‘Brilliant teacher’ Mick Mallon remembered for his love of Inuktitut
Order of Canada member died Sept. 18 at age 90; spent life learning, teaching Indigenous language
Mick Mallon never met a language he didn’t like.
That includes English, French, Spanish, Tagalog (spoken in the Philippines), some Chinese and Mandarin. Once, when he was in Panama for a week, he tried to learn the local Indigenous language.
But it was his work in preserving, revitalizing and teaching Inuktitut that earned him an induction into the Order of Canada in 2008.
Mallon, who spent much of the past seven decades teaching linguistics in Nunavut and the North, died Sept. 18 in Vancouver. He was 90 years old.
“He had this love of language and of analyzing language, and he applied it for so many years to Inuktitut,” said Dave Wilman, of Iqaluit, a fellow teacher and friend of Mallon for more than 50 years.
He called Mallon a “brilliant teacher” with “a career-long commitment to Inuktitut.”
A book Mallon published in the 1990s, called An Introduction to Inuktitut, was used in Nunavut and at McGill University in Montreal and the University of Washington, where he taught online until a few years ago, Wilman said.
Mallon’s daughter, Amanda, said she couldn’t guess how many people her dad taught Inuktitut to over the years. Hundreds, probably more.
“There are people that pop up, and even just with his passing there are people who have sent messages that say, ‘I don’t know you, but your dad taught me,’” she said.
Born in Northern Ireland, Mallon and his first wife, Cynthia, immigrated to Canada. He taught for a while in Ontario, then around 1959 they moved to Puvirnituq in Nunavik, where Mallon learned Inuktitut.
In 1968, they moved to Rankin Inlet where Mallon set up the Eskimo Language School for the federal government, providing second-language training in Inuktitut to federal and territorial government employees.
Over the years, Mallon, who had a master’s degree in linguistics, also taught in Rankin Inlet, at Nunavut Arctic College, the University of Saskatchewan and for about five years in Borneo during the 1960s.
And then there was his brush with death in Iqaluit in 2007.
Mallon was hiking around Apex; it was a day or two after a blizzard, and conditions were icy and very cold.
He fell down a hill and wasn’t found by a search party until eight hours later, hands and feet frozen and numerous bones broken.
Mallon loved dogs, said his daughter, and they helped keep him warm that day until he was found.
“He loved animals. He always had dogs in his life,” she said. “If he didn’t have a dog, he would borrow dogs to go walking with.”
After the death of his first wife, Cynthia, in 1998, Mallon taught at Nunavut Arctic College alongside his second wife, Alexina Kublu, a former Nunavut language commissioner.
They developed an Inuktitut curriculum for beginners through advanced speakers.
Amanda Mallon said for about the past five years her father was ill with vascular dementia. Yet for most of that time, he was still able to communicate.
“As he was progressing through the disease, I saw those linguistic webs — all the languages that he had worked, he was always able to make himself understood,” she said.
“They say that language makes your brain strong, and it was definitely evident with him as he was progressing through his disease.”
Mick Mallon is survived by his three children — Amanda, son Matthew, and daughter Clare Holloway and her husband Chris – niece Madeline Stone, and by his wife Alexina Kublu, her daughter Evelyn Papatsi Kublu-Hill and son Logan, who called him “Stampa.”