Emily Karpik, a student in Nunavut’s law program, was recently awarded QIA’s John Amagoalik scholarship. (Photo courtesy of Emily Karpik)

Nunavut law student ready to make changes through language, education

“I want to be able to practise in Inuktitut in the courtroom”

By Emma Tranter

Emily Karpik knew she wanted to work in the courtroom long before she applied to law school.

The 34-year-old law student was recently awarded the Qikiqtani Inuit Association’s John Amagoalik scholarship to help fund her studies.

The $5,000 scholarship honours the efforts of Amagoalik, often referred to as the “Father of Nunavut,” in working toward the betterment of Inuit in Nunavut, according to the association.

Karpik grew up in Pangnirtung and moved to Ottawa for high school before settling in Iqaluit and working for the Crown Prosecutor’s Office as a Crown-witness coordinator.

It was there that she decided something needed to change.

“I was in the courtroom a lot working with community members. What I noticed over the years is, the whole procedure is in English. Even here in Nunavut,” she said.

She then decided to apply to the law program jointly offered by Nunavut Arctic College and the University of Saskatchewan, determined to use her knowledge of law and language in the courtroom.

Now, in her third year of law school, Karpik has a clear vision of what she wants to do when she graduates.

“I want to be able to practise in Inuktitut in the courtroom, so that unilingual Inuit like our elders no longer will use the earpiece to listen to the translation,” she said.

In the courtroom, Inuktitut translation provided by an interpreter is usually listened to through an earpiece.

“It’s so different, hearing the translation from the actual proceeding. So I want to be able to really switch things around, essentially. I want to be able to do that. My dream is to complete my law school, practise in Inuktitut, and make change within our justice system. Not just the language portion, but also a lot more,” Karpik said.

Karpik said the scholarship has helped her to pay for her remaining schooling, something that, as a homeowner, is a huge help.

“But the bigger meaning is wanting to make change. The funds are there to help me, I love that. People need to see that people who are in school are there to make change,” she said.

The scholarship also sends a strong message to young Nunavummiut, who often have to leave the territory for post-secondary education, Karpik said.

“We want to make change and we want to do things that will impact our future. Through education we can do that. I wanted to show that, that’s why I’m in school. The support they’re providing is going somewhere. We need role models in our territory,” she said.

“I grew up here. I live here. I’m not going anywhere. I’ll always come back. And that’s what we need. We need more people here in our territory to gain their education and come back,” she said.

With just over a year of law school left in front of her, Karpik hopes young people in the territory will follow in her footsteps.

“I need my territory to hear these stories. We need people to see that people are doing things to change. I want the younger generation to see that it is possible, no matter what.”

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(30) Comments:

  1. Posted by Inuktitut Judges? on

    I understand wanting to speak Inuktitut in a Nunavut court, but… You’ll be talking to Justice Neil Sharkey, Justice Susan Cooper, Justice Bonnie Tulloch, Justice Paul Bychok, Justice Susan Charlesworth, or Justice Christion Lyons. I don’t think any of them speak Inuktitut, and through Emily’s own admission, “It’s so different, hearing the translation from the actual proceeding”. And I agree. So do you really want the judges, the people making the important decisions, listening to your translations as a lawyer?

    • Posted by iThink on

      That might be the longer term goal, but this is where it begins.

      • Posted by Inuktitut Judges on

        Well I can agree with that. Can’t have Inuktitut-speaking judges until you have Inuktitut-speaking lawyers.

    • Posted by Inuk Pagan on

      I’ve spent 30 years working within the Justice, this will help any unilingual or bilingual victim or accused understand the system a little more. Technical terms are meant for the courts not the people.

      • Posted by Inuk Pagan on

        *Justice system*

  2. Posted by Numbed on

    Good for you Emily! Already we see somebody saying English is more important for certain people

  3. Posted by Numbed on

    Good for you Emily! Already we see somebody saying English is more important for some people, but it is important for everybody and not just some previliged members of the court. It will be awesome to hear our Inuit Lawyers speak their language in the courtroom! You make us proud Emily, very proud!

  4. Posted by Old Bailey on

    It was highly disappointing when so few of those expensive Akitsiraq law grads of the past decided to work in the court, which is where Inuit lawyers who speak Inuktitut are needed the most. Instead they took easy government jobs and one of them is even working as a mere tour guide on cruise ships

    For this reason I am happy that Ms. Karpik has set her sights high. She will be able to receive instructions from her clients in their own language which is very important.

