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Words melting away

Kathleen Lippa
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Dec 06/04) - Joe Karetak is collecting words for snow from Arviat elders.

Because life in the North has changed so much, many of the detailed, precise ways Inuit described snow in conversation are being lost.

There may be fewer words for snow in Inuktitut in the future as lifestyles change. Anthony Tootoo checked out the Iqaluit Public Library's snow-themed books on display last week. - Kathleen Lippa/NNSL photo

Karetak hopes the snow terms he is compiling will be used in the new Nunavut curriculum one day.

But the interpreter/translator who works for the department of education knows it's a long shot.

"When you are teaching traditional information, it's best taught by physically being there, by practical application," said Karetak. "How do you teach people about snow inside a classroom?"

But the words in all their complexity are beautiful and still useful for understanding the past and describing things today, so he knows it's a worthwhile project.

Cut a block for your iglu and it has a name: auviq. The way snow moves along the ground has a name: natiruviktuq.

The snow drifts that are hard on your snowmobile have a name: qimugjuq.

Compacted ice crystals that look like sugar and are better for melting into water than new fallen snow has a name: pukak.

Fresh snow has a name: kanngut. Snow blocks for a quick shelter or wind-block while fishing is another name: oqota.

The many words and expressions are in danger of melting away.

"Nobody is living out on the land and using the terms like they used to," said Mark Kalluak, also in Arviat. "We have a new generation, young people who have never lived out on the land for that length of time. All the words describing the snow were passed on from our ancestors."

If the words are preserved in the new curriculum, at least the next generation will have access to a larger vocabulary, said Karetak.

"We have to make sure we don't forget all these things," said Karetak. "We don't have the education system like the elders were taught. Once you know all the terms, when the elders try to pass on more information to you that is going to help you survive up here, then it has a place. You need to be taught the basics of the concept."