Inuit researchers to give more information to Inuit

Language, history and culture top Inuit Studies Conference agenda


How to communicate research results and information to Inuit: that’s what brought 100 or so academics, researchers and bureaucrats to the 14th International Inuit Studies Conference this week in Calgary.

The conference at the Arctic Institute of North America, which wrapped us last week, focused on Bringing knowledge home: communicating research to the Inuit.

Participants from Canada, the U.S., Greenland, Russia and France, discussed how knowledge can cross from one culture to the next, the ways Inuit and Qallunaat communicate and how to make sure the results of community-based research reach communities.

Research papers presented at the conference included a look back at the Watkins Gospel Selections, the first book published in Inuktitut syllabics.

Iqaluit businessman, author and historian Kenn Harper spoke about the missionaries’ early efforts to develop literacy for missionary purposes among Inuit.

Harper tells how the syllabic writing system invented for the Cree was first introduced to the Inuit in 1855 by Rev. E.A. Watkins at Fort George and Little Whale River on the James Bay and Hudson Bay coasts.

In that same year, Watkins prepared a small book of gospel selections in syllabics and sent it to Rev. John Horden in Moose Factory who printed it on his mission press.

This small book, says Harper, is one of the earliest items printed on Horden’s press and the only one that was printed in Inuktitut. Only one copy is known to have survived.

The use of Inuktitut languages as a means of communication in today’s North was also on the conference’s program, with Eva Aariak, Nunavut’s official languages commissioner, speaking about “How will Nunavut speak to the future? Changes to Nunavut’s Official Languages Act.”

Several Greenlanders, including Carl “Puju” Olsen, were at the conference to speak about Greenland’s language policy review and the need for more Greenlandic terminology, that is, more specialized, modern words.

Bolatta Vahl from the Greenland Language Secretariat says Greenlandic needs to develop more terminology because many Greenlanders, who study in Danish, can “better express their knowledge of the subject in Danish, even though they have Greenlandic as their mother tongue.”

Representatives from ArcticNet, the new environmental ship-board research project, the Nasivvik centre for environmental health and the Nunavik Research Centre also told how they communicate information to Inuit.

Several researchers highlighted their experience using the Internet and new technology as communication tools for projects including “Healthy living in Nunavut,” a new on-line nutrition course for health workers in Nunavut, an Alaskan CD-ROM called the “People Awakening Project,” which encourages sobriety, and “When the weather is Uggianaqtuq,” Shari Fox Gearheard’s CD-ROM that uses interactive, multimedia technology to document and communicate Inuit knowledge about the environment in two Nunavut communities.

Norman Cohn and Zacharias Kunuk from Igloolik Isuma Productions spoke about the art of community-base filmmaking and its role in communication.

“We create traditional artifacts, digital multimedia and desperately-needed jobs in the same activity.”

From the Siberian Far East region of Kamchatka, Nina Belomestnova gave an impassioned defence of how newspaper articles promote the culture, language and well-being of the small indigenous population of Evenks.

How to get information from archives and bring this to the public was also discussed, with several researchers interested in the history of Panniqtuuq’s former St. Luke’s Hospital.

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