Home Page News Opinion Foreign Policy Politics Policy Legislation Lobbying Hill Life & People Hill Climbers Heard On The Hill Calendar Archives Classifieds
Hill Times Events Inside Ottawa Directory Hill Times Store Hill Times Careers The Wire Report The Lobby Monitor Parliament Now
Subscribe Free Trial Reuse & Permissions Advertising
Log In

Visual CV: Susan Aglukark

By Katie Schultz      
Susan Aglukark was the first Inuk artist to win a Juno and a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for lifetime artistic achievement. Photograph courtesy of Susan Aglukark
Share a story
The story link will be added automatically.

Over the course of her career, three-time Juno award winning singer-songwriter Susan Aglukark has pushed the boundaries of contemporary pop, country, and traditional Inuit folk music, and at age 50, she’s not done yet.

The first Inuk artist to win a Juno and a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for lifetime artistic achievement, she has also launched a new charity and is gearing up for the release of a new album.

She recently led P&I on a reflection of her career and her plans for the future.

Photograph courtesy of Susan Aglukark

Early 1990s – A series of ‘little happenstances’

Aglukark says she felt her career started to take off in the early 1990s. At the time she was working in Ottawa as a translator for the federal government at the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs—now Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.

After a series of “little happenstances,” she began to think more seriously about pursuing singing and songwriting as a career.

While still working at Indian Affairs, Aglukark was contacted by a CBC North producer and was asked to submit a track for a compilation album of Arctic artists.

“It was an opportunity and, in a kind of roundabout way, it was a dream come true,” she says.

It was in the same year, with the help of CBC Radio, she independently released her first album, Dreams for you, in 1990.

Then, in 1992, backed by the EMI recording label, she released her second album Arctic Rose. The video for the song Searching won for best cinematography at the MuchMusic video Awards.

“I think as a child my desire was to be an artist,” Aglukark says.

As a young indigenous woman growing up in the Northwest Territories, she explained that she was taught a lot of creative and artistic skills—including sewing, beading, and other traditional arts—but being a musician was never something she considered pursuing as a dream.

Aglukark tells P&I that as the daughter of a preacher there was an “expectation and technically requirement that you participate in church,”—which included singing in the church’s choir and learning to play instruments.

Photograph courtesy of Susan Aglukark

1995 – ‘falling in love with the possibility of being a legitimate songwriter’

It was following the release of her 1995 11-track album, This Child, when she really felt that this could be an actual career and not just a hobby.

She explains to P&I that she “was more or less doing day jobs during the writing and recording” of Arctic Rose, and that she thought of it as an experience she could cross off her bucket list.

“This Child, on the other hand, was a whole other level,” she says. It was during this period that Aglukark felt she was “falling in love with the possibility of being a legitimate songwriter” and the challenges that go with it. It went on to sell more than 300,000 copies, and included the hit song O Siem.

It was also in 1995 when she became the first Inuk singer-songwriter to win a Juno, for her earlier work, Arctic Rose.

1998 – the performance of a lifetime

Photograph courtesy of Susan Aglukark

Over the span of her career, Aglukark has performed in front of Queen Elizabeth II, former prime ministers Jean Chrétien and Brian Mulroney, former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, and many others.

However, she says that as a preacher’s kid it was her 1998 performance in front of American Christian evangelist Billy Graham in Ottawa that stands out the most to her.

“It was definitely a real highlight for me” she tells P&I.

Aglukark then adds that the next-most memorable was Nelson Mandela.

“you really can’t top those two experiences.”

2004 – ‘the third Juno I won—I was ready to win it,’

Photograph courtesy of Susan Aglukark

“The third Juno I won—I was ready to win it,” Aglukark tells P&I on her win for Aboriginal Album of the year in 2004 for her 2003 album Big Feeling. She explains, “I was at a point where I loved the nomination, because I felt as an artist I had finally reached that point where I had worked really hard for it.”

