Places

Languages of the land: Aluki Kotierk on Inunnguiniq, parenting

In the fourth part of the “Languages of the Land” digital series, the president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and recently elected vice-chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, speaks to Canadian Geographic on learning to be a good human and the importance of recognizing Inuktut as an official language

  • Apr 21, 2024
  • 599 words
  • 3 minutes
Aluki Kotierk speaks with CanGeo associate editor Abi Hayward at the Canadian launch of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages. (Photo: still from video by Daniel Arian/Canadian Geographic)
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My name is Aluki Kotierk. I’m currently living in Iqaluit.

On a word in Inuktut and why it’s meaningful

Inunnguiniq. Inunnguiniq is often in English referred to as child rearing, or parenting. But I like the word in Inuktut because I think it conveys an Inuit worldview. If English speakers could understand the depth of what it meant, they would have a better appreciation of how important kinship is to Inuit, and they would have a better understanding of how there are many people that are related to us [that] have a role to help us be good human beings, and correct us in our life’s journey. 

Although it’s often thought of as child rearing, I think it’s a process of learning to become a capable human being. And so, I chose it for this purpose about language, because I know that there’s been experiences where Indigenous Peoples have been taken away to schools, and that creates a gap in terms of parenting skills. The ability to regain that is something that the word conjures up for me. 

On hopes for the International Decade of International Languages 

Nunavut is a jurisdiction in Canada that is quite unique in the sense that 85 per cent of the population are Inuit, and the public majority of the population speak Inuktut. So, I see the International Decade of Indigenous Languages as a vehicle for us to continue to advocate to have Inukut recognized as a Canadian official language in Nunavut. The reason I’m being so specific about this is because I think it’s important that Inuit who have never left their homelands, who are the public majority in their homelands, can expect to receive essential public services in Inuktut. 

“If English speakers could understand the depth of what it meant, they would have a better appreciation of how important kinship is to Inuit.”

On the opportunities of making Inuktut an official language of Canada

I think that by Canada recognizing it as an official language in Nunavut, it would open up the opportunity for Canada to commit to the resources and support required to ensure that Inuktut continues to thrive into the future, and that as Inuit parents, as Inuit students, we can expect to receive our education from kindergarten to grade 12, as Inuktut in the language of instruction, as well as being able to access health care services or the justice system — all in Inuktut. And so I think that’s something very practical I’m hoping that we’re able to achieve through the International Decade of Indigenous Languages.

We expected that [it would happen] with the creation of Nunavut. And to date, it’s been since 1993, so [more than 30] years since we signed the Nunavut Agreement. Today, Inuktut is not the language of work. So I think it’s well overdue. And so we take any opportunity to highlight that. The Decade will be certainly be one of those time periods where we aggressively advocate for Inuktut to be recognized in Canada, in Nunavut.

Because Nunavut is a jurisdiction unto itself — where homogeneously Inuit, the public majority, are speaking Inuktut — I think it would make it less challenging for the federal government if they wanted to do a pilot project, for example. And I’ve mentioned that — like, we’re ready; we want to be the pilot project.

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