    • Posted by Ray Donovan on

      Now I am confused….grads. It’s a four year program. Since when has anyone graduated yet? Maybe they were summer students.

      • Posted by Duty on

        UVic ran a program years ago before this program.
        Few graduated and as far as I can tell not a single one ever practiced law. I stand to be corrected but I think those grads are all senior mgmnt in Gov or Inuit orgs.

        • Posted by Old Bailey on

          Almost all of those students in the Akitsiraq law program from 2001 which was through UVic did graduate but what I am saying is they all ended up working as bureaucrats and it is disappointing that so few are helping Inuit in court.

          • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

            The Akitsiraq Law School Program:Lawyer-Making in the Arctic
            Final Report
            Prepared by the Akitsiraq Law School Society
            Browne, Crawford, Tulloch
            July 2007

            Makes for good reading, particularly some of the challenges for that first cohort. Have never seen anything for Akitsiraq 2 or other cohorts.

            • Posted by Inuk Pagan on

              Ms. Karpik did her articling for the Prosecutor’s Office, doing a hard and unenvious, working with victims, praise young Inuit instead of trying to disparage them.. I doubt you could what she’s done

    • Posted by quvianakuni Emily on

      Quvianaluakuni Emily, alluqtatsiamiatuinnarit. You have a goal, strive and keep going. Many individuals in this territory have put their feet forward and yours is one of them. Since when do all student lawyers who graduate and pass the bar exam go into the courts? We have many naysayers such as the ones in this nunatsiaq gallery who are very narrow minded. The first grads are doing good things and will do more. In many areas where there have been the first Inuit grads, there have been negative voices. Some of them have been interestingly top senior managers in the government from what some of us hear. Regardless, the nitty gritty changes will be made from within, so let’s raise our fellow Inuit up so our kids can walk not just behind them. We have to also raise our voices so that is what our kids hear. Good for you Emily!

    • Posted by Job Snob on

      “easy government jobs” ” mere tour guide” They have jobs and are contributing to the economy. They have more knowledge thanks to the program they were entitled to study in. The “mere tour guide” has made use of her knowledge on the international stage.
      How many people actually work in the field they studied in school?

    • Posted by Sled dog on

      I wonder if there are 25 articling positions in NU. Are these students prepared to leave the territory to article

  5. Posted by Name withheld on

    I’m happy for Emily,

    Inuit, English and French are recognize languages in Nunavut, if the Judge or other lawyers involved don’t understand Emily, they will be the ones wearing the ear piece for a change. 🙂 Ayungie Emily!!

    Also if those are the three recognize language in Nunavut, why are others communicating in work place with a different language aside from those 3?

    • Posted by Not How it Works on

      I don’t think you understand how official languages work… First of all there are actually 4 official languages in the territory including Inuinaqtun; and second of all, having official languages does not mean people are not allowed to communicate in other languages in the work place. It means that citizens are entitled to received services, information etc in any of those languages. Canada is multicultural, meaning that all are free to embrace their cultures, including their language.

    • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

      That’s nice, but irrelevant.

      In the federal courts there are two recognized languages. People can give evidence any language they wish, but only can expect to receive service in English or French. The onus is not on the judges to learn non-official languages, the onus is on the lawyers to be able to practice in one of them.

      • Posted by iRoll on

        There goes Israel MacArthur again, promoting his colonial perspective that only French and English matter in Federal court, when the discussion was about the territory, where Inuktitut is in fact an official language. So, to put it in your own words, Israel… “That’s nice, but irrelevant.”

        • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

          I don’t see a problem with an Inuktitut speaking judge at a hypothetical territorial court level either. However, I’m focused on political and legal reality, which is within my ken, and that reality is that at a federal level the only languages that matter are English and French, be that for better or worse. Since our court system is unique in Canada having only one combined level, we are not in a position to impose Nunavut laws on it, or to bring about any change without the cooperation of parliament.

          I’ve yet to hear anyone suggest creating a two or three tier system similar to other provinces, where perhaps we could have Inuktut speaking judges in a future ‘territorial court’ and let federal law guide a form of superior court. This would take a great deal of both federal and territorial legislation to bring about. Are any of the parties even talking about it?

          This is clearly one part of our society that operates first and foremost at the federal level. There is no provision federally, at this time, for trials in any language except English or French; that is just the way it is. Should it be that way? Maybe, maybe not, but is it going to change anytime soon? Extremely unlikely in my opinion.

