The Pitquhirnikkut Ilihautiniq/Kitikmeot Heritage Society is abuzz with activity in its efforts to revitalize Inuinnaqtun, and that objective comes at a cost.
As the organization is in its 25th year, it’s striving to raise $250,000 to help fund its various programs, now and into the future. It has already passed the $192,000 mark since the campaign kicked off on March 6. Eighty-three donors from across the country have made contributions.
Two of the founders of the society, Emily Angulalik and Kim Crockatt, are back at the forefront of co-ordinating the programming.
“It’s the passion of wanting to preserve your language and to see the outcome of the work that we are doing here,” said Angulalik, the executive director.
She estimates that there are between 300 and 400 fluent Inuinnaqtun speakers left, residing in Cambridge Bay, Kugluktuk, Gjoa Haven, Baker Lake, Sanikiluaq and the NWT community of Ulukhaktok.
Among the initiatives that PI/KHS has created to further the Inuit language are podcasts with Elders and a mentorship/apprentice program.
The podcasts, known as Inuinnaujugut and which run from 15 minutes to an hour, have made a return after a pandemic-related hiatus. Available through Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts, they feature Elders talking about their personal and family histories and environmental observations.
“You want to engage yourself in their language of storytelling,” said Angulalik.
The mentorship program involves six participants to date, each spending 12 to 15 hours per week immersed in Inuinnaqtun with an experienced instructor.
“You need to be committed,” Angulalik said.
There’s also an approach known as a language nest, which focuses on families and children. An Immersion Day Camp for families was held over the summer and the society aims to foster language nests permanently, including through the cultural centre, where PI/KHS is based. There, two rooms are designated as Inuinnaqtun-only. It’s become more common to hear Inuinnaqtun in the cultural centre daily than it is English, according to Crockatt, the society’s finance and operating officer.
“Everybody seems to really enjoy it, and it works,” she said. “People have learned that they don’t have to be afraid anymore of making mistakes, or not being as confident as they think they should be.”
Much of the work that the society is doing – 45 projects in total last year alone – is being digitized so that individuals and families far and wide can access it.
The society also aims to help members heal from the effects of intergenerational trauma and “work instead to build intergenerational support systems.” That means having mental health support workers available on occasion in addition to Elders.
Its online language curriculum called Inuinnaujunga, which translates to “I am Inuinnait,” starts with a 10-lesson beginner’s module that is “deeply informed by intergenerational trauma and the consequences of being denied one’s language. Uqahukhiutit will take learners on a very personal journey of reconnection, helping them understand and embrace their identity in relation to their kinship network and the land.”
Angulalik describes herself as an optimist when it comes to how effective the society’s endeavours will be.
“We may not be as fluent as our ancestors were but we can definitely hold a good conversation with your fellow peer or an Elder, then wow, that is amazing,” she said.