‘We bonded over our language’: student earns first Inuktitut accreditation in Ontario school
Clyde River’s Erica Illauq, 16, passes new language assessment offered to Inuit students
Erica Illauq is one multi-talented teen.
She’s a welder, a guitarist, a skateboarder and even a black metal singer.
Now the Ottawa Technical Secondary School student can add accredited Inuktitut speaker to her list of skills.
The 16-year-old from Clyde River is the first student in all of Ontario to earn an Inuktitut language accreditation through her high school.
It’s part of a new effort by the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board to help Indigenous students stay connected with their traditional languages and assess their fluency.
Jasmine Doig is an Indigenous graduation coach with the school board’s Indigenous Education Learning Team.
“She is a natural leader when it comes to her culture,” Doig said of Illauq.
Originally from Clyde River, Illauq is fluent in Inuktitut. She grew up speaking the language with her family and friends and at school.
When her family moved to Ottawa three years ago, however, Illauq had fewer opportunities to communicate in Inuktitut.
“When I came here I spoke English all day, fully,” she said.
“I haven’t been speaking it for a while and I haven’t read Inuktitut books for a while, so I was kind of struggling with that.”
So in March, Illauq sat down for the first Inuktitut assessment offered in an Ontario high school.
She was evaluated by an Inuk elder from the Uqausilirijiit Circle, a group of Inuit elders that puts forth recommendations to the Ontario College of Teachers regarding instruction of Inuktut languages within Ontario.
Illauq had to demonstrate her speaking and listening skills through conversation, read a book written in Inuktitut for the evaluator, and show her writing skills in both Inuktitut syllabics and Romanized spelling.
On top of being a proud academic accomplishment for the teen, the experience turned out to be unexpectedly “emotional,” she said.
“We bonded over our language together,” Illauq said of speaking with the elder during her evaluation.
“I found that really supportive, because I haven’t had that in such a long time, fully engaging with a person who speaks the same language here in Ottawa. I [had] been missing that.”
Illauq has since received her grades from the evaluation and said she’s “absolutely” happy with the result.
“All the teachers here [congratulated] me and I thought wow, that’s awesome.”
When she graduates next year, Illauq’s Inuktitut credit will be visible on her high school transcript, which could be useful when applying to post-secondary education programs and jobs.
Despite Ottawa’s large Inuit population, there hasn’t been an Inuktitut credit offered through the school board until this year.
“When I started here, knowing how many Inuit there were here and how fluent they are, they could only get a First Nations language credit course,” said Doig. “Where’s the equity in that? That was one of the major pushes to have this be an accredited assessment.”
Since Illauq sat for the assessment in March, another student has also taken the test and another is scheduled to take the assessment before the end of the year.
If at least eight students take the assessment, the board can offer a class for Inuit students to practise their Inuktitut.
Doig herself is mixed Inuk and Jamaican and is learning Inuktitut as an adult.
“I can talk, but I’m not fluent,” she said. Listening to Illauq speak her traditional language, though, “feels like home,” Doig said.
“I just think if we could create a space where students across the board can learn, then Inuit are one step further [to] a glorious life,” she said.
Illauq has one year of high school left and then hopes to attend college or university, get a job at a music or skateboard shop and also hit the stage.
“I want to make music. I want to go touring. I want to work in concert shows,” she said.
One day, she said, she may even sing metal in Inuktitut.