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Keeping the culture alive

Rankin Inlet Appolina Makkigak teacher receives language award
Appolina Makkigak is passing on Inuktitut to daughter Priya. Appolina was one of three recipients of the 2022 Inuit Language Award, presented by the Inuit Uqausinginnik Taiguusiliuqtiit Board. She grew up in a unilingual home, only speaking Inuktitut – no English allowed. Stewart Burnett/NNSL photo

When Appolina Makkigak was in Grade 1, just about every student in her class knew Inuktitut.

“We knew the common words, we knew what our teacher was saying, and she spoke in Inuktitut only,” recalled Makkigak, now a Grade 1 Inuktitut teacher at Leo Ussak School in Rankin Inlet herself.

“But now I feel like I have to go back and forth between English and Inuktitut. It’s a little hard some days, but it’s good they’re getting it back.”

Makkigak was one of three recipients of the 2022 Inuit Language Award presented by the Inuit Uqausinginnik Taiguusiliuqtiit Board.

“I felt very honoured to be receiving this award,” said Makkigak, who grew up in an Inuktitut-only household.

“I remember my grandma being my interpreter at one time,” she said. “That’s how much they wanted us to know Inuktitut. There was absolutely no English allowed.”

Living her life in Rankin Inlet, Makkigak went on to graduate from the Nunavut Teachers Education Program in town and began her current position at LUS in 2017.

“I like teaching,” she said. “I feel like I’m getting better every year. The kids pick up the syllabics very quickly and common words we use every day. By the end of the year, even if they weren’t able to understand much (at first), I could speak sentences in Inuktitut and they could understand it all.”

The language is important to preserve because it defines who Inuit are, she said.

“It’s fascinating being able to go between two different languages,” said Makkigak. “It connects at a deeper level to our culture and ways. Inuktitut stories said in Inuktitut feel more real than if they were told in English.”

One of the primary differences in the language is verb placement, she added. In Inuktitut, verbs precede the subject, so one would say “Running I am,” whereas it’s the opposite in English and would be “I am running.”

Makkigak looks forward to continuing to promote the language.

“I feel like maybe this is just the beginning of what I am able to try and help with to preserve Inuktitut,” she said.

IUT chairperson Louis Tapardjuk said in a news release that the selection process for the award was exciting and rewarding.

“All the nominees demonstrated a high level of dedication in protecting and promoting our Inuktitut language,” stated Tapardjuk.

The other recipients of the award were Attima Naalungiaq Hadlari of Cambridge Bay and Alexina Kublu of Iqaluit.

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