Qanuqtun taivakpatdjuk Inuinnaqtun? (What do they call it in Inuinnaqtun?)

Qanuqtun taivakpatdjuk Inuinnaqtun?  (What do they call it in Inuinnaqtun?)

Uvanga atira Tiffany Sarah Kuliktana Ayalik.  Inuinnayunga.

My name is Tiffany Sarah Kuliktana Ayalik.  I am Inuinnait from the Kugluktuk region, but was born and raised in Yellowknife, NWT.  The language of the Inuinnait is Inuinnaqtun, a dialect of Inuktut spoken in a handful of communities in the Western Arctic.  Inuinnaqtun is one of the 11 official languages of the NWT.  It is a beautifully complex language, and learning it is even more so. 

I did not grow up speaking Inuinnaqtun.  Once in a while, a phrase would breeze through the house when my mother (a kabloonak) would do her best to teach us what she knew, or when family would have a stop-over and we would have tea and cut quaq on the re-purposed cereal box on the floor.  As a child, I would try to hold on to the few words I knew, laugh when everyone else was laughing and listen to Rassi on CBC and pretend to understand what was going on.  Inuinnaqtun is my birthright, but I did not inherit it for many reasons.  Today, as an adult, I am teaching myself. 

Teaching yourself anything can be hard.

If I decided to take up woodworking or learn a bit of Italian for an upcoming holiday, barriers I might happen to stumble across would only be felt as a plateau that needed crossing.  Just a bump in the road. 

When you teach yourself your own language however, the bumps turn into landmines.  Each stumble is triggering as you feel the full weight not just of the lesson but of generations of trauma.  Struggling with language can make you feel like you aren’t Inuk at all.  The barriers can make you think about all the tragic reasons this particular phrase isn’t rolling off your tongue.  Trying to decipher a simple word can make you experience colonial trauma on such a profound level that it makes you want to delete the language application off your phone all together. 

Why am I so stupid?  Why is this so hard?

Sometimes learning hurts.

When we as Indigenous people do the very vital work of reclaiming our traditions, food, ceremonies and languages, the barriers to learning can be monumental and they can feel insurmountable at times.  Taqi, we have to keep trying. 

The purpose of language is connection.  It takes internal feelings and experiences and allows us to share those with people outside of ourselves.  It is hard learning a language on your own.  Language doesn’t exist in isolation and the whole purpose of it is to connect with other people.  This is one of the scariest steps.  I try to call my grandmother a few times a week to practice the things I have learned with her.  I get nervous to try.  I ramp up to a new phrase, approach it in the conversation, get scared, get quiet and try to sneak it into the conversation at a volume no human can hear it at, let alone an elder with a Nunavut phone connection.  She says, “Hai?  Hai? What you said?”  I take a breath and say it loud and clear and sometimes wrong.  It makes her happy, and she usually corrects my pronunciation, but she understands what I am trying to say.  Next time I say that, it won’t be so scary.  

I didn’t grow up speaking Inuinnaqtun, but I am determined to speak more today than I knew yesterday. And sometimes, ikayullannga, I need help.

To anyone else who is on a similar journey, I see you.  This is very hard work and we need to keep going.   

Its okay if the syllabus makes you cry.  Its okay if struggling with a new word makes you weep with anger as you curse the system that took it from you in the first place.  Its okay to cry over the things that get in the way, the cost of flights, and the crappy internet, and years that passed, and the ones you lost who held so much knowledge, and, and, and.  I cried learning my numbers, I cried when I was leaning about weather.  Cry, get mad, then get back at it.  It will get easier.  Slowly, the words will be there with you and you won’t have to dig to find them.  Soon you won’t be scared to try.

Keep trying.  You will see. 

Soon the feelings of inadequacy, failure and despair will change.  Soon, you will start to see yourself differently as you learn.  As a young parent delights in her child’s first coos, you will be proud of yourself.  You will be so proud of your inner child as you celebrate her and show up for her in ways you wish you had when you were young.  With every word, a new key is found that unlocks hidden passages that takes you down corridors of expression.  One by one, the halls become less confusing and eventually they melt away completely.  And there you are, in a room with your grandmother, sitting on the floor eating quaq, talking about Hila. 


Submitted by Erynne gilpin (not verified) on Tue, 02/04/2020 - 12:09


Reading this- I felt the words go strait to my heart place. To the place my spirt lives. Thank you for these words- for your journey- in tears and in learning. Kitatamihin nimis, Hiy hiy miyo-pimatisiwin- ayis kihewini pimatisiwin

Submitted by Tiffany Ayalik (not verified) on Tue, 02/04/2020 - 12:48



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