One of seven children born to a Pentecostal minister, Susan Aglukark (whose Inuit name is Uuliniq) grew up in several communities in the Keewatin Region in the Northwest Territories, finally settling in Arviat (formerly Eskimo Point) in 1978. She performed regularly with her father’s church choir, singing hymns throughout her childhood, and learned her first guitar chords at age 15 at a Bible camp in Cambridge Bay. After high school, she moved to Ottawa to work as a linguist with the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs (see Federal Departments of Indigenous and Northern Affairs). She then worked with the lobby group Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, all the while developing her music.
In 1990, Aglukark met Randall Prescott, a producer at CBC North in Ottawa, who included her in a compilation album of Arctic artists. CBC Radio recorded her first album, Dreams for You (1990), which Aglukark released independently, followed by Arctic Rose (1992). A government-funded music video for the song “Searching” won best cinematography honours at the MuchMusic Video Awards and received regular airplay on the network. In 1993, Aglukark was named Northerner of the Year by Up Here magazine and one of “Canada’s 100 Leaders to Watch For” by Maclean’s magazine.
EMI Music Canada recognized Aglukark’s potential and signed her to a worldwide distribution contract in 1993. With EMI, she released Christmas (1993), a compilation of Christmas songs sung in Inuktitut, and re-released Arctic Rose (1994), which won Juno Awards for Best New Solo Artist and Best Aboriginal Recording. In 1994, she also received the Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA) Vista Rising Star award and the National Aboriginal Achievement Award in the Arts and Entertainment category, the first time this award was given to an entertainer.
Aglukark broke into the commercial mainstream with her 1995 album, This Child, which combines contemporary melodies, traditional Inuit chants, modern lyrics and Inuit folklore. The lead single “O Siem,” an anthemic call to turn away from racism and prejudice, hit No. 1 on the Canadian country and adult/contemporary charts and peaked at No. 3 on the pop chart, making Aglukark the first Inuk performer to have a Top 40 hit. “O Siem” received a SOCAN award for radio airplay in 1995. Her popular single “Hina Na Ho (Celebration)” also cracked the Top 40 of the Canadian pop chart. This Child earned Juno Award nominations for Album of the Year and Female Vocalist of the Year, and was certified triple platinum in Canada in April 1998 for sales of over 300,000 copies.
In 1997, Aglukark was featured on Robbie Robertson’s compilation album, Music for The Native Americans. Her 1999 album, Unsung Heroes, yielded the single “Turn of the Century,” a song about the creation of the new territory of Nunavut.
Aglukark’s album Big Feeling (2003) was produced with Ben Mink (k.d. lang, Barenaked Ladies) and won the Juno Award for Best Aboriginal Recording in 2004. That year, Aglukark was also named best female artist at the Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards (now the Indigenous Music Awards).
Aglukark has performed at many ceremonial occasions and diplomatic events. She sang for Queen Elizabeth II during the Canada 125 celebrations in 1992, and again at the 1994 Commonwealth Games Gala. She also performed at events honouring Nelson Mandela, Jean Chrétien, Brian Mulroney, Jacques Chirac and Adrienne Clarkson.
In 1997, she performed at the nationally televised Aboriginal Achievement Awards and the Red River Relief Concert in Winnipeg (see Red River Flood), and was part of the official opening of the World Special Olympics. In 2007, she performed in front of the Vimy memorial on the anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge. She has also performed at the Melbourne Music Festival, the WOMAD Festival, the Davvi Suvva Music Festival in Sweden, and the Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards.
Aglukark continues to record and perform — she released another album of Christmas songs, Dreaming of Home, in 2013 — and is also in demand as a motivational speaker.
In 1998, the CBC TV series Life and Times aired an episode about Aglukark’s life in which she discussed being sexually assaulted by a local man when she was eight years old and struggling with thoughts of suicide for years afterwards. She also described how both experiences inspired her work with youth in the North.
In February 2018, in the last days of Nunavut’s inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, Aglukark publicly identified the man who assaulted her as Norman Ford. “You didn't win. Not now, not ever,” she said. “Now the community knows what you have done. This room could be filled by your victims alone.” Noting that Ford was now facing new charges, Aglukark called for more services in Northern communities for victims of sexual assault. “We need to invest in... professional help for victims,” she said. “We need more healing centres — every region should have one.” She also told the inquiry she knew of at least four other sexual predators in Rankin Inlet, a community of about 2,800 people.
Mentorship and Organizational Involvement
Aglukark is as well-known for her social conscience and activism as she is for her singing and songwriting. In the mid-1990s, she was the official spokesperson for the Northwest Territories Economic Development & Tourism/Arts & Crafts department. She has long been an advocate for Northern Canadian communities. She served as a national spokesperson for the Aboriginal division of the RCMP National Alcohol and Drug Awareness Prevention Program and as an ambassador for the government of the Northwest Territories.
Aglukark co-founded the Aboriginal Literacy Initiative and founded the Arctic Rose Fund to assist Northern food banks. She was chair of the board of directors for the Arctic Children and Youth Foundation and represented Canadian Inuit at the World Conference on Human Rights in Vietnam. In 2007, she became the official spokesperson for the Indigenous mentorship program Empowering Our Little Sisters.
In 2008, Aglukark was made a scholar in residence at the University of Alberta, where she mentored Indigenous artists and helped develop a joint Indigenous studies, recreation, sport and community health degree program. In 2016, she was made a Fellow in Creativity at the University of Saskatchewan’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Culture and Creativity. She delivered a lecture series, instructed a class and mentored students in the Aboriginal Student Achievement Program. She has also served on the selection committee for the Arctic Inspiration Prize.
A version of this entry originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.
- Vista Rising Star, CCMA Awards (1994)
- Arts and Entertainment Award, National Aboriginal Achievement Awards (1994)
- Best New Solo Artist, Juno Awards (1995)
- Best Music of Aboriginal Canada Recording (Arctic Rose), Juno Awards (1995)
- Aboriginal Recording of the Year (Big Feeling), Juno Awards (2004)
- Officer, Order of Canada (2004)
- Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, Government of Canada (2012)
- Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award (Popular Music), Governor General’s Awards (2016)