Inspiration from the Far North

January 21, 2013 12:00 pm

Rapid changes in climate, environment, culture, technology and the economy are bringing challenges and opportunities for Canada’s Arctic and its peoples. A couple from Vancouver has founded a $1-million annual prize enabling multi-disciplinary teams to implement action plans that address the area’s most pressing issues. After selling his successful company in Switzerland, Arnold Witzig moved to Canada where he met his wife Sima Sharifi. The couple travelled the world together and founded the S. and A. Inspiration Foundation to support projects in the fields of education and gender equality in the developing world. During trips to the Canadian Arctic, they soon realized that major issues similar to the ones facing developing countries were affecting northern communities right here in Canada. In 2011, they decided to focus their philanthropic activities in Canada and founded the Arctic Inspiration Prize.

“Our motivation behind creating the prize is to recognize excellence and encourage teamwork among diverse groups in order to bring Arctic knowledge into action for the benefit of the Canadian Arctic, its inhabitants and Canada as a whole,” said Mr. Witzig. “As immigrants to Canada, we wanted to contribute to the future of our adopted country of choice with a focus on the Arctic.”

Issues such as human health, literacy, housing, food security and the sustainability of ecosystems and wildlife are listed among the priority areas for the Arctic Inspiration Prize. The idea for the Prize was developed together with the ArcticNet Network of Centres of Excellence that man- ages the Prize on a voluntary basis. “ArcticNet is honoured to manage the Arctic Inspiration Prize,” said

Martin Fortier, executive director of ArcticNet. “The Prize is clearly aligned with our network’s vision to enable scientists, Northerners and decisionmakers to jointly attenuate the negative impacts and maximize the positive outcomes of the transformation of the Canadian Arctic.”

The winners of the first-ever Arctic Inspiration Prize were announced during an award ceremony held in Vancouver on December 13, 2012. The $1-million award is shared among four Canadian teams. The Arctic Food Network received $360,000 to help with the development of its food-gathering system that enables communities to strengthen traditions of hunting and sharing country food in order to alleviate growing issues of food insecurity in Nunavut. “With this support, our Network will seek to nurture new and existing connections with the land and with each other to harvest country foods, as well as foster human creativity and potential,” said Mason White, team leader of the Arctic Food Network.

The Nunavut Literacy Council received $300,000 for its project to embed literacy skill development in non-formal education programs for youth. Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (Inuit Traditional Knowledge) received $240,000 for its book project – What Inuit Have Always Known to Be True – that will describe Inuit culture and knowledge and will serve as a resource for academics, researchers, educators and the next generation of Inuit. The Thaidene Nene Initiative received $100,000 to help with the stewardship, protection and co- management of a 33,000 km2 national park reserve in the Northwest Territories, which has great cultural and environmental significance to the Lustel K’e Dene First Nation.

The winning teams were chosen by a selection committee composed of distinguished Canadians, from North and South, known for their commitment to the Arctic and its inhabitants. The committee selects from one to five prize winners annually, with associated awards totaling $1 million. Current members of the selection committee include former Governor General Michaëlle Jean, CBC News anchor Peter Mansbridge, Juno Award-winning singer/songwriter Susan Aglukark, Inuit activist and Nobel Prize nominee Sheila Watt-Cloutier, and former Commissioner of the Yukon, Geraldine Van Bibber.

“This is a genuine good news story,” said Christophe Bourillon, director of communications & public affairs at ArcticNet. “Every single individual or organization that we contacted to be involved as nominators or committee members have enthusiastically agreed to participate and have all been very active in helping make the Prize the success it already is today.”

Building on the momentum and success of this first year, the Arctic Inspiration Prize is already growing in scope with the upcoming establishment of the charitable Arctic Inspiration Foundation that will help support associated projects such as a 2014 Arctic Inspiration North Pole Expedition and the development of a National Art Competition for Emerging Arctic Aboriginal Artists.

Nomination forms for the 2013 Arctic Inspiration Prize competition will be available in February 2013 with the application deadline set for September 1, 2013.

More information on the Arctic Inspiration Prize is available at: www.arcticinspirationprize.ca

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