When Eunice Nasogaluak was first offered the recognition of the NWT Status of Women Council’s Beaufort Delta Wise Woman of 2019, her initial response was quite humble.
“I was in shock for a bit. I wasn’t sure if I should accept it because, thinking about it, I don’t know exactly how they would come about selecting a wise woman,” she said. “To myself, I was not really that person. You volunteer and teach but I don’t consider that wise, I consider it maybe giving back to community. So I told her I would think about it over the weekend.”
What ultimately won her over, she said, was the chance to visit some family, particularly her grandchildren, in Yellowknife and have them there to see the ceremony.
“I haven’t seen my granddaughters for awhile,” she said. “I was allowed to invite five people to be with me when I accept the award so I invited them to the ceremony. I thought it would be good for them to hear it.”
“To the two people that nominated me, I was honoured to accept the award.”
However, you only need to spend a few minutes talking to Eunice to realize why she was selected. A pillar of the Tuktoyaktuk community, her list of contributions and accomplishments runs several miles long, ranging from a 22-year reindeer ranching business with her husband that they built from the ground up, passing on the drum dance and helping preserve traditional songs for future generations.
This last one is particularly dear to her heart. Many moons ago she was able to record many traditional songs from her elders. Then she took the audio to Yellowknife and got a CD made. Now youth in Tuktoyaktuk are learning traditional songs not heard in a generation.
“Years earlier I was a co-ordinator for our drum dance group, Tuktoyaktuk Drummers and Dancers, we had practices every Monday and we used to have up to at least 40 people in a night,” she said. “That included our elders. The ones that taught us the songs especially, but what I did was to record their songs on audiotape. They are songs with stories. We were always there listening and watching.
“It wasn’t until we noticed the drum dance was dying out slowly, so we started to revive it and get the younger generation involved.”
Part of her hesitation for collecting the award was that this wasn’t even the only recognition she received in recent times. In 2018, Nasogaluak was awarded the Northwest Territories Recreation and Parks Association Active Elder Award for her annual participation in the Walk to Tuk, which she took part in up until this year.
Being active was just something that came naturally for Nasogaluak.
“Our dad was very athletic and knew a lot of the traditional athletic games,” she said. “We were always involved in those games. I had three older brothers and they all did the games and I always joined them. I would compete with them and it did not make them very happy but I could keep up with them.”
She’s still heavily involved in her community, singing and providing lessons on skinning and preparing animals to local students. She also is an active musician and singer, with interests ranging from gospel to traditional drum dance songs.
“My friend and I often talk about how we miss singing the old songs,” she said. “We’re going to make time to keep that up. Another friend of mine and I have decided we’re going to form a band. She plays piano, another friend plays guitar and I play the bass. We used to have a lot of fun and singing in our house.
“Music is fun. It’s healing.”
Her biggest nugget of wisdom for younger generations? Stay in school, sing and play music and stay away from drugs and alcohol.
“If you get up every day and you’re determined to make it a success, it’s good and makes you feel very good,” she said. “Our lifestyle has changed so much over the years, but tradition must be kept up.
“Get as much education as possible. Don’t just do Grade 12 — go to college or university. We have a lot of smart young people.”