'It all started with a pizza': How an American priest learned Inuktitut in just over 1.5 years

She learned how to read, write, and preach in Inuktitut in just over a year-and-a-half — and it all started with a craving for a slice of cheesy, saucy, doughy goodness.

On Sunday, Osborn is expected to give her first sermon in Inuktitut

'Just get out there, say dumb things, make mistakes and get corrected,' says Rebecca Osborn, a Pittsburgh woman who is now an Anglican priest in Iqaluit. (submitted by Rebecca Osborn)

This is the story of a Pittsburgh woman, now an Anglican priest in Iqaluit, who learned to read, write and preach in Inuktitut within just a year and a half — and it all started with a slice of cheesy, saucy, doughy goodness.

"Well, it all started with a pizza," recalled Rebecca Osborn, who moved to Iqaluit to work as a minister at St. Jude's Cathedral back in August 2015.

She had a craving one night, back at the Pittsburgh seminary where both Osborn and her husband studied. The seminary was offering an information session on the North.

"So I went there for the pizza, and learned all about the Arctic and working with Inuit up here. And it just stuck in our heads," said Osborn.

Osborn reading at her ordination to the priesthood in May of 2016 in Iqaluit. (Facebook/Meena Nukiruaq Allooloo)

"The more we learned about up here, we thought 'Wow, we could get to live up there,'" said Osborn.

The couple visited the North that same winter. "We came for two, three weeks during a big blizzard and we just loved it."

And the rest was history.

"Oh we love it. It feels like home," said Osborn, who's been living in Iqaluit ever since.

'Anybody can do it'

Osborn said she always wanted to learn an Indigenous language and participate in the culture.

She said it was important to her to learn Inuktitut quickly as a part of her faith. "It's a part of my faith as a pastor," she said. "Inuktitut will be spoken in heaven. The Bible says that every language, tribe and nation will be in heaven. That just makes [Inuktitut] incredibly valuable, and so it's really important for me to show that and live that."

Osborn said she studied about 12 hours a week at the start of her language journey, with the help of a language teacher.

A notebook Osborn uses to practice her reading. (submitted by Rebecca Osborn)

Now, she says she sticks to a "little bit every day" routine, carving out five to ten minutes daily.

Today, she reads Bible passages in Inuktitut during service, reads and writes syllabics, and is able to converse on basic topics in Inuktitut.

Inuktitut will be spoken in heaven.- Rebecca Osborn, Anglican priest

"I was speaking with a couple of unilingual elders from some communities, and I was able to have a conversation with one about how many kids we have, and about nursing toddlers," said Osborn. "It was simple. It was really special."

It's been a slow, but very positive process thanks to the community, says Osborn. " People have been very encouraging, even though I don't feel like I do a good job, everyone is very excited that I tried."

This Sunday, she will be preaching her first sermon in Inuktitut. She wrote the whole message herself, and is having it reviewed before she takes the pulpit.

"I think anybody can do it," said Osborn.

Her word of advice: "Just get out there, say dumb things, make mistakes and get corrected."

with files from Qavavao Peter

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.