CamBay man challenges hamlet’s lack of Inuinnaqtun service
“What if a unilingual Inuk came in, how would they know what was going on if there was no interpretation?"
CAMBRIDGE BAY — Richard Ekpakohak of Cambridge Bay came to the Oct. 10 hamlet council meeting with a folded-up letter in his hand.
It was a news release sent last month from the Official Languages Commissioner to remind public officials of the services they are to provide by 2012.
The release spells out the responsibilities of Nunavut hamlets under the Inuit Language Protection Act “to provide, regardless of the volume or level of demand, if any, communications and services in the Inuit Language.”
In Cambridge Bay, this means Inuinnaqtun street signs, traffic signs, municipal notices to the public, by-law enforcement and ticketing, interpretation at public meetings, and municipal council meetings with Inuinnaqtun translations.
Ekpakohak said you can’t find that at Cambridge Bay’s council meetings, which do not use interpreters.
“What if a unilingual Inuk came in, how would they know was the going on if there was no interpretation?” he asked
Ekpakohak said there should be Inuinnaqtun spoken in the reception area and people employed at the hamlet who are able to provide Inuinnaqtun services.
Mayor Jeanne Ehaloak said she agreed with his comments.
But Ehaloak said its “very very difficult” to find Inuinnaqtun speakers, because many are too embarrassed to speak in case they make a mistake. Those who do speak well don’t necessarily feel competent, as translators and those who do are usually too much in demand to be available.
Around the meeting table, five of the seven councillors and the mayor were Inuit, and a couple appeared to speak Inuinnaqtun well and some just a little —but that was hard to judge because all proceedings took place in English.
The hamlet’s senior administrative officer Stephen King said running the hamlet is a big job with few resources. Language remains one of the challenges that hamlets face, he said.
After a new hamlet building is constructed in 2014, at least there will an interpretation booth in the council meeting room, he said.
And signs around town, such as stop signs or those as at the municipal dump, are now in English and Inuinnaqtun.
But mayor Ekaloak couldn’t help reflect on the evident difficulty that Cambridge Bay will experience meeting the letter of the language law. “Our language, I’m sad to say, is swiftly disappearing.”