Monday, October 12, 2009

Igloolik & language

One of the most impressive things about Igloolik is how strong the language is. Everyone there speaks fluent Inuktitut, elders, adults, and youth. Having watched our own Iñupiaq language in Barrow grow weaker over the years, as so many indigenous languages are all over the world, it’s inspiring to see a community that has been able to fight against this trend.

Iglooligmiut deservedly take a lot of pride in this. Almost every teenager we auditioned proudly told us that their first language is Inuktitut. And it wasn’t just empty boasting. When they spoke amongst themselves it was always in their native language. One 17 year-old boy told us that he almost lost his language while living for several years in Iqaluit, but was able to regain it when he moved back, though it took him a year and a half.

But the coolest thing to see was all the young mothers speaking to their children and infants in the language. This is how a language survives, not just because of dictionaries, language classes or even bilingual education, though all those things are important, but from parent to child, in the pedestrian discourse of their everyday lives.

I have to think that the strength of the language has a carry-over effect on other aspects of the community. Maybe it’s one reason why they have been able to achieve so much artistically. Amazing films like Atanarjuat, The Journals of Knud Rasmussen, Before Tomorrow, docs like Exile, the Nunavut series, and performance groups like ArtCirq don’t spring just from individuals like Zach Kunuk, Natar Ungalaaq, Pakak Innukshuk, Paul Angilirq, Madeline Ivalu or Guillaume Saladin. They come from a community that has never lost its voice.

1 comment:

  1. As Dr. Oscar Kawagley says, language defines the mind. Native people whose mind is shaped by their native language will be more grounded, and thus able to branch out further.

    Thanks for this insight into Igloolik. I am always interested in finding out about what life is like in Canada, whether they have things more or less figured out than we do in Alaska.