Inuit leader, filmmaker to receive Northern Medal

Canadian Inuit leader Mary Simon and acclaimed filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk are being honoured with the Governor General's Northern Medal.

Canadian Inuit leader Mary Simon and acclaimed filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk are being honoured with the Governor General's Northern Medal.

Simon and Kunuk are the latest recipients of the medal, which recognizes those who have made significant contributions to Canada's North.

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Mary Simon announces a new Inuit education strategy in Ottawa in June 16. Simon has championed Inuit rights and a number of related causes. ((CBC))

Both will receive their medals from Gov. Gen. David Johnston at a later date, Rideau Hall announced on Thursday.

Simon is currently president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Canada's national Inuit organization. It represents Inuit in Nunavut, northern Quebec, Labrador and the Northwest Territories.

She has lobbied national and international leaders on issues ranging from improving Inuit education  to protecting the Arctic environment.

Simon was Canada's ambassador of circumpolar affairs from 1994 to 2003, and concurrently as Canadian ambassador to Denmark from 1999 to 2001, making her the first Inuk to hold an ambassadorial position.

"A true visionary and passionate advocate for Inuit culture, Ms. Simon is a continuous source of inspiration and is committed to the preservation of Canada's northern identity," a statement from Rideau Hall said in part.

Co-founded Isuma Productions

As co-founder of Igloolik Isuma Productions in Nunavut, Kunuk made films such as Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner), which won the prestigious Camera d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2001.

Zacharias Kunuk, left, and co-producer Norman Cohn on the set of The Journals of Knud Rasmussen in this 2006 promotional handout photo. ((Handout photo/Canadian Press))

The Inuktitut-language film, which was set in Igloolik and featured an all-Inuit cast, also won five Genie awards, along with a clutch of international awards, and was named best Canadian feature at the 2001 Toronto International Film Festival.

Kunuk was also involved in the making ofThe Journals of Knud Rasmussen and Before Tomorrow, both of which were critically acclaimed. He also produced a number of documentaries on Inuit culture and climate change.

After two decades in business, Igloolik Isuma Productions was placed in receivership earlier this year. But that has not stopped Kunuk's film career, as he is currently working on a project in the Nunavik region of northern Quebec.

Created in 2005, the Northern Medal is awarded every year to "citizens whose actions and achievements have contributed to the evolution and constant reaffirmation of the Canadian North as part of our national identity," according to Rideau Hall's website.

Past recipients of the Northern Medal include former N.W.T. premier Nellie Cournoyea, Inuit environmental activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier, aboriginal women's activist Bertha Allen, and Dene leader Georges Erasmus.