North

'Mr Awesome' now even more awesome: Johnny Issaluk named explorer-in-residence

Inuk motivational speaker Johnny Issaluk will get more opportunities to inspire youth to overcome their fears, as the Royal Canadian Geographic Society's 6th explorer-in-residence.

New gig with Royal Canadian Geographic Society honours Johnny Issaluk for promoting Inuit culture

Johnny Issaluk is welcomed as the Royal Canadian Geographic Society's 6th explorer-in-residence by Jill Heinerth, who is the first person named to the honour. (Ben Powless/Canadian Geographic)

From acting, to mountain-climbing, arctic sports, and cold water diving, it seems like there's nothing Johnny Issaluk  can't do.

The motivational speaker's stage and screen credits include appearances at Stratford and in Clint Eastwood's Indian Horse. He already has a Queen's Jubilee medal.

Kids on one arctic expedition nicknamed him "Mr. Awesome." 

Now he's been named as one of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society's explorers-in-residence.

"I'm still blown away by the idea that they think I am an explorer," he told the CBC. "I don't have any words."

The residency is a volunteer position that will give Issaluk the chance to do more of what he loves as a motivational speaker.

"Basically showcasing who we are as Inuit. You know, we're explorers, we're scientists, we live in a world that's extreme,' he said. And we've survived in it for thousands of years with only essential things that they had back in the day."

Actor Johnny Issaluk sits for a portrait at the Avon Theatre in Stratford, Ont. on Thursday, June 15, 2017. Issaluk played Totalik Nukilikin in The Breathing Hole. (Hannah Yoon/CP)

Issaluk was inducted at the official opening of the Canada's Centre for Geography and Exploration on May 13th by the society's first explorer-in-residence, Jill Heinerth, who is also the world's first female cave diver. 

Heinerth says her work with the society has given her the chance to speak to children in schools across Canada, and she's looking forward to working with Issaluk.

"Certainly as our first Indigenous member of the team it's fantastic," Heinerth said. "Johnny has a focus on educating kids like I do as well. We both talk to kids about what scares them and help them to embrace things that are outside their comfort zone."

Issaluk's latest explorations have been underwater, diving near the shores of Greeland and Baffin Island.

Issaluk helped an all-female expedition prepare for a snorkel relay in the Northwest Passage in 2016. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

"I thought, you know, I'm terrified of water but I'm very interested in scuba diving, so maybe I'll try it at least once to see what it's like," he said.

"I tried to float, but I sink like a rock. I can't stay up ... So I'm always scared going in. But you know, after a while underwater, I calm down and I see amazing things, wildlife that I didn't know existed in our oceans you know, it's beautiful."

Issaluk says he's honoured to be recognized as a conservationist of Inuit culture and tradition.

Written by Joanne Stassen, with files from Qavavao Peter

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