Eva Aariak, politician, second premier of Nunavut (born 10 January 1955 in Arctic Bay, Northwest Territories [now Nunavut]). Eva Aariak has the distinction of being Nunavut’s first female premier, and she has been instrumental in the promotion of Inuit languages in the territory.
Early Life and Education
Eva Qamaniq Aariak was born and raised in Arctic Bay, a small community in northern Baffin Island (part of the Qikiqtaaluk Region of Nunavut). Her father, Eric Mitchell, was of Scottish descent and worked for the art company Canadian Arctic Producers. Although Aariak and Mitchell formed a relationship later on in Aariak’s life, she was raised by her adoptive father, Aliguq, who worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company in Arctic Bay. Her mother, Kautaq, was a translator at the Arctic Bay nursing station and raised seven children.
Upon returning to the North, Aariak worked several jobs including as an educator, translator and producer of children’s books. She was also a television reporter and radio announcer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
An active community member, Aariak served in a number of capacities, including as the councillor of the Arctic Bay Education Council, chair of the Baffin Regional Chamber of Commerce and the director of the training and development division of the Government of Nunavut’s Department of Human Resources.
Work on Inuit Languages
Aariak’s lifelong passion has been the study of languages and, in particular, of Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun. (See also Indigenous Languages in Canada). As such, she has assumed positions that could further the understanding of these languages, both within their own linguistic communities and within the broader context of English and French languages. In particular, she advocated for the love of Inuit languages to young people when she was the Inuktitut-book-publishing coordinator for the Baffin Divisional Education Council, its goal to ensure the integrity of northern languages in children’s books.
In 1999, the year when Nunavut became a territory, Aariak became the territory’s first languages commissioner. This gave her the opportunity to further the development and understanding of Inuit languages in a public service context. During her tenure, she assisted in making Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun working languages of the territorial government and laid the groundwork for bills that became the Official Languages Act and Inuit Language Protection Act. Aariak also helped translate Microsoft interfaces into syllabics. She helped to add new words into the Inuktitut lexicon, such as ikiaqqivik, a word for Internet that translates into “travelling through layers.”
After her commissionership, she opened a popular arts and crafts store, Malikkaat, and taught Inuktitut at Iqaluit’s Pirurvik Centre.
Aariak was appointed languages commissioner for a brief time again in 2007, but she stepped down shortly after to run for the Legislative Assembly of Nunavut.
On 27 October 2008, Aariak won the seat for Iqaluit East in Nunavut’s third territorial election, becoming the only woman elected to Nunavut’s 19-seat Legislative Assembly. On 14 November 2008, Aariak was chosen as Nunavut’s second premier, defeating Paul Okalik and a third candidate for premier, Tagak Curley. She is the fifth woman to lead a provincial or territorial government in Canada and was Nunavut’s sole female elected to the Legislative Assembly in the 2008 election.
Aariak’s priorities included reducing poverty in the territory, children and youth, Inuit languages and utilizing Nunavut’s rich supply of natural resources to sustain the region’s growth and the prosperity of its citizens.
Aariak announced on 5 September 2013 that she would not seek a second term as premier. She was defeated by George Hickes Jr. in the subsequent election 28 October 2013. In this fourth territorial election in Nunavut, Aariak lost her seat in Iqaluit-Tasiluk by 43 votes.
Eva Aariak raised four children: Karliin, Jordan, Shawn and Jari; and she is a grandmother. She currently resides in Iqaluit and continues to advocate for the preservation and promotion of Inuit languages and Indigenous rights.
Awards and Honours
On 25 September 2014, Eva Aariak received an Eve award from Equal Voice, an organization that works to elect female candidates in Canadian politics.
Lisa Gregoire, “Madam Premier: How Eva Aariak is reinventing the politics of the North,” The Walrus (January, 2011).