Northern News Services
Elisapee Ootoova (left) received a Governor General's Award in Commemoration of the Persons's Case. Governor General Adrienne Clarkson presented Ootoova with the honour in Ottawa last week. Interpreter Leonie Kunnuk (centre) assisted at the event. - photo courtesy of M/Cpl. Cindy Molyneaux
For her efforts, the prominent Inuk role model from Pond Inlet was one of five outstanding Canadian women given the Governor General's Award in Ottawa on Person's Day, Oct. 18.
Governor General Adrienne Clarkson presented the 71-year-old elder with the Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case -- the 1929 Canadian court battle that resulted in women achieving the legal definition of persons.
In 1979, 50 years after that monumental decision, the Governor General began handing out awards to Canadian women to acknowledge their outstanding contributions to equality resulting in positive change.
Ootoova is one of the creators of an encyclopedia of Inuit Traditional Knowledge. She also wrote the Inuktitut dictionary: Tununiq Dialect and was a main contributor to Pond Inlet women speak about power.
Ootoova is also known for her dedication to Pond Inlet's community justice committee and organizes support groups for victims of spousal assault and child sexual assault.
Choice of dress
Despite the honour the Governor General's Award carries, Ootoova was extremely humble about the achievement.
"I didn't think I deserved this," said Ootoova. "It was extremely wonderful going to Ottawa for it, especially because my two daughters and my son-in-law and grandchildren all went with me. There were 10 of us all together," she said.
Ootoova said she chose to wear traditional Inuit clothing during the ceremony so Canadians would know that an Inuk had received the award.
"I wasn't trying to make myself look beautiful.
"I just wanted to let people know that an Inuk from Nunavut was there," she said.
Despite her intense modesty, Ootoova said the award rejuvenated her drive to keep working in Pond Inlet as a role model for the betterment of Inuit.
"This is good for Nunavut and good for the women in Nunavut," she said.
Philippa Ootoova, Elisapee's daughter-in-law, was less modest about her mother-in-law's accomplishments.
"She's contributed in so many ways. She has certainly helped young women in all kinds of situations -- and families too -- supporting them and trying to understand how they feel and help them adapt from the past to the future," said Philippa, adding the family was ecstatic to hear news of the award.
"We're very proud of her, but I don't know if they really realize the magnitude of this ... and she (Elisapee) is very much overwhelmed by it and she's very shy about it all," said Philippa.