Street-naming project hits road bumps

Residents want more women’s names and fewer qallunaat explorers



Iqaluit’s city council is making progress on putting names on the city’s nameless streets.

It has already gathered dozens of name suggestions from Iqaluit residents, it’s sent the Inuktitut syllabics to Nunavut’s language commissioner to ensure they’re correct, and they’ve just released a city map that containing the proposed street names.

But the street-naming project has hit a road bump.

At a public meeting on April 22, Iqaluit residents shot down a handful of the proposed names for the streets.

“Who wants to live on Igunaq Street?” Paul Okalik, MLA for Iqaluit West, asked. Igunaq, which is fermented walrus meat, is known for its strong rotting smell.

Eva Aariak, the language commissioner for Nunavut, laughed at the suggestion a street should honour the explorer John Franklin. “Franklin and his ship were lost and we still haven’t found it. Do we really want to name a street after it?” Aariak said.

The street-naming project started in 1998 with the city’s emergency services department. Fire-fighters and ambulance drivers said the absence of street names was a serious safety issue. The names are expected to limit any confusion they could have in finding their way to an emergency.

The map divides Iqaluit into 12 different areas and each has a theme. Roads in Apex, for example, are named for traditional Inuit clothing, such as Kamik Drive and Amauti Crescent. The breakwater and beach area has water and boat themes, so streets have names such as Umiaq Crescent and Qajaq Lane.

Despite making lighthearted digs at some of the potential street names, residents did express serious hesitations at the public meeting.

Paul Okalik took great issue with the fact the city would devote one whole section of town — the Happy Valley area — to explorers such as Amundsen, Cook and Peary.

“I look at the names on the list and I have difficulty knowing how they contributed to Iqaluit or to Nunavut. Were they doing it for Iqaluit or Nunavut? I don’t think so.”

“What I’d like to see is names of people that contributed to Nunavut everyday,” he suggested.

“There are no women’s names in there,” added Ed Picco, MLA for Iqaluit East. “We had a lot of women pioneers.” Picco said respected women such as the late Leah Nutaraq or the late Naki Ekho contributed to the development of Iqaluit and should be honoured.

“Women have been neglected, and that is unacceptable.”

People also said there was a noticeable lack of streets named for Nunavut communities. Instead, three streets are named for the three regions in the territory, the Kivalliq, Kitikmeot and Qikiqtani regions.

Okalik said community names, not regions, should grace Iqaluit’s street signs.

“Since Nunavut was created we’ve tried to create an identity that goes beyond the three administrative regions,” he said.

“I thought some community names could have been included with the streets of the capital city,” Picco added.

Aariak was disappointed city officials didn’t take into account that some Iqaluit streets already have traditional Inuit names. For example, longtime Inuit have always called the Federal Road “Qaqqaliariaq”, which means the route that leads to the hills.

She suggested the council scrap many of the street names and form a committee with elders to make sure streets don’t lose their traditional names.

Aariak was also baffled that many of the proposed names were quite simplistic. She said she suspects the simple words, such as amauti and kamik, were chosen for the sake of non-Inuit who might have trouble pronouncing Inuktitut words.

“I think the names should be meaningful,” she suggested.

But Mick Mallon, an Inuktitut language instructor, is worried non-Inuit will have trouble with almost all of the of the Inuktitut street names.

“It’s a great idea of having Inuktitut names, and then we shudder to think how qallunaat will pronounce them,” he said at the meeting.

Mallon then pulled out a lap-top computer and unveiled a program he designed to help qallunaat practice pronouncing the words. By pressing on the name of a street, a woman’s voice slowly says the word. He’s offering the CD to the city to distribute to residents.

The council and city administration will now take another look at the proposed street names. Cherri Kemp-Kinnear, who is working on the project, said they’re considering changing Igunaq Street to Allanngua (narwhal) Street and adding Nunavut communities such as Iglulik and Ikaluktuutiak (Cambridge Bay) to the list.

They’re also looking to find women pioneers to replace the male explorer names.

Council will then review a final list of names before getting the street signs printed.

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