As a boy in Aklavik, George Koe got into a lot of trouble.
He moved to Yellowknife and got in more trouble.
He slept on the street, ate at the Salvation Army, and pan-handled to support his addiction.
A chance meeting led Koe to the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation, a non-profit that runs Indigenous healing camps and cultural programming in the North.
Aug. 10 marked 90 days since Koe discovered the foundation, and 90 days of sobriety.
“I went to a lot of treatment programs, done a lot of counselling, but they open the door and they closed the door on me,” Koe told a room of business-types during the Arctic Indigenous Investment Conference on Friday.
“I had the chance to go and get a coffee every day at that camp, and that’s where I’ve been since then,” he said. “And I love it today.”
The Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation was last year’s recipient of the $1-million Arctic Inspiration Prize, an award granted each year to an organization that gathers Arctic knowledge and uses it to benefit Arctic peoples in Canada.
At the conference on Friday, representatives from the wellness foundation and the Arctic Inspiration Prize encouraged Northern and Indigenous businesses and governments to support the prize.
“People in the North have the ability to take care of the North, but we need help to do that, and the Arctic Inspiration Prize has really helped us move forward with what we’re doing,” said Donald Prince, executive director of the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation.
“I really want to stress too that if there are people out there with lots of money, and if they want to give it away, this is a good cause,” Prince added, to chuckles from the crowd.
Speaking about the last year’s prizewinner, Glen Abernethy, the territorial minister of Health and Social Services, said the government of Northwest Territories recognizes “the importance of Indigenous culture in the delivery of care.”
“We see a large disparity in health and social outcomes of Indigenous people and other Canadians as a result of colonization and mainstream institutions that have often not served Indigenous people well,” said Abernethy.
“There is no question that the GNWT has a role to play in reconciliation.”
Abernethy said supporting the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation is one way the government is supporting the delivery of culturally appropriate services.
He said GNWT contributes $50,000 a year to the Arctic Inspiration Prize.
The 2018 Arctic Inspiration Prize award ceremony will take place in Whitehorse in February, 2019 at an event co-hosted by the Arctic Indigenous Investment Conference.
The second annual Arctic Indigenous Investment Conference took place at the Chateau Nova Hotel in Yellowknife this week and about 200 people, including speakers and sponsors, attended.
The three-day networking event hosted by the Yukon First Nation Chamber of Commerce and the Denendeh Development Corporation brought together Indigenous business people and industry and government representatives from NWT and the Yukon.