Elder in N.W.T. thrilled at winning territorial award for uplifting community

Elder award winner Steven ‘Gukuk’ Cockney Sr. with mentee and parent Brian Kudluk and youth Emerson Stefure, Isaiah Lindsay and Caleb Kudluk practicing Northern Game ‘Nugluktaq’ at Inuvik Community Corporation. Photo: Karli Zschogner-APTN.

Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Inuvialuk Elder Steven ‘Guluk’ Cockney Sr. says he was “really surprised” when he heard the news that he was the winner of one of four community based awards in the Northwest Territories.

“It’s something new to me, I’ve never had an award like this before in my lifetime,” says Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Inuvialuk Elder Steven ‘Guluk’ Cockney Sr. “I was really surprised.”

Four of the community-based awards under the Northwest Territories’ Recreation and Parks Association were announced last week.

Coming just days before his 70th birthday, nominator Karen King’s highlighted Cockney’s strengths in uplifting youth and adults over the decades through preserving the traditional Inuit and northern games that have been active since the 1970s led from the MacKenzie-Beaufort Delta region.

“You don’t think of trying to be as good as you are, you don’t think of that you just want to do the work that you know, the knowledge that you have throughout the years,” said Cockney.

The Elder Award seeks to highlight those sharing their knowledge with community and supporting all generations to be healthy to themselves, each other, and the land.

Cockney learned from and travelled around the country showcasing the games alongside “the father of the northern games” the late Edward Lennie, who was inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame last October.

Cockney said his commitment lies in preserving the skill and values of the traditional Northern Games born in the Arctic.

“I’m really thankful for these people that were behind me, that helped me out and helped me come up to this level where I get their appreciation…to be there for their kids,” he said. “It’s something that I’m sure will be with me for, for a long, long time.”

Amanda Pokiak (left) of Inuvik is receiving 2023 award for innovation for creating Elders-in-Motion Aquafit programming. Photo: Karli Zschogner/APTN.

Parks and Recreation board member Shandy Onishenko nominated her, who was not on the award committee.

Cockney is not the only recipient living in Inuvik. Amanda Pokiak, also Inuvialuk, has been recognized in the Innovation category for uplifting elders through aquatic activity in Inuvik – in creating programing ‘Elders in motion’ aquafit in the town’s arctic pool.

“I met Amanda through my role as the aquatic supervisor with the Town of Inuvik, when she approached me about potentially doing some programming together for the National Drowning Prevention Week. From that project birthed the Elders Range-in-Motion Aqua Fit program.”

“Amanda was instrumental in helping develop this program, she secured the funding for the program so that it’s offered at no cost to the elders. She’s done all of our elder recruitment, and she even drives them to and from the pool so that they can attend the class.”

“Our participants have already reported multiple benefits from the program, some are walking more and their doctors are speaking to improvement of health,” said Onishenko, who is the Aquafit instructor.

“She is so kind and engaged with our elders,” she said. “You can tell that she really enjoys what she does, and cares to develop strong relationships with the people that she works with.”

Shandy Onishenko, Town of Inuvik Aquatic Supervisor and NWTRPA Director nominated Amanda Pokiak for Innovation Award. Photo: Karli Zschogner/APTN.

The annual awards have been given out since 1991. Past recipients have gone on to larger roles including N.W.T. MLA Shane Tompson, Yellowknife family physician Janet Wong and Sachs Harbor’s Doreen Carpenter who was since awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for service to the community.

“These awards are so important for valuing and recognizing our recreation leaders in the territory,” said Onishenko. “They are often are not even self-aware of how much of an impact that they make and so I think it’s just so valuable to be able to share this recognition with everyone and celebrate the meaningful contribution that they do to make their communities better places to live.”

This year’s Scott McAdam Youth Award goes to Maverick Simba-Canadien from Kakisa/ K’ágee, the smallest community in the N.W.T. with 40 people. The award recognizes youth under the age of 24 for achievements and contributions towards improving the quality of life of members of their community through volunteerism, work experience, and studies.

Maverick Simba-Canadien.Credit NWT Youth Ambassadors Program. Photo: Facebook.

Also originally from Inuvik, Simba-Canadien, a recent graduate of Victoria, B.C.’s Pearson College and back in the community according to nominator Steph Woodworth, and plans to continue studies as a doctor. He has also been selected for the Prime Minister’s Youth Council, Dene Nation Youth Council, and N.W.T. Youth Ambassadors Program.

“He is eager and willing to step outside his comfort zone and find new ways to adapt,” said Woodworth in their submission and who’s known Simba-Canadien for five years. “I am constantly impressed by Maverick’s ability to navigate new environments and learn from others, and the ways he shares those experiences and teachings with people in the North.”

Métis sisters Megan and Ashley Okrainec and mother Rosa Wright of Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́e First Nation (Fort Simpson) are being recognized in the On the Land Award.

“It feels really good, because it just proves that all the work that I’ve done in the last 20 years is paying off and not only helping my family, it’s helping my community, the Decho Nation,” said Wright.

Megan Okrainec and Rosa Wright tanning moose hide. Photo courtesy: Ashley Okrainec.

Nominator Tracy Waugh Antoine in her nomination say these women ‘walk the talk’ organizing a three-day moose-hide cultural camp they organized in the spring during multiple stressors and issues that were leading to some division in community.

“At a difficult time, these ladies showed us all how to come together in a good, positive way and they are all leaders in their own ways,” said Antoine in her nomination submission.

“I just want to say congratulations to all the winners, and then I hope that this also inspires a lot of other people to take some initiative,” said Ashley Okrainec. “Don’t stop talking about [your ideas] until somebody says, ‘Hey, I know how to do that, let’s make that work’, because that’s what it takes to make that work.”

The 2023 nominations closed mid-November. Since organizational reviews around their commitment to reconciliation and decolonization, organizers say winners now have the option to choose recognition and acceptance in their own community other than parks and recreation’s annual Yellowknife meeting in October.

Contribute Button