If music is the key that unlocks even the most tightly closed heart, Inuk singer-songwriter Susan Aglukark has opened countless - by design, and by accident.
Nunavut's first-ever Juno Award winner calls herself "the accidental artist" because she never courted celebrity while growing up on the northwest shore of Hudson's Bay. But her poignant, powerful music is intentional in its quest to speak the truth and promote identity, unity, and integrity.
She'll bring those values to the Cornwall Civic Complex on Wednesday, April 22 as guest speaker at the annual Bike-A-Thon Plus Kick-Off Breakfast, sponsored by the Children's Treatment Centre (CTC). Her keynote address will include singing.
Over her nine-album, 25-year career, Aglukark has won three Juno awards, received the Order of Canada and the Governor-General's Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award, and performed for Queen Elizabeth, Prime Ministers Jean Chretien and Brian Mulroney, human rights icon Nelson Mandela, and evangelist Billy Graham.
Such celebrity is a far cry from her childhood in remote Arviat, Nunavut where parents Dorothy and David ministered to a Pentecostal church. Aglukark sang and played guitar in worship services, with her six siblings.
In her early 20s, she went to Ottawa to work as a translator for the federal government, then served with an Inuit advocacy group. She continued to play music and with her first recording Dreams For you, with support from grants and the CBC Susan recorded and her 1992 album, The Arctic Rose followed by her first Christmas Album.
Three years later, she released This Child, which included the Canadian top ten hit, O Siem, and earned her a Juno nomination for album of the year. A tour followed, and so did more introspective songs that dealt with Aglukark's personal struggles, including childhood sexual abuse, postpartum depression, and the pressures of being a role model.
In 2018, Susan gave bold testimony before the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, naming her abuser and speaking directly to him. "You didn't win," she said with emotion. "Not now, not ever!"
That determination to vanquish darkness and despair continues through her music and the work she does with her charity - the Arctic Rose Foundation - which uses Indigenous art and artists to foster hope and healing.
Breakfast on April 22nd will be from 6-7:00 a.m., with Aglukark's address at 7:15. Tickets are available through the CTC at 613-933-4400.