          If we start offering federal level trials in Inuktut, I guarantee you that the next question would be why we don’t offer federal trials in Mandarin and Cantonese, Canada’s 3rd and 4th languages. It would be hard to answer such a question when Inuktut doesn’t even rank in the top 20. How do we answer that question on a nation-wide level? No one wants to go down that road, especially when more than 80%, and growing, of Nunavut Inuit report being bilingual in Inuktut and English. Is it an effective use of Canadian money and political capital to create such a system for such a tiny population?

          These might not be comfortable thoughts and questions from a Nunavut perspective, but these are the sorts of questions that we need to ask; looking beyond merely Nunavut and how these changes would affect the entire national system, because that’s what would need to change, the national system.

          There is absolutely zero requirement for the federal government to provide any sort of federal service of any type to any person in any language other than English or French, in Nunavut or anywhere else in Canada. This is the reality. All talk of trials in Inuktut are pie in the sky until this lack of obligation changes.

          It is not the decision of anyone in Nunavut to change this. We can advocate for it, we can agitate for it, but we are not the decision-makers on this issue. All that we can do is agitate and elect those who will make it a priority.

          So, I ask again, which federal party has supported the idea of opening up the official languages can of worms to to allow for minority language trials in federal courts, or else has suggested re-organizing the Nunavut court system?

  6. Posted by Duty on

    Good for you. Remember your duty to your client to most effectively advocate for them is paramount to social goals and translation convenience. Until you have a judge speaking inuktitut, I’d say advocating in inuktitut is against your clients interest.

    Will there be an inuktitut speaking judge? Maybe. I wouldn’t think anyone would be qualified for 10+ years. Hopefully selection based on merit because having an inexperienced judge is the worse thing in the world. Unfortunately the territory often prefers inuktitut to competence in other fields so I won’t hold my breath.

    • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

      Will require quite a bit of legislation at the federal level to see this happen, and I do mean quite a bit. Do you think that any party would be willing to push it? I don’t see it. There are no votes to be had opening up Canada’s official language debate again.

      • Posted by iRoll on

        Actually Israel, given that Inuktitut is an official language in Nunavut I see no problem in an Inuktitut speaking judge. The fact that you do doesn’t surprise me though, you are always promoting a worldview in these comments that relegates Inuit interests to a second class status, typically under the cloak of ‘multiculturalism’ … geez, how ironic is that?

        • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

          No irony at all. Unfortunately, Nunavut can be a very uncomfortable place for some types of non-Inuit, and I speak from experience. Lord forbid that you happen to be of African or South Asian heritage in some of the smaller communities, or like myself, of obviously mixed heritage. Fortunately, this is changing slowly as Nunavut becomes more ‘Canadian’, and hopefully more tolerant of diversity.

          Now, to your main point. I don’t have any trouble with Inuktut speaking judges, I have never said any such thing. What I have said is that I just don’t know what the road map is to get there. There is not a ‘made in Nunavut’ solution to this issue, and it requires very close coordination with other levels of government. No one in this conversation has yet addressed how to get the federal government on side.

      • Posted by Duty on

        What do you mean about federal legislation? 99% of cases are advocated before the NCJ and not the Federal Court (they maybe travel here once a year – there not many cases in Nunavut outside of the criminal sphere).

    • Posted by Inuktitut Judges on

      Advocating for clients in the most effective way was really my whole point at the beginning. Having lawyers that can communicate in their clients’ first language is great for the clients, and I wish her all the best. However, when it comes to presenting her clients’ cases in a courtroom to English/French Judges, maybe leave the earpieces to those who aren’t deciding on the fate of your clients. Inuktitut speaking Judges in Nunavut courts is still something to strive for.

  7. Posted by Uyarak on

    Emily, ajunngittunnattiaqttutit, pikkugivagit. Taikkualu isulittilaursimajui kiggaqttuinirmut, pikkugittiarivakka. Sukkaittumiugaluaq Inuit pivalliatuinnaqttuq. Taikkua unnirllugumajut, unnirllutuinnasuut, ikajurasu&aratiglu. Suqutiginngillugi, kajusitunnarit. Immaqaa sivuniksattinni iqqaqttuijirjjuanngurunnalaaqttutit, ukpirijaqaravilli. Kajusittiaquvagit Emily! Uyarak

  8. Posted by susie zettler on

    Uppigivagin imaavi Imaali – Upigilarikikin ammisunut Inunut upigijauvutin. Pikatuinaq

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