Johnny Issaluk hasn’t done everything, but it’s on his list. In addition to acting on screen and stage, Issaluk, who lives in Iqaluit, is also an accomplished athlete with 20 years’ experience competing in and coaching traditional Inuit games, a motivational speaker, a mentor to youth in the Arctic and beyond and The Royal Canadian Geographical Society's newest Explorer-in-Residence. He attributes his success to a lifelong desire to learn new skills and overcome his own fears.
On being a global ambassador for Inuit culture
I used to be extremely shy. Once, when I was really nervous about a gig modelling traditional clothing, a friend of mine said, “Johnny, it’s not about you, you know that, right? It’s about the people who made the clothing, who hunted the animal, who cleaned the skin, who sewed the jacket.” It just blew me away, and I went from being shy to being proud of who I represent. Every time I’m in front of the camera, I’m speaking from my people, from my ancestors. I’m a proud Inuk, a proud Canadian.
On setting a positive example for youth
Part of how I define success is tied to my love of inspiring people, especially youth, to do whatever they dream about doing, even the things that terrify them. I’m terrified of heights, but I’ve jumped out of an airplane on my own. I’m claustrophobic and terrified of drowning, but I’m a scuba diver — I’m actually part of the Sedna expedition team that’s going to dive and snorkel the Northwest Passage starting in 2020. I snowboard, I’m a writer, I’m a poet, I’m a painter, I’m a carpenter, I’m a mechanic — all these things I’m not 100 per cent perfect at but I can do because I’ve tried. My drive, with all that learning, is to show kids that you can do anything if you put your mind to it. I do that as a way to give back what was given to me. Knowledge ultimately is not mine to keep, so I share it as much as I can.
On encouraging Canadians to see the North
Come up and see the Arctic. Get an understanding of why we live the way we do and why we choose to live up there. It’s beautiful. It’s serene. You go five minutes outside the community and you’re in a therapeutic environment. I’d love to teach that more, even within our communities: just go for a walk and you’re free. So for anyone who wants to understand or see the Arctic, come up. Everybody’s going to welcome you in.