'We're an oral people': Inuktitut radio program begins broadcasting in Ottawa

CKCU’s Uqallagvik, hosted by Jessie Kangok and Janet Evvik, is the only Inuktitut radio show in the city.

CKCU’s Uqallagvik is Canada’s southernmost Inuktitut radio show

Jessie Kangok (left) and Janet Evvik (right) host Uqallagvik, Ottawa's only Inuktitut radio show, from CKCU's studios. ( Joël Lamoureux)

When Jessie Kangok was growing up in Igloolik, Nunavut, she remembers listening to the radio every day.

At 12 o'clock, she recalls, the CBC's Joanna Awa would come on the air with stories from across Canada, all told in her mother tongue: Inuktitut.

But when Kangok moved to Ottawa, she "didn't find [Inuktitut] anywhere" on the radio dial.

That ended last month, when her show on CKCU, Uqallagvik, aired its first episode.

"At least twice a month for an hour, we get to forget we're in Ottawa," she told the host of CBC's Ottawa Morning.

The show is modelled on Nipivut ("Our Voice"), an Inuktitut radio show on Montreal's CKUT Radio that previously held the title of Canada's southernmost Inuktitut broadcast.

The format combines the host's introductions in Inuktitut with interviews conducted mostly in English. Kangok says that allows the show to be inclusive of "Inuit who haven't grown up speaking the language," while still celebrating the Inuktitut language.

Kangok co-hosts the show with Janet Evvik, a producer for the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation who moved to Ottawa from Pangnirtung, Nunavut. Neither host had any prior experience with radio.

"It's exciting to hear your voice on the radio," said Evvik. "There are a lot of issues that need to be heard, and this is our way of getting it all out."

'It’s exciting to hear your voice on the radio,' said Evvik. Neither host had radio experience before starting Uqallagvik. ( Joël Lamoureux)

Now on its third episode, Kangok says she hopes the show will explore issues relevant to Ottawa's large Inuit community and national politics.

"Like any culture, we want to be understood and heard," she said. "We're an oral people… It's natural, and it's exciting for the community."

Beyond the headlines, Evvik says another goal of the show is to promote Inuit music.

"We don't get to hear Inuktitut music anywhere else," said Evvik. "We get to play the songs that we listened to when we were growing up. It's like a throwback, sometimes, to our childhood."

On this score, the show made an impression from its first minute. When the opening theme, a lively jig, came on the air, one of Kangok's friends said "her uncle started dancing, because he remembered home."

"It delivered what it's meant to do," said Kangok, "to bring that sense of home for a moment."

Right now, the show is only aired twice a month, but Evvik hopes it can grow to something bigger.

"I hope it would be an every day thing one day," she said. "Back home, you listen to your radio every day."

Based on an interview by Robyn Bresnahan, produced by Deborah MacAskill and Julia Sisler.