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No French, no problem

Stéphanie Richard would rather be immersed in Nunavut culture
A lack of French community in Rankin Inlet doesn’t bother Stéphanie Richard, who has lived in Nunavut since 2019. She would rather be immersed in Nunavut’s culture than isolate herself among other French Canadians. Photo courtesy of Stéphanie Richard

There aren’t a whole lot of French-speaking residents in the Kivalliq, nor much of a Francophonie community, and for Rankin Inlet’s Stéphanie Richard, that’s no problem.

The French Canadian mental health worker has been in Nunavut since 2019 and Rankin Inlet since early 2021, having lived in Iqaluit before.

“I honestly didn’t expect many French services at all before moving here,” she said about coming to Nunavut.

“Iqaluit does have a larger French community including a French school and francophone centre, but they aren’t services I ever really utilized. I’ve always expected to come here and work in English and I’ve been comfortable with that.”

Ecole Des Trois Soleils in Iqaluit is run by the Commission scolaire francophone du Nunavut. The history of French-language teaching in Iqaluit, according to the Commission, goes back to 1984 when then-NWT MP Dennis Patterson presented a petition to the legislative assembly in Yellowknife.

By 1993 the NWT department of education established a French first language program for Grades one to six. Construction of the school was completed in 2001 and the building was expanded in 2019.

Nunavummiut across the territory speak mostly Inuktitut, Inuinnaqtun and English, Richard noted, adding that as long as services are provided in those languages, that is perfectly acceptable.

“I don’t feel language has posed any barrier for me, and instead find that I enjoy learning words in Inuktitut,” she said.

Richard doesn’t think French services are a significant need in the Kivalliq, unless community members express a desire to learn the language as an asset for their work.

“I would rather learn from the community I reside in, which is currently Rankin Inlet – whether that be through language or culture – than to isolate myself with other French-speaking people,” said Richard, asked if she wished there were more of a French community.

According to the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, about 4.3 per cent of Nunavummiut speak both English and French, with 1.7 per cent claiming French as their mother tongue.

Eighty-six per cent of Francophones live in Iqaluit and 10 per cent in the Keewatin economic zone, which includes the Kivalliq, with four per cent in the Kitikmeot.

Seventy-seven per cent of Francophones in Nunavut were born outside of the territory, with 13 per cent in Nunavut and 10 per cent abroad.

– with files from Trevor Wright