Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Around the Arctic November 03, 2011 - 1:35 pm

Use Inuktitut or lose it, ITK panel says

"Speak it, live it, teach it"

JANE GEORGE
Nunatsiavut’s Language and Culture Minister Johannes Lampe says Labrador Inuit are trying to capitalize on the older people who still speak the language, increase its use and up its visibility. Lampe was one of the panelists at a Nov. 2 session on language and education at Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami's 40th anniversary conference called,
Nunatsiavut’s Language and Culture Minister Johannes Lampe says Labrador Inuit are trying to capitalize on the older people who still speak the language, increase its use and up its visibility. Lampe was one of the panelists at a Nov. 2 session on language and education at Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami's 40th anniversary conference called, "From Eskimo to Inuit in 40 years." (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)
Inuit need a language institute and more money to overcome the
Inuit need a language institute and more money to overcome the "linguistic genocide" of the past, said Nunavik language specialist Zebedee Nungak Nov. 2 at Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami's "From Eskimo to Inuit in 40 years" conference in Ottawa. "We have the right to have money and resources to save out language," Nungak said during a session called "Use it or lose it: Inuit language and education." (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

OTTAWA — When Mary Simon, now the president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, went to apply for the job at ITK’S forerunner, the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, she was asked by Tagak Curley, then its president, whether she was an Inuk.

Born of a non-Inuk father and an Inuk mother, Simon was unsure of her status.

But, after speaking to her, Curley said Simon spoke Inuktitut like an Inuk, so that’s what she is, Simon told an audience gathered Nov. 2 at ITK’s “From Eskimo to Inuit in 40 years conference” in Ottawa.

Forty years later, those distinctions about who is or isn’t an Inuk have been muddied because many Inuit today don’t speak the Inuit language.

And nearly four decades years after Simon, now 64, first linked up with ITK, many Inuit at the conference held to celebrate ITK’s 40th anniversary wondered what they must do to save Inuktitut from further erosion.

If there was any common message from a session called “Use it or lose it: Inuit language and education,” which included representatives from Nunavik, Nunavut, Nunakput (the Inuvialuit Settlement Region) and Nunatsiavut (Labrador),  it’s that language teaching begins at home.

“We can’t forget or ignore our past language,” said Nunatsiavut’s language and culture minister, Johannes Lampe. “We’ve been assimilated but we have to revitalize it.”

In Labrador, Inuit are trying to capitalize on the older people who still speak the language, increase its use and up its visibility, Lampe said.

“We have a vision” for Inuktitut, he said.

That vision is “speak it, live it, teach it” and make sure the Inuit language, known as Inuttut in Nunatsiavut, is used in the schools, government and among youth.

“We gave grown ashamed of who we are. All we have is the memories of pain,” said Lampe, who called for healing through use of the language.

Although Nunatsiavut has more than 4,000 Inuit residents, only 550 reported the Inuit language as their mother tongue in the 2001 census.

In Inuvik, where Beverly Amos, works on language revitalization, she says it’s important to end the self-pity, and “not to sit back and wait for the government to help.”

“We the parents in the homes are responsible to teach children the language and culture in the home,” she said.

That was the same message from translator Alan Maghagak, originally from Cambridge Bay, a western Nunavut community where Inuinnaqtun has faded from common use over the past 40 years.

Nunavummiut must deal with 18 dialects and two writing systems and move towards standardization, backed by their leaders, he said.

However, no one from the Government of Nunavut’s Department of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth was invited to participate in the panel, and Nunavut’s official language commissioner, who was to be on the panel, was not present. So it remained unclear where Nunavut stands on that point.

Nunavik language activist Zebedee Nungak blasted what he called the “linguistic genocide” of colonial powers, saying governments have a responsibility to recognize this by making sure Inuit have an Inuit language institute and by recognizing Inuktitut as the language of the Arctic.

But Nungak also said Inuit who speak Inuktitut must speak it and Inuit should use Inuktitut in the home and help younger people learn and use Inuktitut.

Among the audience, commenters of all ages included unilingual Nunavik elder Jacob Oweetaluktuk, who says his grandchildren are losing their language.

Natan Obed, director of the department of social and cultural development at Nunavut Tunngavik, who doesn’t speak Inuktitut fluently, noted that no school system anywhere can produce fluent speakers of a language in a vacuum.

With so many more resources now than in the 1970s, Obed said he hoped Inuit wouldn’t be talking about the same linguistic problems 40 years into the future.

Youth also shared their perspectives on the use of Inuktitut.

Danny Ishuluktak, a student from Pangnirtung studying at Ottawa’s Nunavut Sivuniksavut program, told those at the conference that he speaks Inuktitut but, when he’s hanging out with his friends, it’s generally a mix of English and Inuktitut.

“We speak neither of them fluently,” he admitted.

Although Trent Aksawnee of Baker Lake, another NS student, studied Inuktitut in elementary school, in high school Inuktitut classes were jokingly referred to as “spares.”

While his parents and grandparents speak Inuktitut, and his grandfather is more comfortable in Inuktitut, they speak to him in English — and, what language does he speak with his new classmates at NS?

English.

 


 

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