The Hamlet of Kugaaruk recently introduced street names for the first time, and that includes Inuktitut syllabics.

Christopher Amautinuar, a member of the community’s language preservation committee, translated the new street names.

“It’s pretty important for me. I had learned syllabics since I was a little boy. (We’re) just trying to carry on the syllabics to the younger generations, which aren’t really using it now,” he said. “We’re looking at getting some Inuktitut syllabics writing workshops here and there with Elders and youth.”

A contest was held to choose the names of approximately 35 local roadways, and animals are predominant. There are now routes around town named after caribou, walrus, beluga, wolf, seal, ptarmigan, bear, narwhal and others. There’s also the commonly used Main Street and some arteries denoting landmarks, such as Airport Road, Coloured Mountain Road and Old Church Road.

Chantal Dowden, Kugaaruk’s senior administrative officer, said there are numerous Elders who only speak and read in Inuktitut, so having translations is important.

She also noted that the lack of street names and street addresses posed complications for getting mail delivered from the south. Among the items to be shipped up in the near future will be street signs, already ordered, reflecting the new street names.

It had been a challenge to give directions to people unfamiliar with the community, something Dowden experienced first-hand.

“When I came up last year… I would be pointed to a direction. So if I’d ask, ‘Where am I going?’ They would put up their hand and they would wave in a direction. It was very interesting for me,” she recalled. “But when you’ve been here long enough and you know the lay of the land, literally when someone points in a direction, you really just need to go in that direction and you’ll find what you’re looking for.”

There’s also a tendency to guide others with some familiarity of the community by referencing certain residences.

“You know, it’s by so-and-so’s house,” Dowden said.

Amautinuar agreed that things will be more straightforward due to this street address and street naming exercise.

“I think it’s good to have these street names because we get a lot of out-of-towners coming to the community,” he said.

Nunavut languages commissioner Karliin Aariak said she supports the Inuit language being prominent “for the betterment of Nunavummiut.”

“Any more visibility of our language is a positive thing,” she said.

She also encourages translations of this nature follow Inuit Cultural Institute language and spelling standards.

Derek Neary

Derek Neary has been reporting on developments in the North for 18 years. When he's not writing for Nunavut News, he's working on Northern News Services' special publications such as Opportunities North,...

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