Nova Scotia

'It allows us to dream and dream big': Former N.S. woman wins $1M Arctic Inspiration Prize

Darlene Nuqingaq's project has been awarded the $1 million Arctic Inspiration Prize to create a music education program that will have Inuit youth instructors and mentor Inuit youth musicians.

Funding will allow Darlene Nuqingaq to roll out music program for kids

Young fiddlers jam on the tundra in July to give a video thank-you to donors. (Submitted by Darlene Nuqingaq)

The second time was the charm for Darlene Nuqingaq when it came to winning the Arctic Inspiration Prize.

Nuqingaq, originally from Spryfield, N.S., moved to Nunavut more than 30 years ago. She taught music there until her retirement in 2017.

Last year, her proposal for a daily after-school music program for children as young as six was runner-up for the $1-million prize awarded to innovative Arctic projects.

On Wednesday, Nuqingaq gathered with supporters and a few former students who are now instructors in Iqaluit to hear this year's results. Her proposal, Imaa, Like This: Children and Youth Expressing Themselves Through Music, earned the top prize this time.

"To see their reactions just affirmed to us, and we knew this, because they were the inspiration for our proposal, that this is a dream of many people," she said.

Darlene Nukingaq said she feels fortunate to have grown up in Halifax and received a music education at city schools. (Vince Robinet/CBC)

Nuqingaq said she feels "fortunate to have grown up in Halifax" and been given the opportunity to learn the violin at city schools. 

She said she wants the children of Nunavut to have the same opportunities she had in Halifax.

"Unfortunately, Nunavut, even though it's a land of artists and musicians, we do not have music specialists in the elementary schools," she said.

The winning proposal Nuqingaq and her team submitted is based on the Sistema program, designed to create social change through music.

Hopes to expand program

She hopes to eventually expand the program across the territories with young Inuit leaders providing the teaching. 

"The Arctic Inspiration Prize is a fantastic opportunity. It allows us to dream and dream big," she said. 

The program will see children being taught "culturally appropriate" songs, drum dances and music readiness in the first year. The same students will go on to learn the fiddle in the second year and the accordion in the third year.

Graduates of the program will then mentor younger participants starting the program for the first time.

She said the prize money provides funding for three years but the projects must have a longer legacy because "they don't want to inspire a dream that just fizzles."

3-year rollout plan

Nuqingaq said she and her 12-member team have a three-year "realistic and doable" rollout plan that would spend the entire million dollars. 

She said the work she and others have done with the Iqaluit Music Society and its annual music summer camp over the last 25 years proves that the project will have staying power. 

A major benefit of winning the prize, according to Nuqingaq, is the awareness it has brought to the project. She said in the last 24 hours there have been more offers of support than they received in the previous year.

She said the school board has already committed to providing space in the school to run the program. 

Nuqingaq said music is a natural pathway for children to learn literacy, a second language and numeracy skills. (Iqaluit Music Society)

Traditional art form resurgence

Nuqingaq said throat singing and drum dancing among other traditional Inuit art forms are undergoing a resurgence.

"The kids, when they learn to sing and dance, they're inspired, they're proud, and it connects them to their culture and to their territory," she said. 

Nuqingaq said her 30 years of teaching music and singing at elementary school has taught her that it is a natural pathway for children to learn literacy, a second language and numeracy skills. It has also helped her to learn Inuktitut, she said. 

"So that's what our project hopes to do. Not only help increase the academics and school success of younger students, but also the mental health aspect, too," she said.

"As many students over the years have told me, that the ability to play the fiddle or to sing one of the songs that we used to sing in class has helped them to stay strong and be resilient." 




Vernon Ramesar


Vernon Ramesar is a reporter and video and radio journalist originally based in Trinidad. He now lives in Halifax.