Being named to the Order of Canada is, for one longtime Yellowknifer, made more special by the fact another Indigenous woman will be presenting her with the honour.
Gail Cyr is among three northerners being appointed to the order by Governor General Mary Simon at a later date. And it won’t be the first time they’ve met, said Cyr.
“She was one of the leading women involved in land claims and Inuit rights,” she explained. “Very pleasant and soft spoken, but very effective.”
Charlie Evalik and Asger “Red” Pedersen, both from Nunavut, are also being named to the Order of Canada, which is one of the country’s highest civilian honours, and which is presented to residents for a variety of contributions. To date, more than 7,500 Canadians have been appointed to the order.
Cyr is being recognized for her career in municipal politics and advocacy. She was the only Indigenous member of Yellowknife’s city council in the 1980s and pushed for more Indigenous representation at the municipal level.
She has worked for the Native Women’s Association and volunteered for numerous organizations.
Cyr said one of her proudest accomplishments was when she established the NWT Native Court Workers Association.
“It was hiring and training Indigenous persons from communities to help people out with legal issues that they were having,” she said.
Cyr is a Sixties Scoop survivor, who has talked publicly about the effect of being raised by a non-Indigenous family. She has also been a strong advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and victims of abuse.
Cyr, who now describes herself as retired, is staying busy by being involved in numerous organizations including being a member of the Northwest Territories Human Rights Commission and a director of the Yellowknife Seniors’ Society.
Charlie Evalik, who was the chief negotiator in the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, said he was “not expecting it” when he heard he had also been named to the order.
Evalik, who currently lives in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, helped the territory of Nunavut become a reality.
“It all stems from the agreement itself and the Inuit were starting to be fully involved in that,” he said.
July 9, 1993 – the day the Nunavut land claim was settled (now Nunavut Day) – will always be a special memory to Evalik.
“It was a proud moment for all Inuit,” he said. “To be part of the celebrations.”
Nunavut is under lockdown because of rising COVID-19 cases, so Evalik said he will be celebrating the accomplishment through phone calls with friends and relatives.
Asger “Red” Pedersen
Asger “Red” Pedersen is being recognized for his contributions to the growth and development of public government in the North. Pedersen currently lives in Kugluktuk, Nunavut, but was an instrumental figure in N.W.T. politics before Nunavut’s establishment.
From 1983 to 1991, he was a member of the Northwest Territories Legislature representing a riding in modern day Kitikmeot. He also served as the legislature’s Speaker from 1987 to 1989, and in 2013 was acclaimed as the mayor of Kugluktuk.
Seventy years ago, he was a fur trader with the Hudson’s Bay Company.
“The economy was entirely based on the fur trade and dog teams were transportation, it really was totally different,” he said of Nunavut when he first arrived. He said the territory has changed a lot in his lifetime, but “so has everywhere else.”
“Now everyone has cellphones and everything is done digitally, it makes old fellas like me feel silly,” he said with a laugh.
He also offered a piece of advice for young people who want to pursue a career in politics.
“Be honourable,” he said, pausing. “You’re the same person you were before you were elected, don’t believe you suddenly became a big shot, keep to your roots, remember where you came from and be honourable.”
An official ceremony will take place at a later date, where Simon will grant members their insignia.
Related stories from around the North:
Canada: Canada honours Arctic’s last known WW II bone collector, CBC News
Greenland: International Inuit organization announces youth leadership award winners in honour of Hans-Pavia Rosing, Eye on the Arctic