Campaign seeks money to keep the heat on, lights on for sick ‘living legend’ Inuit singer


Charlie Panigoniak has been singing songs about Inuit life in the language of his people since the 1970s. Now he suffers from Parkinson’s disease and dementia.

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RANKIN INLET, Nunavut – A sick and aging Inuit singer-songwriter whose name is a household word from the Arctic addressed the audience to ask the audience to keep the heat and lights on in his house.

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“I didn’t know how to do this on our own,” said Lorna Panigoniak, Charlie Panigoniak’s longtime wife and musical partner. “It’s hard.”

She launched a GoFundMe campaign just after Christmas in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, where the couple live.

Charlie Panigoniak, 72, has been singing songs about Inuit life in the language of his people since the 1970s. Born on the land, he did not move into a community until the late 1950s and learned to play. playing the guitar on an instrument his father made from a tin can.

A stay in Brandon, Manitoba in 1967 for treatment for tuberculosis opened his ears to the sounds of country and folk music. He started to write songs in Inuktitut about his friends, family and everyday life.

He made his first recording in 1973. Since then, he has filled the radio waves and community halls in the North.

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“It definitely draws the crowds,” said John Main, organizer of local music festivals and member of the local legislature. “Everyone knows his name.

He had that natural talent as a performer where he was so naturally creative you couldn’t put him in a box.

About 10 years ago, Panigoniak fell ill. He suffers from Parkinson’s disease and dementia.

“He’s not that good,” his wife said.

The couple depended on their pension and salary. Unlike most Inuit, they own their own homes and are responsible for the operating costs.

Lorna’s job was recently transferred from Rankin Inlet and she decided that neither she nor her husband could move.

They have six grandchildren in Rankin Inlet, three of whom live with them. Charlie has already rejected a move to a southern care facility.

“He wants to be at home in Nunavut, not in the south.

Lorna Panigoniak still has not received an employment insurance check. With no income other than her husband’s pension, the two cannot afford the high cost of fuel oil to run the family furnace.

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“He has no idea I’m doing this, with his condition,” she said. “I try to do it myself.

“We just don’t want to ask our loved ones for help. They have to take care of their own families.

He wants to be at home in Nunavut

Main said it was not unusual for Nunavut homeowners to be squeezed by high northern heating costs at this time of year.

“In winter, your utility costs skyrocket. It is the tightest time of the year.

But Panigoniak, he said, deserves better.

“He’s a living legend and he deserves all the support we can give him. He had a great influence on the current generation of musicians in Nunavut simply because his music was so ubiquitous.

His songs are sometimes religious, sometimes rooted in traditional stories such as the one featuring a speaking seal. In another, he taps his fingers on a guitar to mimic the sound of a traditional Inuit drum.

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Then there is his Inuktitut version of “Rudolph, the red nosed reindeer”, which translates to “Rutami tuktugaqalaunipuq”.

“It wasn’t a performer who would come in and just play the same songs,” Main recalls. “He would always be different – something he worked on, themes he would play around… he had that natural performing talent where he was so naturally creative you couldn’t put him in a box.”

Panigoniak received the Order of Nunavut in 2012, the territory’s highest honor.

His wife asks for $ 5,000. That should be enough to ignite the furnace until EI comes in, she said.

“It’s going pretty well. It’s almost half the way.

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