Inuit translators want to create support network, standardize language

Interpretors and translators who work with the Inuit language want to create a better support network and more resources for people working in the challenging profession.

'We are people too. We do feel anger, pain and frustration. And depression too,' says one translator

'The stress is insurmountable,' says Louis Tapardjuk, a board member of Inuit Uqausinginnik Taiguusiliuqtiit, at a conference of interpreters and translators in Iqaluit this week. (Elyse Skura/CBC)

Inuit interpreters and translators made a number of recommendations on the final day of the Inuit language authority's week-long conference, including creating a better support network for those who suffer from 'vicarious trauma.'

Inuit Uqausinginnik Taiguusiliuqtiit (IUT) hosted 120 delegates who work in Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun for the Apqutauvugut conference in Iqaluit. 

"We provide a bridge between the two cultures and it's not an easy task," said Lazarus Arreak, who works in the field. "You really must be committed." 

Like many people at the conference, Arreak first began translating for his unilingual relatives, so they could communicate with outsiders who wished to trade goods or simply learn about Inuit culture. 

Interpreters feel pain, depression

Since the 1970s, he's translated documents for national organizations, provided simultaneous translations at meetings and worked as a cultural advisor on movie sets. 
'A lot of times, at meetings for example, you're treated as robots,' says Lazarus Arreak, an experienced interpreter and translator in Iqaluit, Nunavut. (Elyse Skura/CBC)

"A lot of times, at meetings for example, you're treated as robots," he said. 

The stress of always needing to get information correct has taken a toll on him both emotionally and physically, leading him to develop ulcers in his youth. 

"In the early years it's hard to tell your body is aching and hurting and traumatized," said Arreak. 

"We are people too. We do feel anger, pain and frustration. And depression too."

'Insurmountable stress'

Louis Tapardjuk, an IUT board member and a former territorial MLA and cabinet minister, says it's very important for interpreters and translators to know they are not alone in having these feelings.

"When you're dealing with justice, when you're dealing with health issues, when you're dealing with other very complex and rather difficult situations where the interpreters are expected to interpret it without making any mistakes, the stress is insurmountable," Tapardjuk said. 

Interpreters and translators often have to recount traumatizing experiences, including stories of abuse as residential schools. (Jordan Konek/CBC)

In Nunavut, interpreter and translator booths are commonplace at the legislative assembly, the courthouse and public meetings held in community halls across the territory — but their needs are sometimes forgotten. 

"We hear things that are extremely difficult, whether it's suicide prevention, whether it's ailments, health, medical," said Jeela Palluq-Cloutier, the executive director of Inuit Uqausinginnik Taiguusiliuqtiit. 

"We need a way to let that go. We need a way to take care of ourselves."

Need to 'heal our hearts'

On Friday, interpreters and translators discussed some final recommendations from the conference, which was the first time members of the profession have met in large numbers for well over a decade. 

The group supported the idea of meeting more regularly, creating a comprehensive database of terminology, establishing a professional organization and improving support for younger professionals and those suffering from work-related stress. 

Peter Irniq, a conference delegate and former Nunavut commissioner, said coming together to discuss these issues was an important step toward healing. 
Peter Irniq says interpreters and translators need to be healed and going out on the land is a good place to start. (Jordan Konek/CBC)

"Now people will be thinking about going out on the land and healing out on the land," he said.  

"When we hear some horrible stories of people, when we repeat in Inuktitut the horrible stories we are hearing, we have to get out on the land to heal our minds and to heal our hearts — and be with each other."

Unifying the language

Right now, the Inuit language is written using both syllabics and roman orthography. Palluq-Cloutier made a presentation Tuesday about the Atausiq Inuktut Titirausiq Task Force, organized through Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, which is exploring the potential to create a unified system. 

Tapardjuk says Inuit Uqausiginnik Taiguusiliuqtiit wanted to ensure interpreters and translators are involved in ongoing discussions about standardization, since they work with the written and spoken language on a daily basis. 

"There's some [misconception] that we are doing away with syllabics, when in fact we are not," said Tapardjuk.

"We are just trying to consult with the communities, with other organizations. We'll be consulting with different departments as well - the department of education, the department of justice and others."

Irniq reiterated that people should not be afraid about a unified writing system affecting the ways Inuit in different communities use their language.

"I just want to be very clear that syllabics is not going to go away. It's not going to change your local dialect," he said.

Delegates at the conference were supportive of protecting dialects and continuing to be a part of consultations about a unified writing system.

Interpreters and translators who work with Inuit languages are hoping to develop a professional association and resources for those who deal with work-related stress. (Jordan Konek/CBC)


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