cournoyea says.

"A lot of the young men who are older men right now can tell you that he was a very much an inspirational person without really knowing it."

A photo of Edward Lennie in 1971 receiving an award at the World Eskimo-Indian Olympic Games in Fairbanks, Alaska. (Inuvialuit Digital Library)

She says Lennie wanted to extend the games to be Arctic-wide.

"We were able to put a lot of people together during those games," Cournoyea said as the games progressed over the years.

Gerry Kisoun was one of the boys, now grown men, taught by Lennie. He says Lennie was a mentor to him and his peers.

"He taught us a lot about our traditional way of life," Kisoun said, including about the Northern Games.

"A whole bunch of us teenagers, we just hung out at Edward's and Jeanie's."

Lennie and Kisoun's father were also close, he says. In the springtime they would go out hunting for muskrats, ducks and geese and other animals in the Delta region.

Kisoun says Lennie's smile and laughter were "infectious."

"I mean, you run into Edward ... it was going to be a good time. And he's always going to make everybody stay positive," Kisoun said. "We've got a lot of memories."

Lennie was a great dancer, too, Kisoun says.

"Edward was one of the best square dance callers I think you could ever find anywhere in my lifetime, anyway," he said. "When Edward showed up to any of our … dances and so on, by golly, the place used to liven right up."

Lennie was a former member of the Inuvialuit Enrolment Committee – a group responsible for reviewing the applications for acceptance into the Inuvialuit Trust.

He was also a recipient of a National Aboriginal Achievement Award in 2003, now know as the the Indspire Awards, in recognition of his volunteer work in championing the legacy of the Northern Games, the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC) noted in a public condolence statement.

Lennie and his wife Jeannie had also been home to many foster children.

Duane Smith, chair of the IRC, expressed sadness on behalf of the corporation.

"The loss of Edward cuts deep into our community and our thoughts are now with the family. We all prayed for him and hoped he would make another recovery," Smith said in the statement.

"Edward is a respected elder and leader within our community; we will mourn him and the many others we continue to lose during these difficult times."

Written by Amy Tucker with files from Wanda McLeod


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