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NNSL Photo/Graphic

Inuinnaqtun interpreter/translators at the Nunavut legislative assembly think the new program to train people to do jobs like theirs is great. From left to right are John Komak, James Panioyak and Henry Ohokannoak. - Kathleen Lippa/NNSL photo

Speaking up for Inuinnaqtun

Kathleen Lippa
Northern News Services

Cambridge Bay (June 07/04) - The way Emily Angulalik sees it, the new course being offered by Nunavut Arctic College to train Inuinnaqtun interpreter/translators is as much about preserving Inuit culture as it is about getting a good paying, interesting job.

Nunavut Arctic College will start the Inuinnaqtun interpreter/translator course at the Cambridge Bay campus.

In the Kitikmeot region, there are always lots of "little meetings" being held, said Angulalik. Finding a translator for the unilingual elders who attend those meetings has been tough.

"The qualified interpreters are always getting snatched up," said Angulalik.

A committee of approximately eight people, including elders in the Kitikmeot, was formed last year to come up with a solution. The result is the new course, slated to start in September 2004.

Angulalik is a committee member who helped design the course. She said the elders on the committee stressed the importance of land programs and lessons about the history of the region, along with new terminology that ranges from medical to justice and the environmental fields.

Working interpreter/translators helped out, too, and are excited the course is finally going to start soon.

"There is a need for sure," said James Panioyak, who started freelance interpreting/translating in 1997. Panioyak is one of three Inuinnaqtun interpreter/translators always getting snatched up for various jobs, including working at the Nunavut legislative assembly in Iqaluit.

"Not a lot of young people are speaking (Inuinnaqtun) anymore," said Panioyak.

Millie Kuliktana, executive director for Kitikmeot school operations, also helped develop the curriculum.

She explained the course is technically two years long, but it has an access year built in to make it three.

"A fluent reader and writer shouldn't have to take the access year," she said. "It's just to bring your language levels up."

Inuinnaqtun has been struggling to stay alive, mainly in its written form.

"Baby boomers went through the residential schools, growing up in a society where the English language was encouraged. It would get them to where they wanted to go," Kuliktana said. "That era used English heavily for their day-to-day work life skills, but Inuit were still keeping their oral language. The younger generation wants the opportunity to learn Inuinnaqtun."

John Komak is another Inuinnaqtun interpreter/translator at the Nunavut legislative assembly. Komak's career began in 1986 when he was an interpreter/translator for the Government of the Northwest Territories.

'Enhance the language'

Beyond giving Kitikmeot people skills to get a job like his, "it will enhance the language," Komak said of the new course.

Henry Ohokannoak started interpreting/translating at the nursing station in Cambridge Bay in 1970, and joined the GNWT's Language Bureau in 1984.

In the early 1990s, he started his own Inuinnaqtun interpreting/translating business.

"There is a great need for this," Ohokannoak said of the course. "We have been asking for this for many years. Our language has been neglected for so long."

All three of the interpreters agreed that the course is an important step in preserving the language in the Kitikmeot. "We're not going to be around forever!" said Ohokannoak.

Already, 12 students have signed up for September 2004. The deadline for applications has passed, but Nunavut Arctic College is still accepting them for the next few weeks.

But as exciting as the new course is for the people involved with it, Kuliktana said schooling itself is only a start.

"The whole community has to foster it," she said.

"Now it's time. We've given English enough focus. We want to encourage bilingualism where we can offer equal opportunity to the younger generation," said Kuliktana. "Now that NTI and the Government of Nunavut is giving language more emphasis, it is forcing people to say 'I need to be bilingual to live in Nunavut.'"

Critics say Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun are dying languages, and the emphasis on saving them is being done at the expense of other more important programs and services in Nunavut.

Kuliktana said people who say that probably don't know their own culture.

"I am proud of who I am," she said. "I am Inuk. I speak Inuinnaqtun. That is my heritage. Not everybody has that."