MORRISBURG – Winner of three Juno Awards, an Officer of the Order of Canada, with numerous honours in music and life time achievement, Susan Aglukark is one of Canada’s great musical treasures. She has also been a strong voice speaking on behalf of other Indigenous voices, silenced for far too long.
On Friday evening, October 15, Inuk artist Susan Aglukark will be appearing live in concert at Stone Crop Acres Winery in Morrisburg.
I had the opportunity to talk with Susan, reaching her at her home in Oakville, Ontario, following some time she had spent in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut.
She has been a musical artist for nearly 30 years now, since she first moved to Ottawa in 1991, leaving her home in Arviat in present day Nunavut. “I loved my childhood in the North,” she said, “growing up in the Northern environment, in the Inuit culture. When I moved to Ottawa, a series of things happened that forever changed my life. A record deal. Hit songs. Those changes motivated and inspired me, kept me creating and singing. Those opportunities gave me that chance to keep exploring.” Her first independent album, Arctic Rose, was released in 1992, followed by This Child in 1995, her “breakthrough” album. Her single, “O Siem” made her the first Inuk performer to have a Top 40 hit. Other successes have followed over the years.
However, as is the case for all actors, musicians and artists, these long months of the COVID-19 pandemic have hit her hard. “Like many artists who could no longer perform live, I turned to writing,” Susan explained. “But I deeply missed the audiences, missed the people listening to my music. My preference in music has always been for story telling, and stories are best received through human contact. I love to share the things I am learning. I love that an audience is curious, open, there to receive the stories and to share them with me. Yes, the pandemic affected me big time.”
She performed in some virtual events. However,“all artists are essentially self-employed, and for more than a year, you could say we lost our work. Virtual events are just not the same. Artists, I think, are “tactile.” We need to feel that audience reaction, that powerful energy. Strong human contact is vital for a performer. Frankly, I can’t wait to have audiences again!”
She has just completed her tenth album, The Crossing, which will be coming out in January, 2022. She talked about the themes, the inspirations behind this album.
“As artists, we are always faced with that “creative beast,” she explained. However as a powerful, eloquent story-teller focused on the challenges, the tragedies and the hopes of Indigenous peoples, and one who has experienced hard times in her own life, Susan Aglukark’s music grows out of personal experiences. “As an Inuit, I have shared my life and stories for 30 years. In four songs in The Crossing, I share our Ancestors’ stories, the crossing into this land some 6,000 years ago. I explore who they might have been. In telling these stories, talking of these ideas, we really tell the Inuit story. We need to share these stories with our children, teach them who they are (a history not taught in schools) and make that truth part of their lives in a way that it has not been for generations.”
She sees the Truth and Reconciliation Day, held for the first time September 30, 2021, as an important step. “Still I would have to say that artists like me have been sharing our truths with other people for many, many years, not just over the last five. Yet an affirmation day like September 30, forces an entire nation to finally listen, even if it is just for this one day. That is a critical part of the Truth and Reconciliation Day to me. We stand up, Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, united on that day, and together we face a hard Canadian truth. That is how we get better.”
A singer whose beautiful and powerful voice has stirred thousands, Susan Aglukark loves that once again she will be able to share that gift of music with others. “My goal is to share the Ancestors’ stories with Indigenous peoples, and with all others who want to listen. In the end, all Canadians need to be proud of our Indigenous stories, and of the Indigenous heritage of our nation.”