Nunavut youth turn the tables on southern researchers at ArcticNet conference

A group of Nunavut youth are using a conference of Arctic scholars to make a point about how researchers often come up short in consultations with their communities — using their own language to do so.

Delegation from Ikaarvik Project begin their presentations in Inuktitut to show impacts of language barrier

Left to right: Gibson Porter (Gjoa Haven), Shelly Elverum (Pond Inlet), Ena Maktar (Pond Inlet), Sammy Kogvik (Gjoa Haven), Betty Kogvik (Gjoa Haven), Eric Solomon (Ocean Wise Vancouver), Alex Anaviapik (Pond Inlet), and Justin Milton (Pond Inlet) pose at the ArcticNet conference in Ottawa. Elverum co-ordinated a group of delegates from Nunavut, who attended the conference to educate southern researchers on northern knowledge and customs. (Submitted by Shelly Elverum)

A group of Nunavut youth are using a conference of Arctic scholars to make a point about how researchers often come up short in consultations with their communities — using their own language to do so.

The Ikaarvik Project is an initiative that aims to encourage conversation between Arctic researchers and youth in Canada's Far North. Shelly Elverum, the program's northern co-ordinator, was at the ArcticNet conference in Ottawa this week, along with a delegation of youth from across the territory.

During their presentation to researchers, the youth made their point in a unique way: for the first five minutes, they spoke entirely in Inuktitut.

Pond Inlet's Shelly Elverum is the northern co-ordinator for the Ikaarvik Project. (Submitted by Shelly Elverum)

"People in the audience, at first, they look interested, and then they sort of look scared, and then they look confused," said Elverum. "And I wait for a few minutes and say, 'Oh, by the way, didn't I tell you the workshop is going to be all in Inuktitut?'"

"And then they start squirming and get uncomfortable. And then I say, 'Well, I'm just joking. But I want you to remember this moment. What it feels like to not understand what somebody is talking about.'"

The presentations are an opportunity for Elverum and her group to show the inverse of what often happens when southern researchers come to northern communities. Often, their presentations are entirely in English, causing issues for the community's unililngual Inuktitut speakers.

Elverum says the experience was eye-opening for many attendees, especially younger researchers.

"Their eyes just get really wide, and it finally hits them ... what it's like when somebody doesn't understand," she said.

Gibson Porter, Ena Maktar and Mia Otokiak teach Masters and PhD students about northern research and priorities, and how to work with communities. (Submitted by Shelly Elverum)

"People come up afterwards and say, 'Thank you. I never really understood what it felt like to not be understood.'"

Elverum said the trip was not only valuable for young southern researchers — she estimated about 80 took part in workshops with her delegation over the week, learning local northern customs and context — but for her group of northern youth as well.

"We're not necessarily looking to create researchers in the community ... but we're looking to be able to have a generation of young people who are aware of how to make research a tool for Inuit, rather than just a tool for someone else," she said.

"So learning about how research works, learning how to be able to make it fit what the community's needs are, is a really important part."

With files from Qavavao Peter