UKâlalautta Inuttitut!

SSHRC funding supports Labrador Inuit revitalization of Inuktitut

In the year since Johannes Lampe was sworn in as the third president of the regional government of Nunatsiavut in Newfoundland and Labrador, his commitment to preserving and promoting the Labrador Inuit’s language hasn’t wavered.

In fact, his government’s 2017 budget affirms: “We have a unique language and culture, and it is imperative for us to honour our identity in our communities as well as on the national stage. We are committed to preventing the erosion of our language, our culture and our identity.”

To achieve this goal, the Nunatsiavut Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism will continue to promote and support projects like the Inuktitut radio hour and the Labrador Inuktitut Training Program, which teaches Inuktitut to adult learners.

Lampe, who is an Inuit from the northern coast of Labrador, feels the use of Inuktitut has been in rapid decline over the years, primarily due to the resettlement and marginalization of many Inuit who felt discouraged to speak their native language. Statistics back up this view. In 2006, Statistics Canada reported that only seven per cent of Labrador Inuit spoke Inuktitut as the main language at home.

Before becoming president, Lampe had already set the wheels in motion to help language revitalization become a reality. He was an original partner in a SSHRC-funded project with Memorial University and the Nunatsiavut Government: Tradition and Transition Among the Labrador Inuit. This five-year venture, announced in October 2015, is aided by a $2.3 million Partnership Grant from SSHRC.

The project is making parallel impacts to Lampe’s efforts as president, with Tom Gordon, professor emeritus at Memorial’s School of Music, as its lead. It launched a website in English and Inuktitut, Tradition + Transition, which aims to combine and present the work of researchers from Memorial and other universities exploring the Labrador Inuit’s rich heritage. The project is also helping people learn Inuktitut.

“One active project on Inuktitut revitalization, in collaboration with Nunatsiavut and the OKâlaKatiget Society, is called: Ukâlalautta Inutittut / Let’s Speak Inutittut,” says Gordon. “You can access it through our Facebook site, with a new lesson posted each day. The project has a large following and is cloud-cast via the OKâlaKatiget Society. As the content expands, it is also being introduced into the school curriculum. An Inuktitut phrase book is also under development, and we are working to establish a master/apprentice conversation program to empower speakers.”

Gordon has spent 15 years working with Inuit tradition-bearers and researchers. He has studied Labrador Inuit culture extensively, especially the discovery of classical music manuscripts from the 1800s with text handwritten in Inuktitut.

A personal ambition of his is to help Memorial University “develop an Aboriginal research culture and infrastructure that is more respectful, collaborative, responsive and nimble.” In fact, he feels all universities must do more to accommodate Indigenous-led exploration.

“We need to relinquish control of the research agenda,” says Gordon. “It should, instead, be defined by the expressed needs of Indigenous communities and organizations. It must also have a built-in component that addresses the building of Indigenous research capacity. All this is easier said than done, because the sharing of the research agenda and the participation in building research capacity will only happen after relationships have been established founded on trust.”