Artist from Canada’s Northwest Territories designs new Royal Canadian Mint collector coin

“The gifts I was given through stories and experiences are what drives my artistic path and brings to life the symbolisms that have sustained Northern people from well before confederation to today,” says Myrna Pokiak the artist who designed a recent collector coin to commemorate the anniversary of Canada’s Northwest Territories. (Royal Canadian Mint)
Inuvialuk artist Myrna Pokiak from Canada’s Northwest Territories (NWT) has designed the new collector coin for the Royal Canadian Mint to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the territory. 

“This was quite a surprise for me,” Pokiak said of finding out her submission had been chosen for the coin. “I thought there was no way I was going to be selected.”

NWT artist Myrna Pokiak in Tuktoyaktuk’s underground community icehouse of in 2019. (Mya Paul/Courtesy Myrna Pokiak)

Pokiak says she worked on the submission for a month, going through too many versions to count.

“There’s still ideas everywhere,” she said, in a phone interview from Yellowknife. “On my phone, in sketchbooks, on my computer.”

But despite the constant evolution of the design, she said one aspect was constant, her desire to respectfully and responsibly showcase the NWT’s three Indigenous cultures: Inuit, First Nations and Métis and what connects them all.

The Mackenzie River was among the items that remained from the earliest iterations of her design.

“The Mackenize is important for all the Indigenous people of the NWT,” Pokiak said.  “When you grow up on the land and water like we do, everyone loves that water. The river ties us together, it’s how we travel.  Just being near the water or a lake calms you and you don’t need anything else.”

Spotlighting Inuit, First Nations and Métis culture in NWT

When the Royal Canadian Mint decided to create a collector coin to mark the NWT anniversary, they approached three different artists from the territory for submissions. The brief was to create a design that illustrated life in the North, what it represents and what it meant to the artist.

The Mint says all submissions were outstanding but that Pokiak’s approach and symbolism set her vision apart.

“Her stylized representation, her design, her interpretation (of the brief) really brought it all together,” said Melanie Luis, product manager at the Royal Canadian Mint, in a phone interview.

Pokiak said her children’s heritage helped to inspire her final design. “My daughters come from a long line of families in the North: Inuvialuit on my side, Dene and Métis on their father’s side,” said Pokiak, pictured her with two of her three daughters. (Courtesy Myrna Pokiak)

Pokiak is Inuvialuk, Inuit from Canada’s western Arctic, and is from the community of Tuktoyaktuk. She said her children’s heritage, Inuit on her side and Métis and Dene, one of the First Nations in NWT, on her husband’s side, gave her a huge sense of responsibility in representing all of NWT’s Indigenous cultures in her final design.

She chose a Métis sash to mirror the contours of the Mackenize River to represent the Métis.

She also chose a tipi to represent the Dene. “When you see a tipi in NWT you’re seeing so much more,” Pokiak said. “You’re seeing a story. You’re seeing a family is still there.”

Nods to her own culture in the final coin design include a pingo, a kind of permafrost hill formed in the Arctic, that are common around Tuktoyaktuk, as well as 11 ulus, a kind of knife used by Inuit woman, to represent the 11 official languages of the NWT. The image was patterned after her mother’s ulu.

The focal point of the coin design, a drummer looking towards the sun, was a composition inspired by one of the artist’s real life experiences.

“That’s based on trip I took with my cousin,” Pokiak said. “The boat broke down and we climbed a pingo. I still remember the sun and her hair blowing in the wind. The drummer on the coin symbolizes all of us, the brothers and the sisters, the mothers and the fathers, the aunts and the uncles.”

Representing the North’s links with the rest of the world

Pokiak said her design was highly personal but that she also wanted to depict NWT’s link with the outside and other places in Canada. After playing around with different ideas, she chose geese as the best way to represent it.

“It was important to me to show our connection in NWT with the rest of the world,” she said.  “I chose geese because they come from everywhere.”

Alex Reeves, public affairs senior manager at the Royal Canadian Mint, says the most recent collector coin is one of many designed by Indigenous artists in Canada.

“Indigenous Art is something we hold near and dear at the Mint,” he said in a phone interview. “And we’ll continue to feature it on future coins whether they’re on northern or Arctic subjects or other themes in Canada.”

The coin is silver, has a $30 face value and is currently on sale on the Royal Canadian Mint website at mint.ca

There are 2,500 of them available and they retail for $174.95.

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Project to digitize works from Inuit artists gets further grant from Canadian Heritage, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Sámi-themed Finnish short film makes Sundance lineup, Yle News

Greenland: `Enough of this postcolonial sh#%’ – An interview with Greenlandic author Niviaq Korneliussen, Eye on the Arctic

Iceland: Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson lights up London’s Tate Modern, Blog by Mia bennett

Norway: Walt Disney Animation Studios to release Saami-language version of “Frozen 2”, Eye on the Arctic

Russia: Russia’s Arctic culture heritage sites get protection, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Sweden, Norway team up to preserve ancient rock carvings, Radio Sweden

United States: Set of Indigenous Yup’ik masks reunited in Alaska after more than a century, CBC News

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying an culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

3 thoughts on “Artist from Canada’s Northwest Territories designs new Royal Canadian Mint collector coin

  • Avatar
    Tuesday, August 11, 2020 at 19:04
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    Well written! I was one of Myrna’s supervisors at Grollier Hall when she went to Inuvik for school and then have run into her several times since we’ve both moved to Yellowknife. Proud of so many of my “Grollier Brats”, and Myrna is no exception. I remember her well as a teen and I am not surprised at how much she has accomplished. So happy for her…and I really appreciate how your article reads. It educates as well as explains. I know that’s also what Myrna does, so I’m happy you captured that.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Tuesday, August 11, 2020 at 23:48
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    Eilis Quinn respectfully shared details we talked about with accuracy. She is truly a talented reporter.

    Reply
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