Charlie Panigoniak becomes member of Order of Nunavut
“I composed songs to lift the spirits of the people”
The legendary Nunavut musician, Charlie Panigoniak, 67, became the fourth person to receive the territory’s greatest honour, the Order of Nunavut, on Sept. 20
Thunderous applause greeted Panigoniak after Nunavut Commissioner Edna Elias placed the medal around his neck in a ceremony at the Nunavut Legislative Assembly.
“He is an ambassador for our territory and his people,” said Hunter Tootoo, who is chairperson of the Order of Nunavut advisory council and speaker of Nunavut’s legislative assembly.
Panigoniak, overcome with emotion, cleared the tears away from his eyes during his introduction.
More than 80 people attended the ceremony, where the audience included Nunavut’s MP Leona Aglukkaq, Premier Eva Aariak, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. President Cathy Towtongie, and many MLAs.
When Panigoniak spoke to the audience in the cramped legislative chambers, he thanked the people of Nunavut for the award, as well as his wife for her years of support.
“A while back I had a desire to sing on the land, in school, on local radio. With this desire, I composed songs to lift the spirits of the people,” Panigoniak said.
Over the years, Panigoniak has made a name for himself by performing and recording music as far back as the early 1970s. His numerous albums include Inuktitut versions of children’s and Christmas songs, sung in a country-folk style.
Rankin Inlet MLA Tagak Curley, who knows Panigoniak well, said he’s played a tremendous role in community building and language relations in Nunavut.
“He has comforted our elders, he has promoted our language, he just has become one who can comfort individuals,” said Curley. “He started singing in his own language, in a language that we understand, and he has encouraged so many other individuals as well to get on the stage.”
After the ceremony, the crowd lingered in the lobby around a table filled with country food, where they watched old clips of Panigoniak playing guitar on stage.
His love affair with music started in Chesterfield Inlet when his father made him a small guitar. It wasn’t until 1967, in his early 20s, that his father bought Panigoniak a real guitar, when he travelled to Manitoba to receive treatment for tuberculosis.
But singing and songwriting isn’t the only contribution Panigoniak has made to the territory.
He has also worked with the Inuit Broadcasting Corp. and even provided Inuit-language play-by-play coverage of a full National Hockey League game between the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens.
The Order of Nunavut was first awarded in 2011, when the late Jose Amaujaq Kusugak, the late Mark Kalluak and Rev. Michael Gardener received the honour.
The order is the highest honour in Nunavut, recommended by the Speaker, the senior judge of the Nunavut Court of Justice and the president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.
The acclaimed artist, Kenojuak Ashevak of Cape Dorset, will be invested into the Order of Nunavut at a later date, the Nunavut Advisory Council said.