Nunavut historian, linguist, teacher, businessman becomes Danish knight

Kenn "Ilisaijikutaaq" Harper appointed to Royal Order of Dannebrog


Kenn Harper says he's humbled and honoured to receive meritorious recognition from Denmark. (PHOTO COURTESY KENN HARPER)

Kenn Harper says he’s humbled and honoured to receive meritorious recognition from Denmark. (PHOTO COURTESY KENN HARPER)

You don’t have to call him knight or lord or even sir, Kenn Harper says.

He’d probably prefer that you just call him by his Inuktitut name — Ilisaijikutaaq — which means, in English, “tall teacher.”

Harper, a long-time writer, historian, linguist, teacher and businessman, was appointed Knight of the Royal Order of Dannebrog this past April.

The honour was recently approved by the federal government and became official June 9 with the presentation of a medal by Danish ambassador Niels Boel Abrahamsen in Ottawa.

“I certainly wasn’t expecting it,” Harper said June 12, during a visit to Ottawa. “I’m humbled and honoured at the same time.”

The Royal Order of Dannebrog is a traditional Danish order that today honours and rewards people who have made contributions to Denmark in the arts, science or business, or who work to advance Danish interests.

Harper is being recognized primarily for his work as Honourary Consul for Denmark in Iqaluit, an unpaid position he’s held since 2005, and for his contributions to Greenland-Nunavut relations.

“I was always interested in Greenland and consider myself reasonably knowledgeable on Greenland and Greenlandic affairs,” he said. “That sort of morphed into me being interested in Denmark as well.”

Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna recognized Ilisaijikutaaq’s knighthood in the Nunavut Legislative Assembly June 12.

“I would also like to acknowledge his special interest in learning Inuktut, which he speaks very well,” Taptuna said. “Please join me in congratulating Mr. Kenn Harper on this significant occasion.”

Harper said he was flattered that the premier used his Inuktitut name, a moniker he earned when he first started teaching in Qikiqtarjuaq, then-Broughton Island, 48 years ago.

He said there are elders in Nunavut who still only know him by that name.

Harper, who is fluent in Inuktitut, lived in Qaanaaq, Greenland, in the early 1980s and says he picked up a lot of Danish back then but that these days, his Danish is a bit rusty.

Nonetheless, his attachment to Greenland has remained over the past three decades and he hopes to continue helping build relations between Nunavut and Greenland, including lobbying efforts to reinstate year-round airline flights between the two jurisdictions.

Air Greenland will recommence it’s seasonal Iqaluit-Nuuk flights on Friday, June 13, and cease those flights on Sept. 15.

“I like to think I played a role in that,” he said. “I know I did.”

Harper is also famous for penning a column in 2004 entitled “Hans Island rightfully belongs to Greenland, Denmark” in which he supported Greenland’s claim to the tiny, High Arctic island in the middle of Kennedy Channel — the body of water separating Ellesmere Island from Greenland.

Harper says being named to the Dannebrog Royal Order doesn’t give him any special perks, such as an EU passport. But he can put “R” at the end of his name, as in Kenn Harper, R.

‘“You don’t have to call me sir but you could if you wanted,” he said, laughing.

The R stands for “ridder,” which means “knight” in Danish.

Harper says it’s unlikely he’ll incorporate the letter into his name.

“It would be confusing and maybe even a bit pompous,” Harper said. “But the knighthood is a very nice honour to have.”

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