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Kitikmeot Heritage Society launches Inuinnaqtun revitalization project

The number of Inuinnaqtun speakers is declining because many younger Inuit don’t speak the language.

Slated to begin in the fall, the project will involve interviewing older Inuit and knowledge holders

The Kitikmeot Heritage Society is launching a language revitalization project on Inuinnaqtun, a dialect of the Inuit language. (Submitted by Darren Keith)

The Kitikmeot Heritage Society is launching a language revitalization project on Inuinnaqtun, a dialect of the Inuit language.

Slated to begin in the fall, the project will involve interviewing older members of the community who speak the language in Cambridge Bay, Kugluktuk and Gjoa Haven in Nunavut, as well as in Ulukhaktok in the Northwest Territories. The interviews will then be used as part of a virtual resource on the language.

Emily Angulalik, the project manager with the Kitikmeot Heritage Society, says the project is important because the number of Inuinnaqtun speakers — about 500 in 2016 — is declining as many younger Inuit don't speak the language. 

Emily Angulalik is the project manager with the Kitikmeot Heritage Society (Kate Kyle/CBC)

According to Statistics Canada, in 2001, the Inuit language was the mother tongue of nearly 72 per cent of Inuit in the territory in 2001. In 2016, it was only about 65 per cent. 

"It's very important for us as the organisation to start documenting the terms and for our future generations to understand and to know the accurate terms for our environment," Angulalik said. 

The Inuinnaqtun research project is at the heart of the work done by the Kitikmeot Heritage Society, who will be receiving around $150,000 in funding over the next two years. 

The society's mission involves revitalizing Inuit culture, knowledge and language of the Inuinnait, the Inuit living in the central Canadian Arctic. Its research is one of the 11 first initiatives of the Inuit Nunangat Research Program (PRIN), a new scientific group that aims to strengthen research work carried out by Inuit. 

Darren Keith, the principal researcher of th society, said the language revitalization program is important because a big part of documenting Inuinnaqtun involves the grammar of the language. 

"It's a pressing issue because our most fluent speakers are our oldest members of the community," he said " There is a grammar that exists but it needs to be more fully documented [so it] can be used to relearn the language." 

For Angulalik, the research is a way for more young Inuit to learn their language, but also for others to pick a second one. 

"It takes time, [but] the more we nurture the language, the more we immerse ourselves in the language … wonders can happen."

With files from Matisse Harvey

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