Finding their place
Pond Inlet elders consulted about Inuktitut place names
Earlier this month, workers with the Inuit Heritage Trust unfurled six maps on the table in the visitors’ centre in Pond Inlet.
An assembled group of elders sat down with heritage manager Lynn Peplinski and Brandy Karetak, an intern learning Geographic Information Systems, to discuss Inuktitut place names in their area.
“We had six 1:250,000 scale maps that had all the place-names information on them, and we took those up and laid them on the table in the visitors’ centre in Pond, and we met with the elders two or three at a time and we went through every single name, every single little bit of coastline on all these maps,” Peplinski said.
One of the trust’s mandates under the land claim is to review place-name changes and work to ensure they become officially recognized.
“A lot of place-name stuff gets done in communities all the time. Elders are brought into the schools and they put the place names on the maps and then two years later the maps are lost, or the teacher moves out of town,” she said. “There’s no permanence and the only way to make this stuff permanent is by going through this official change process.”
It’s a complicated process to have place-name changes made official. First, a community must, as a whole, decide that they want a name changed and then go to the territorial government, which gives the recommendation to a place-names board — which is still in the process of being created.
The recommendation also goes to the IHT, which reviews the community process and reports back to the GN. From there, the GN takes the request to the federal government.
Last year, Peplinski said, some federal government officials said they were going to make the North their priority over the next few years and get 1:50,000 map coverage for Nunavut. The North is the only region in Canada without access to 1:50,000 scale maps.
“However, it never occurred to them that there are Inuktitut place names that need to be on those maps,” Peplinski said, but they’re forging ahead with the process.
IHT recently found out about this, she said, and wants to get all the work done quickly and through the proper channels, because the federal government won’t even look at requested changes until the names are official.
Pond Inlet was a special community to visit, Peplinski said, because there had already been some work done on place names by Parks Canada and Father Guy Mary-Rousselière, a Catholic priest who passed away about 10 years ago.
All that information was compiled and as part of her training, Karetak put it all onto digital maps, which were brought for the elders’ consultation in Pond Inlet.
“There were a lot of changes that had to be made,” Peplinski said. “We don’t just collect the names — we collect information about the places, where the names come from, so it’s a whole database that goes with the names.”
In south Baffin for example, Peplinski said, there’s an island that Iqaluit elders refer to as “Mallaasi.”
“Because when the whalers were here they would cache food on this island,” she explained. “The elders now don’t remember if the food was actually meant to be shared with the Inuit or if it was meant for the whalers to come back to, but the Inuit discovered molasses there. It was incredible, they went crazy over this stuff.”
IHT has only conducted the place-name workshop in Pond Inlet and Taloyoak so far, but Peplinski has more information collected from south Baffin. The job is huge, she admits, but one worth doing.
“If you can speak the language and someone tells you how to get to a certain place and you learn the names along the way, then if you remember the names you remember what the land looks like based on the names,” she said. “One of our board members was saying there’s a bump on an island around Gjoa Haven that’s called ‘testicle.’ It’s just because that’s what it looks like.”