This was an evolution for her, as for her previous two Juno wins in 1995, she says she felt the other nominees were more deserving of it and had, in her view, “worked harder.”

She’s received a number of other accolades and awards over her 25-year career, including being appointed as an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2004.

2016 – Governor General’s Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award

Photograph courtesy of the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards

In 2016, Aglukark became the first Inuk person to receive the Governor General’s Lifetime Artistic Achievement award. “When you have peers selecting you…those awards mean that much more to you,” she muses. After winning the highest honour for performing arts in Canada, Aglukark says she’s “kind of peaked” and asked herself “now what?”

“Now we just keep getting better and…just enjoy what you’re doing,” she says.

Despite these honours, Aglukark confesses that as “an accidental artist” she’ll always be a little in over her head, but that keeps her on her feet creatively and she has to continue to push forward and keep learning.

She adds, “when I started 25 years ago, aside from the fact that I met the kind of goals that I set for myself to get better, there’s always room to get better.”

2017 – A new release and a new project

Aglukark, who currently lives in Oakville, Ont., recently launched her charity—the Arctic Rose Foundation—and has hired her first Inuk student intern.

The foundation’s mandate is to create a safe emotional, physical and cultural art therapy space. She explains the foundation’s bigger picture is to get young people into “safe enough situations” where they’re comfortable and able to pursue their creative goals.

This year will also see the release of a new album. “It’s a new album where we’re collaborating with young Inuit artists and creating a [cultural] connections piece,” she says. The concept album will tell the story of the Inuit crossing the Bering Strait, Aglukark adds, “It’s really all about who we were.”

Politics This Morning

Get the latest news from The Hill Times

Politics This Morning


Your email has been added. An email has been sent to your address, please click the link inside of it to confirm your subscription.
More in News

Media struggles to separate politics from climate story, hurting coverage, say experts

News|By Nina Russell
'We've never really been in a time where reporting the truth of an issue has made us seem biased to so many,' said journalism professor Sean Holman.

Senate ethics review ‘last act’ for retiring Senator Andreychuk

Conservative Senator Raynell Andreychuk reflects on her 26 years in the Upper Chamber, including her proudest moments and the unfinished business of ethical reform.

‘In-depth’ understanding of Congress, Capitol Hill outreach to be part of MacNaughton’s D.C. legacy, say experts

News|By Neil Moss
David MacNaughton 'made it a priority' to understand who the key U.S. influencers were and which Canadian would be best to deliver the message, says former PMO Canada-U.S. war room staffer Diamond Isinger.

Ethics watchdog says Trudeau broke conflict-of-interest rules in SNC-Lavalin affair

News|By Beatrice Paez
'The evidence showed there were many ways in which Mr. Trudeau, either directly or through the actions of those under his direction, sought to influence the Attorney General,' the commissioner's report says.

Shorter fall campaign anticipated by many political watchers

The government has an advantage during the pre-election period, and with a volatile electorate, the longer the campaign, the more potential for unpredictable ‘hinge moments,’ says John Delacourt.

Canada’s child care ‘crisis’ should be ballot box issue, say advocates, economists

'It’s a crisis situation in many, many jurisdictions and provinces,' says Liberal MP Wayne Long.

Fed’s chief information officer steps down, says new CIO should aim for ‘quick, small’ wins in government reform

News|By Mike Lapointe
Alex Benay says digital has changed everything and is going to continue changing everything—'so why wouldn’t it change the civil service role as well?'

Political ads reaching Canadians, who say they have ‘no impact’: poll

More than half of Canadians polled said they have seen a political ad during or in the few days before the pre-election period kicked in.  

Kenney’s campaigning could help Conservatives in B.C., hurt them in Quebec, say politicos

“He actually serves a purpose for the Liberals if he’s not careful,” says pollster Greg Lyle.
Your group subscription includes premium access to Politics This Morning briefing.