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Arviat woman certified as interpreter-translator, wants to help others navigate legal, medical services

An Arviat woman wants to make higher education more attractive to other Indigenous students.
Amy Komakjuak said she is encouraging other Indigenous women to apply for college “to make a better future for them and their children.” Photo courtesy of Amy Komakjuak

An Arviat woman wants to make higher education more attractive to other Indigenous students.

Amy Komakjuak is a certified interpreter-translator undertaking her final year in the Inuktitut/English interpreter-translator program at Nunavut Arctic College in Iqaluit.

The parent-turned-college-student said she is “encouraging people with kids to apply for college and bring their children to attend school.”

“Students in Grade 12 are often scared to go to college or university because it’s a big step,” she said. “But I encourage them to apply to make a better future for them and their children.”

She applied for the interpreter-translator program back in 2019 because “I like to try new things,” and was immediately accepted.

As an interpreter-translator, Komakjuak will work to bridge the communication gap between Nunavummiut who use Inuktut as their first (and sometimes only) language and the primarily English-speaking workers who run medical services, the justice system and other industries across the country.

After finishing college, Komakjuak is looking to take her career to the next level. She hopes to move back to Arviat with the goal of setting up her own small business offering freelance services because “they need more certified interpreters back home.”

Last summer she was back in the Kivalliq working in the medical travel industry and “enjoyed that so much.”

Aside from a six-month stint working at the Tunngasugit Inuit Resource Centre in Winnipeg, Komakjuak had never lived away from her hometown of Arviat, so leaving for college in Iqaluit was a daunting but ultimately rewarding step, she said.

“I had to travel with my family to further my education,” she said. “Two years has gone so fast. All these interesting courses that we do. It’s pretty fun.”

Komakjuak, her fiancé and their children – aged 10, nine and three – are currently living in student housing.

Compared to Arviat, the territorial capital is “pretty big for me,” she said. Even though Covid-19 restrictions have taken some of the charm out of urban living, she said Iqaluit has been a positive experience.

The move has also been an educational experience for her children who “have been attending French class as well, so that’s pretty awesome,” she said. “My kids are enjoying it and they’re doing pretty well. And we can do activities here such as swimming, or theaters.”

In addition, higher education has allowed her to build connections with students from across the territory and learn a few subdialects of Inuktitut.

“There are other students coming in from other communities including Cape Dorset, Hall Beach, Arctic Bay and others,” she said. “It gets pretty interesting to learn new words, or the way they talk, because they’re also learning from me. We learn something new every day.”