Image Source: Susan Aglukark
Susan Aglukark is known for harmonizing Inuktitut, English and other First Nations languages with contemporary pop compositions to tell stories of First Nations people in Canada. With eight studio albums, three Juno Awards and the Order of Canada the Inuk singer is considered a Canadian cultural treasure. This week she joins a long list of talented and successful Indigenous artists performing at the Aboriginal Pavilion for the Pan Am Games. Erica Commanda from MUSKRAT Magazine caught up with Aglukark before her big performance this week.
MM: What do you hope an international platform like the Aboriginal Pavilion at the Pan Am Games will accomplish?
SA: Appreciation for the talent that we have in the Aboriginal community and in North America in general. If you take a look at the artist list, there’s so many wonderful artists from all over North America. This is an opportunity to catch up with one another on a personal level as well as on a professional level to share ideas. It would be great if there were more opportunities where we could do events like this on a mainstage just to share music and art. I wish there were bigger events and more of them because it’s a great communication tool.
MM: Since starting out in 1990, how do you think the music industry has evolved their perception of First Nations artists?
SA: Art in general, including music, painting and everything that we do has helped open up the minds of other people, whether that be the First Nations, Inuit, Métis or non-Aboriginal community. I think that art has this magical effect of breaking down barriers quite naturally. It’s a wonderful tool for opening up creative conversations. I think we’ve done a lot of great work in that area in the last twenty years.
MM: With an accomplished career, what advice would you give to fellow Indigenous youth trying to start a performance career?
SA: You have to really really take care of yourself physically, emotionally and culturally. You really have to be true to yourself. As artists and as songwriters we open up ourselves to criticism every time we release an album. Songwriters are very sensitive to people’s interpretations of their songs when they go public with their impressions without really knowing the story behind it. It still hurts, but you can’t take that stuff personally. If you love what you do you have to keep fighting for it. Be strong going into your career choice and just fight for it.
MM: Would you ever sign an up and coming Indigenous artist that you may see potential in?
SA: It would have to be a very mutually agreed upon deal. It’s a really big misconception when you’re an up and coming artist that when you get a record deal you’re set for life, it’s really not. I had a really good ten years at EMI and as much as I loved being with them, I didn’t make that much money. When I left them, I realized that I have to keep singing, songwriting and recording for the love of it. To use it as a tool to share the love and the culture. If you want to get a record deal make sure that’s what you want, because it’s not really all that its cut out to be unless you’re a big international hit.
MM: As the sole proprietor of Aglukark Entertainment Inc., how do you balance a career and family?
SA: It’s a lot of juggling. My career is a job. Its a regular 9-5, Monday to Friday job. Lucky for me my husband has been in the industry as well, so he understands that when you’re in a creative zone, you’re in a creative zone. I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by people who understand my commitment to the art and support it, so I’ve been able to make it work. And you do have to work really hard to keep it going. I think as Aboriginal artists it’s even harder to make a living at doing the thing that you love to do. As long as you love it, you’ve got to keep doing it.
MM: The Arctic Rose Project supplies food banks in Nunavut and Rankin Inlet. How would you like to see the project grow?
SA: Right now we are developing our next fall campaign. We are partnering with existing grass roots level, volunteer organizations whose goal it is to rebuild our communities. What I hope happens is that the partnerships grow to get Arctic Rose peaked where it needs to be to make our communities strong again.
The only way we’re ever gonna heal thoroughly from the inside out is when we are in control of our own journeys, our own communities, our own homes and even our own children. So I hope that people will see that through the Arctic Rose project, that it begins at the grassroots level, with ourselves investing in our communities and our youth.
Susan Aglukark Bio
Susan Aglukark is one of Canada’s most unique and most honored artists. An Inuk from Arviat, Nunavut, Susan has been walking in a tension between two worlds, a defining note in her remarkable career.
She was a rare and exotic presence in the mainstream music world—an Inuk woman, a modern woman, a strong woman with something important to say is sometimes very rare in the entertainment industry — Susan embodied pure, graceful honesty and strength. As her songs climbed the charts, her stories and her candor about the struggles of the Inuit and Aboriginal communities, and her bravery as she opened up about her own anger and struggle won her an audience beyond that of most pop artists. As much as she writes and sings about her people, the songs Susan Aglukark creates have something in them that speaks to all of us, whether it’s the longing of a woman growing old for the traditional life that she was taken away from, (“Bridge of Dreams”) to an gentle anthem for peace and tolerance, (“O Siem”—joy in community), Aglukark’s artistic vision is ultimately a universal one.