Edna Agnes Ekhivalak Elias, C.M., O.Nu.
Edna Elias is an educator and politician from Qurluqtuq, who served as the 4th commissioner of Nunavut, 2010-2015. A trilingual speaker of Inuktitut, Inuinnaqtun and English, she is an advocate of Inuit language and an active promoter of the Inuit culture and history within Canada and, more recently, in Sweden. She began her career as a primary school teacher in Arctic Bay and later was a principal in Qurluqtuq. After transitioning into politics, she served as councillor and mayor of Qurluqtuq and was co-chair of the Northwest Territories Aboriginal Language Task Force, where she oversaw the delivery of Aboriginal and Official Language services for the Government and Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories. She also served as director of the Language Bureau of the Department of Culture and Employment for the Government of the Northwest Territories. She founded the Edmonton Inuit Cultural Society and owned and operated her own interpretation, translation and consulting business. Recently, she was an associate producer of a documentary film about her family history and heritage.
- Edna was involved as a board member in the final stages of negotiations on the Tunngavik Federation of Nunavut for the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, leading to the creation of Nunavut. She was the only woman on the board.
- In 1993, Edna had the lead role in coordinating the celebrations of Nunavut’s birth, held in Qurluqtuq on July 9, 1993, the day when both the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and the Nunavut Act received royal assent.
- In her youth, Edna spent at least half the year (spring-fall) with her grandparents in their traditional homelands near Byron Bay, west of Cambridge Bay on Victoria Island.
- She was sent to a residential school in Inuvik at a young age.
- Edna helped establish a daycare in her home community of Qurluqtuq. Initially, it was operated in Inuinnaqtun only. The daycare is still operating today.
- As commissioner of Nunavut, Edna conferred honours, including the Commissioner’s Awards, the Order of Nunavut and the Diamond Jubilee Awards. She recalls: “One recipient I’ll never forget. He had a very humble job, and every Sunday he used to go and ring the church bell. People heard it, but they never knew who rang it. That’s the kind of people we recognized.”
- Edna learned to handle dog teams in her youth. She gave up her last dog team in the early 2000s.
- Her voluntary work in Inuinnaqtun continues. With three others, she is the lead in the rewriting of the Inuinnaqtun prayer/hymn book (originally written by the late Bishop Sperry). In order to make the church material readable for new generations who learned the standardized system in their schooling, they are rewriting the work using the Inuit Cultural Institute standardized writing system. So far, they’ve completed the Gospels and 30 children’s Bible stories. Audio recordings of the children’s books will also be produced.
I would write to my mom from residential school in Inuinnaqtun because she didn’t speak English. She answered me in Inuinnaqtun. It took me a few days to decipher the letter, but that started the communication. Now I thought, ‘I have to help others.