Rather than a showcase of Nunavut’s landscapes, the cover shortlist for Canadian Geographic’s March/April issue is a striking celebration of the people of the territory on the 20th anniversary of its creation. Each photo evokes a unique story of Nunavut, so when the cover vote went out to our followers, the Canadian Geographic team had no idea which would win.
As author Michael Kusugak notes in his feature about Nunavut at 20, the more than 30,000 Inuit of the territory (83 per cent of its population and one of Canada’s fastest-growing groups) are united by a common culture and dialects of a common language (Inuktut), but reactions to the negotiations and decisions that gave birth to Canada’s youngest territory on April 1, 1999 were, understandably, complex and varied. “Many of us had and still have reservations about the details of the Nunavut Agreement,” writes Kusugak.
Yet, he adds, “we had this new pride in who we are, Inuit in our own homeland.” And perhaps it was pride in home and tradition that thousands of voters saw and responded to in these four covers — all the work of Can Geo Photographer-in-Residence Michelle Valberg. While option 3, an image of Martha Flaherty gazing out across the Northwest Passage and wearing her embroidered amauti, proved to be the voter favourite (winning by a slim margin, at 34 per cent), the editorial team still had a difficult decision to make. By weighing that crucial reader input along with our magazine expertise and familiarity with Kusugak’s story, the runner-up (option 2, with 28 per cent of the vote), of Gjoa Haven Elder Paul Eleehetook and his adopted grandson Matt Eleehetook, was chosen as the March/April cover. (Option 1, of Tommy Tatatuapik in Arctic Bay, earned 16 per cent of the vote, while option 4, of Aaju Peter of Iqaluit, took 22 per cent.)
Like any of the individuals pictured on these covers, Paul and Matt Eleehetook provide a powerful sense of connection to the land, to ancient tradition and to Nunavut today. “But,” adds Can Geo editor in chief Aaron Kylie, “there is also a strong generational connection implied by the grandfather and grandson that is both a compelling storytelling tool and a reflection of the growth of Nunavut.” He and creative director Javier Frutos also liked how the colours and composition of the image supported the most prominent use of the Inuktut syllabics for “Nunavut!”
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