Nina Larsson: A Gordon Foundation Jane Glassco Northern Fellow
Larsson is a member of the Gwich’in First Nation on her mother’s side. She was born and raised in France but identifies with Canada’s far North. Her maternal grandfather was a man of the Loucheaux-Métis who married a Gwich’in woman and lived in Aklavik until that community was resettled in Inuvik. Larsson’s mother and aunt were trailblazers, the only female cross-country skiers to compete in four Olympic Games, who after retiring moved on to other high-powered careers. Larsson’s father is a Swedish national whose company provides renewable resource solutions to Europe, and who also works for the Aboriginal Sports Circle of the Western Arctic, which he and his family moved to over 10 years ago, after living in France for 20 years.
Hard acts to follow? Apparently not for Larsson. Her list of accomplishments is long and as varied as her heritage. Although she spent her young life in France, including attending university, she always felt the pull of the North. When her parents moved to Yellowknife it was partly due to the urging of their children.
“The land defines us and we define it,” she said in a telephone interview. “Although we grew up on a different continent my Mom followed the Gwich’in way.” Larsson took her degree at Institut des Métiers et de Techniques, in Grenoble, France, and says, “When we moved to Yellowknife we were welcomed home. I felt completely culturally competent.” But she also noted a gap in traditional knowledge, not just within herself, but saw it in many of the Indigenous people in her age range. So she and her sister became involved with Dene Nahjo, a recently-started organization that puts together opportunities for young persons to access their traditional culture, activities and tools. She saw many people didn’t have a chance to create opportunities, so she applied to the Gordon Foundation to become a member of the Jane Glassco Northern Fellowship.
“I had to wait two years for the next round, but I knew I wanted to work at something that related to leadership and connections with creative thinkers,” she said. “The North helped me reshape my thinking.”
As a Fellow she wrote two policy papers, Mind the Gender Gap, and with three other Fellows, Northern Dene Languages: Use Them or Lose Them – Arctic Athabascan Language Revitalization Plan.
“I was always interested in shaping the future and creating solutions that would work for Indigenous peoples,” she says. “The Fellowship gave me the opportunity to select a project that will help mentors and Gordon Foundation staff connect with other leaders.”
Her interests included tackling gender issues, sharing solutions to some major problems like health care and violence, creating space for artists and a decolonized area for Dene or Gwich’in women, and using language, values and knowledge to shape the future.
“Indigenous women needed a major initiative to feel connected with their culture. I wanted to celebrate these women.” One of her most striking projects was developing the vision and spearheading the Indigenous Circumpolar Women’s Gathering in 2014, which brought together 100+ women from across the international Arctic circumpolar regions.
Besides all of the above Larsson is the founder of Energy North Corporation, another business specializing in renewable energies, and has held a number of high posts in the Government of the Northwest Territories.
She is described by the Gordon Foundation as having a “passion for Indigenous women’s empowerment as leaders and decision makers in Indigenous communities.” That is probably the phrase that best sums up Nina Larsson.