Lack of Inuktitut customer service in Iqaluit hotel 'odd and wrong,' man says

An Iqaluit man wrote an open letter complaining about the lack of customer service available in Inuktitut at Nunastar Properties, which owns the Frobisher Inn and several rental properties in Iqaluit.

Nunastar received a complaint letter at the end of last month

Jordan Ipirq Bens wrote a complaint letter to Nunastar about the lack of Inuktitut customer service. (David Gunn/CBC)

An Iqaluit man wrote an open letter complaining about the lack of customer service available in Inuktitut at Nunastar Properties, which owns the Frobisher Inn and several rental properties in Iqaluit.

Jordan Ipirq Bens works in the office building attached to the Frobisher Inn. The hotel has the most rooms out of the three hotels in the city.

He says he occasionally walks through the hotel lobby to grab a coffee or a snack, and sometimes while doing this he finds himself interpreting for unilingual Inuktitut hotel guests.

"You can see it in their faces, you can see that they are frustrated, you can see that they want services but they don't know how to reach out to receive those services," Bens said in an interview with CBC News.

"All this can be fixed if [Nunastar] had employees that could speak Inuktitut." 

Last year, he helped guests place a collect call. His letter also mentions that though the automated phone-answering service offers the option of service in Inuktitut, he says he's spoken to people who say there is frequently no one available to take calls and offer service in Inuktitut.

Bens says the problem extends to the rental office run by Nunastar, despite the fact that Inuit are a large part of the company's clientele — both renters and hotel guests.

Frobisher has plan to improve

Ed Romanowski, Nunastar's president, replied-all to Bens's March 20 letter, which cc'd local news outlets and relevant territorial ministers.

In his response he said the company is working to comply with the language laws, which came into effect last July and require customer service and signage to be available in Inuit languages.

Nunastar submitted a plan to ramp-up its Inuktitut services to Nunavut's languages commissioner for review in January.

Right now, he said the number of Inuit staff at the Frobisher is just below 20 per cent. He told CBC he hopes to improve that number by working with Nunavut Arctic College to get Inuit trained in the hospitality industry.

In the meantime, Romanowski said this month the plan is to launch language training that will teach all staff the basic greetings in both languages.

"We live in the land of Inuit, so our response, for sure, has to be positive because we need to engage and be a part of the community," Romanowski said.

However, Bens said he finds it "odd and wrong" that Nunastar, which has been operating in Iqaluit for nearly 50 years, hasn't found front desk workers who speak Inuktitut.

Nunavut's languages commissioner Helen Klengenberg said people can direct language complaints to her or directly to businesses.

For businesses, she said she can help develop partnerships with translators and the Nunavut government to tackle the challenges businesses may be facing.