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'All I could do was laugh with joy,' says literacy award winner

Charmaine Okatsiak of Rankin Inlet comes across her passion for helping youth learn and speak Inuktitut honestly, with her mother being an Inuktitut teacher and her father a youth program co-ordinator.

Okatsiak, 30, was named Nunavut’s 2020 Council of the Federation Literacy Award recipient this past week in Iqaluit.

Rankin Inlet's Charmaine Okatsiak has been named the recipient of Nunavut's 2020 Council of the Federation Literacy Award.
Photo courtesy Charmaine Okatsiak

With teaching in her blood, Okatsiak spent a number of years working at Leo Ussak Elementary School before heading off to Nunavut Arctic College where she is completing the Nunavut Teacher Education Program (NTEP).

Okatsiak is also a familiar voice on local radio, where she volunteers her time to practice her language and encourage others to learn and speak Inuktitut.

She also put in countless hours to launch the Inuktitut Revitalization Project this past summer — a summer program for youth — including developing the course curriculum and program materials.

Okatsiak said she was taken completely by surprise when she was told she had won the award.

She said it was a totally unexpected honour and one that fills her with pride.

When I got the call from the Government of Nunavut all I could do was laugh with joy,” giggled Okatsiak.

I thought about all the things I've done, all the community projects and little activities for youth, and how it's worth all the time I put in — so I kind of laughed in relief knowing it really is appreciated.”

Okatsiak said she knows how very important it is that people speak Inuktitut at home from her own personal experience.

She said she is still trying to reclaim her ability to speak Inuktitut fluently.

I grew up unilingual and learned English first in kindergarten, so, as I got older, I made English my main priority and my Inuktitut deteriorated.

Now, as an adult, I see other adults struggling as well. We have barriers in that we come up with reasons why we don't try Inuktitut.

So I wanted to address those and do a five-week healing program where we got to interact with elders on land trips, did a couple of Inuktitut classes and had discussions on healing — acknowledging what hurt us.

Once that was out of the way we were able to focus on trying to reclaim our language and learn Inuktitut.”

Okatsiak said she doesn't like to compare communities when it comes to the use of Inuktitut, but Rankin Inlet lags behind communities like Arviat and Naujaat.

She said she learned so much during the Inuktitut Revitalization Project this past summer that she's already looking ahead to next time.

Hopefully, I'll have finished my fourth year of the NTEP, graduated and become a certified teacher next fall, which will also help me with future course planning.

I have a real passion for teaching and I really enjoy the teacher's education program.

I can't wait to hit the text books and go into my own classroom for real.

I've been looking forward to that day for quite awhile now.”