Ottawa Inuit get new Inuktitut radio show

“There’s a lot of Inuit people here now, it’s about time we’re going to be heard”

Mealia Sheutiapik (front) and Janet Evic are part of Uqallagvik, Ottawa’s new Inuktitut radio station. (Photo by Kahlan Miron)

By Kahlan Miron

After their first show aired on May 15, the women of Uqallagvik—Ottawa’s new Inuktitut radio program—were already getting stopped on the street and at cultural centres to talk about their work.

“Some people were saying, ‘Wow, you guys are great. It felt just like a natural conversation,’” said Jessie Kangok, who works on the program. “And that was really what we’re trying to do.”

Uqallagvik airs on alternate Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m., then makes recordings of the show available on their website. Hosted on CKCU 93.1 FM, a community radio station found on Carleton University’s campus, Uqallagvik will have three episodes on their playlist as of June 12.

Kangok, along with Janet Evic, Mealia Sheutiapik and Angeline Ivalu, offer their listeners a mixture of Inuit-language music, interviews with a variety of guests and local community announcements.

Their music line up presents a range of genres: Hyper T’s hip-hop will close a show that also features rock from Northern Haze or pop-rock mixes like Elisapee Isaac, while the next show plays some Twin Flames folk.

On their second show, Uqallagvik interviewed Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.’s president, Aluki Kotierk, on the recognition of Inuktitut as a founding language, touching on Kotierk’s trip to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in April, while on their third show Qajaq Robinson will speak about the calls for justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

The Uqallagvik team had a little over a month to train with equipment and learn how to present on-air, but according to community feedback, they’re nailing it, and the Uqallagvik broadcasters have even higher hopes for the future.

“We’re starting off really well, powerful, and then we’ll be doing even [better],” said Evic.

It helps that the women all knew each other beforehand. Kangok, Evic, Sheutiapik and Ivalu connected many different ways, such as through children or work, before meeting at the recording station. They agreed that seeing familiar faces helped decrease their nerves on the first day.

“I think that’s what made it even more fun, because we already had that connection way before the show,” said Kangok.

From left: Jessie Kangok, Mealia Sheutiapik, Tungasuvvingat Inuit’s Anna Logie, Janet Evic and Angeline Ivalu. (Photo by Kahlan Miron)

But the team is drawn to Uqallagvik for another reason, too: with the largest population of Inuit outside of Inuit Nunangat, and with Inuktitut being the most spoken Indigenous mother tongue in the city (according to Ottawa’s 2016 census profile), they feel it’s about time Ottawa had Inuktitut on the radio.

“There’s a lot of Inuit people here now, it’s about time we’re going to be heard,” Sheutiapik said.

A desire to connect Inuit has been built into Uqallagvik since the beginning. Part of the reason the show exists is because Montreal Inuit wanted to connect with Ottawa’s Inuit community.

Montreal’s Nipivut, the first southern Canadian Inuktitut radio program, had wanted to reach out to Ottawa Inuit for years. So, Nipivut began searching for potential avenues to help set up a similar program in Ottawa.

While both focus on southern Inuit communities and broadcast in Inuktitut, the two programs have a few differences: Nipivut, for example, pre-records their shows, while Uqallagvik records some interviews in advance but airs mostly live. And Uqallagvik is bilingual (Inuktitut with English), while Nipivut is trilingual (Inuktitut with English and French).

But, for Kangok, one of the major differences is that Ottawa is more political. Living in the capital creates a political atmosphere, Kangok says. She can feel it walking down the street.

“The physical location will naturally bring that conversation in, whether we seek it or not.”

And Evic says it’s special being able to listen to a politician through the radio and hear them speak to Inuit in their own language.

Beyond an Inuit-specific lens to politics, Uqallagvik brings other benefits to the community, like the preservation Inuktitut and engaging people in language and culture.

It’s easily accessible, too. Kangok says that, if a person can sign up for an hour-long French immersion class, they can listen to Inuktitut radio for an hour.

Ivalu also mentioned the ease of access: “It’s nice to have a radio because not everyone has internet.” By not relying exclusively on internet or cellphones, Uqallagvik can reach a broader audience.

Music is another important component to the program. “What I’m also thinking is, if I were to listen to the radio in a car, it’ll be cool to listen to Inuit artists in Ottawa,” says Evic.

“It’ll be awesome to hear Inuktitut music on the radio.”

And for non-Inuit listening in, the program presents another opportunity: education on who Inuit really are.

“That what I hope,” said Kangok. “That people will just get at least a little sense of who Inuit are and what we’re about and what matters to us.”

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