March 13, 2009
Wise Woman award honours the courage of youth
"It takes a special and strong young woman to share her story," says Nunavut Status of Women Council
The Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women Council has honoured an 18-year-old woman for showing courage and wisdom beyond her years - in refusing to remain a victim of the multiple sexual abuse she suffered as a young girl.
The council named Iqaluit's Levi Nowdlak their 2009 "Wise Woman of the Year" for the courage she found to bring her sexual abusers to justice, and to speak publicly about her experiences of abuse.
Beginning when she was seven, Nowdlak was sexually abused many times by several different men, including a member of her extended family.
But when she was 16 she said "enough," and went to the police, beginning a two-year process that ended last November when she faced the abusive family member in court and he was convicted.
When their eyes met in the courtroom, she recalled in an interview published last month in Nunatsiaq News, "it was like this time he was the little one. I wasn't the helpless little girl I once was. He was the helpless one now."
When she heard that her assailant had been abused too, she realized that "he felt the same way I felt." She felt sorry for him, but knew that she would never excuse what he did.
"I would never wish what happened to me on my worst enemy. It makes you feel worthless."
That's when she said she knew, "I need to break the cycle." She decided to tell her story under a pseudonym to the public in the newspaper interview.
And on Saturday she took the next step in her healing, coming forward in public to accept the council's award under her own name. She received the award in a ceremony at Inuksuk High School last Saturday to mark International Women's Day.
"I want to show girls that they can step up and say this is what happened to them, without being scared, or afraid of being judged," she said after accepting the award.
"I want to show people hope."
"It took a lot of courage and strength for my girl to speak up," Her mother, Evie Nowdlak, added, her arm around her daughter for support.
Nowdlak "is an incredible role model to the girls and women in Nunavut who share her experience, but who are perhaps not sure if they have the strength and support to speak out about what happened to them," Qulliit council vice-president Trista Mercer said in making the award.
"It takes a very special and strong young woman to stand up and talk about her own experiences, to share her story with others, in the hope of encouraging others to come forward and break this cycle of abuse."
In the public presentation, Mercer explained that the Wise Woman of the Year Awards are intended to recognize and honour "women's contributions to happy and healthy communities throughout our territory."
She said that although wisdom and courage often come with age, "there are also many young women and girls in this territory who have courage and wisdom, who stand up for what they believe in, and who speak out against injustice."
The Qulliit Council also honoured the 11 other women who were nominated for the Wise Woman award. They are: Maria Kripanik; Celina Irngaut (Igloolik); Judy Gabuna; Annie Nattaq; Elisapi Davidee Aningmiuq (Iqaluit); Leah Kalluk; Audrey Qammaniq (Arctic Bay); Emiline Kowmak (Rankin Inlet); Lena Kamoayok (Cambridge Bay); Beatrice Bernhardt; and Marion Bolt (Kugluktuk).
The awards ceremony included musical performances by women, particularly highlighting throat singing, drum dancing and choral singing by high school students Christine Tootoo, Kailey Arreak, Eden Tootoo, Crystal Mullin, Marley Dunkers and Shirley Kunik.
Other performers included Lena Evic, and Ellen Hamilton, and Karen Mackenzie.
The event was preceded by a sale of women's crafts, and donations collected at the door for the Aggvik society's women's shelters amounted to $1,053.
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