From 1999 to 2004 Commissioner of Nunavut Eva Aariak served as languages commissioner and today her daughter Karliin Aariak holds that position. Both see Inuktitut as something to be cherished and protected.
The creation of Nunavut itself in 1999 is something they see as a milestone in helping the preservation of Inuit language.
“It’s (of) utmost importance, our culture and language, and you know why? Nunavut-creation, Nunavut was created because of our culture and language, that’s why we have this wonderful territory called Nunavut, it’s to recognize who we are,” said Eva.
Eva was instrumental in the formation of the Inuit Language Protection Act and the Official Languages Act in Nunavut and her daughter remembers the hard work that was put into the process in 1999.
Bringing legislative power towards protecting Inuit culture and language is one of the strengths of having an Inuit territory.
“Nunavut was created so that there would be strength in having Inuit legislation, to have a stronger voice to use our language,” added Karliin. “I’m proud I get to have this experience and to share in what my mother has accomplished.”
While there has been much work on the legislative side done to protect Inuktitut, there’s also a lot of work to be done inside the home.
When Eva and her family moved from Arctic Bay to Iqaluit she recognized that English was the de facto language often used in the capital’s schools, so she practiced with her family at home, setting aside time to just speak Inuktitut and to teach her family their mother tongue.
“We built a practice at home, every weekend we had to speak our own language in the house, that really helped to strengthen their language acquisition and use. I would suggest that as a practice where it can be helpful to some other families.”
During her upbringing, Karliin “grew up knowing how important my language is, and to have strength in it at home.
“After I had kids I realized how important that was and to ensure other facets, such as daycares (and) schools also comply with the language legislations, in that they make Inuit language a priority,” said Karliin.
While the two have worked hard towards strengthening the Inuit language, there is a decline in speakers who know their language.
“I find that over a number of years, we’ve been seeing that the Inuktitut language is eroding, it is unfortunately the case today there is another layer of erosion that I’ve been noticing, it’s very important for me to address,” said Eva.
“An individual who speaks Inuktitut will often not finish their words, like the endings of Inuktitut words. For instance, iqaluk is fish, with a ‘K’ at the end, you hear more so people saying, ‘iqalu’ with the ‘U’ and without the ‘K’.”
Eva adds that young people who don’t know their language should “never be afraid to be asking questions to people who they trust” be they parents, grandparents, friends in the community or anyone else they can seek support from.
In her capacity as languages commissioner, Karliin also wanted to highlight the rights Nunavummiut have for Inuktitut-language services in the territory.
“I want to encourage Nunavummiut to not be afraid to assert your language rights,” she said.
“If Nunavummiut feel like their language rights have not been met, they can contact our office.”
Another role Karliin’s office has is to ensure private businesses know their role and the obligations the private sector has in Nunavut, including providing “services in the Inuit language (and) to have their signs in the Inuit language.”
She adds that they can assist the private sector in coming up with a language plan and how they can better abide by language legislation in Nunavut.
“We want to do our part,” Karliin said.
While language protections exist in Nunavut, it is also important to them that parents and families teach their children in the home as well.
“It’s very important to take the onus upon us and to keep using the language,” said Eva.
“Everybody should be able to have access to a place where they can learn and enhance their mother tongue.”