February 2, 2001

Nunavut’s Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit group gets started

Task force wants "Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit" to prevail in GN offices.

Nunatsiaq News

IQALUIT — If it were up to the Nunavut government’s Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit task force, Inuktitut would be their working language, government programs would reflect the Inuit way of life, and Inuit culture would flourish in the workplace.

In meetings that were ripe with Inuit culture — the lighting of the qulliq, eating country foods and singing traditional songs — GN employees, Nunavut Social Development Council members, and elders talked about ways of bringing Inuit traditional knowledge into the daily workings of the territorial government.

"We have to implement bits of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit everywhere," said Simon Awa, a justice department employee who is co-chair of the task force.

The focus is on Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, which involves Inuit knowledge of wildlife, hunting techniques, and survival skills, and the tradition of passing on Inuit knowledge from elders to the younger generation. "Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit" is commonly translated as "Inuit traditional knowledge."

The task force’s mission is to direct the Nunavut government on how to apply Inuit traditional knowledge to its programs, policies and services, and to make government offices more conducive to the Inuit lifestyle.

The task force — made up of Simon Awa, Sandra Inutiq, NSDC members Louis Tapardjuk and John Ningark, and elders Elisapee Ootoova and Mariano Aupilardjuk — came to Iqaluit last week for its first meeting.

The Inuktitut language was a hot topic at the gathering. Task force members bluntly said that without the Inuktitut language, Inuit traditional knowledge cannot thrive.

"The Inuktitut language needs to be organized more. Inuktitut language needs to be preserved," said Louis Tapardjuk. "When we use Inuktitut language we can use Inuit traditional knowledge along side it."

For Tapardjuk and the others, that means government employees should be speaking Inuktitut in the workplace. If Inuktitut is to become the GN’s working language, Qallanaat civil servants may have to be immersed in language classes and culture workshops, he said.

"You become handicapped when you don’t know a language that is being used," Tapardjuk said in Inuktitut, the language that prevailed during the entire meeting.

Tapardjuk said there’s more to implementing Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit than just speaking the language.

He said government has to take a broader approach and use Inuit traditional knowledge in the policies, programs and services that it institutes throughout Nunavut. He suggested that elders be consulted on new policies to ensure that Inuit traditions are taken into account.

Another initiative they’re looking at is making the workplace reflect the Inuit lifestyle. Rather than following the Qallunaat way of working from Monday to Friday, nine to five, Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit suggests that Inuit work more around a hunting schedule.

That way, for example, Inuit would get "traditional leave" to go caribou hunting during the caribou season.

Aupilardjuk, a well-known elder who sits on the task force, recalled the arrival of Qallunaat: "When the Europeans arrived I felt very happy because I didn’t think we’d suffer anymore. But, in the long run, we lost our identity and culture," he said.

He pointed out, though, that while the two cultures may have clashed in the past, there’s opportunity now for mutual respect.

"When I’m still alive I’d like to assist the next Inuit generation and their own identity," Aupilardjuk said.

No one is saying the task of implementing IQ will be easy. The Nunavut government has said it wants traditional knowledge to be at its foundation, but it has yet to be fully incorporated.

Awa expects there’s much more work to do before Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit is accepted as a legitimate workplace practice.

The group is planning to meet again in mid-March in Rankin Inlet to come up with strategies for incorporating Inuit traditional knowledge.

"If we are committed to Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit and the Nunavut government is committed than they should be able to make changes to reflect Inuit culture," Awa said.