Voices From Here: Janet Evic and Jessie Kangok

In this piece, Jessie Kangok and Janet Evic talk about working on the first radio program in Ottawa by and for Inuit in Inuktitut, as well as urban migration and the importance of language promotion.

Qujannamiik, Jessie and Janet, for sharing your passions and efforts with us.

Special thanks to Nicole Parsons and Tungasuvvingat Inuit.

Filmed on September 29, 2019 on the unceded territories of the Algonquin nation.

Cinematographer – Jonathan Elliott
Colour – Martin Gaumond + Outpost MTL
Sound mix – Seratone Studios
Illustrations – Natasha Donovan


Janet: We always need to speak it if we want to keep our language.

Rhoda Karetak (radio interview): They should be speaking their mother tongue. These daycares are speaking English. These children who would speak in Inuktitut are now speaking in English only, even the youth who are young adults. They start speaking in Inuktitut, but when they don’t understand each other they tend to converse in English. It is challenging today. There is terminology for everything, and this has to be understood.

We speak our dialects and we are clear as to what we say here at the elder’s home, we are from different communities staying here. Although we are all Inuit, sometimes we need an interpreter (laughing).

Jessie: The local radio here or even TV programming here in Ottawa is very diverse, and it has the indigenous – First Nations piece to it, but even in this day and age there was an Inuit voice that was missing. Our main vision is to not only promote our language, but also to advocate and to educate about not only our history, where we have come from, how far we have come and have the opportunity to be heard, and also be a part of a conversation here in the city.

Jessie: I am Jessie Kangok, I am originally from Igloolik. I am an Inuk.

Janet: I am Janet Evic, I am originally from Pangnirtung. I have been living in Ottawa for 6 years. I am an editor at the radio station and a broadcaster.

Janet: Nipivut is an Inuktitut and English radio show in Montreal. They wanted to expand their radio show, so they reached out Ottawa.

Title card: Ottawa has the largest Inuit population outside of the North, numbering 1,280 in the 2016 census.

However, some 4,000 people accessed services through Tungasuvvingat Inuit (a place where Inuit are welcome) in the same year.

Jessie: It is going to continue to grow. The migration is coming here and a lot of the reason being is that lack of services up north because there is nothing really there besides having your basic needs, like education and the northern stores. But there's not a lot of mental health support or crucial aftereffect support from the colonisation.

Jessie: What we are excited about is being able to connect with our growing community here in Ottawa. It is a mix of all kinds of people from across Nunavut - different dialects, different values, which I love to learn from one another. Some of them are a part of the Sixties Scoop and have never been exposed to the Inuit culture or the language. It's amazing to be able to connect with that group of people.

Janet: We interview youth. There’s a lot of artists that are rising – we need to hear them. (Riit’s rendition of qujana plays).

Jessie: But it's also a way of connecting with our service providers so that they can make better decisions. And hope that there is more of an empathy when they make major decisions - especially when it comes to Inuit children and youth, and our families. I think it's very important that if you're going to be servicing our community, you need to not just have read a book. I think it's important that we collaborate and work together and move forward.

Jessie: With my oldest, who is turning 13, I was adamant that this young boy was going to learn his culture and his language in the city. And I was very persistent and one of the elders had noticed that I was a little bit militant, and so, had stopped me and talked to me. And said, “Just let your son be, just speak your language with your friends and family, and just play music. Don’t pressure them. I’m receiving that great outcome. He’s wanting to learn the language and the culture. And the two younger ones - because I didn’t push them, they actually started earlier wanting to know the culture and the language.

Janet: I had to move here because I didn’t have an apartment back home. I really wanted to raise my son in Nunavut, so he’ll be able to speak Inuktitut properly. There’s a place called Inuuqatigiit – it used to be Ottawa Inuit Children’s Centre. I let my son go there, and he’s learning about our culture and language. Our children are our future. We need to really preserve our language and teach them in Inuktitut. That’s when the radio is very helpful. Like, children learn through songs. And when we play songs in Inuktitut, they start… they start humming, they start copying the lyrics.

Aluki Kotierk, President of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (radio interview): So, Inuktut is one of the languages that is seen to be quite strong across Canada despite the efforts of the federal government and the colonial systems at play. Having said that, we know in Nunavut, although the public majority speak Inuktut as their mother tongue, we know that it is declining at 1% per year. If it continues to decline, the richness and worldview that would be lost would be a great shame not only for Inuit, but for Canada.

Jessie: My children are being exposed and they're listening. And after they've learned the song, they usually ask me, “Anaana, what does this mean?” or “What does that word mean?” They're learning the language through songs and it's sticking with them. And they like to play with the words that they have learned throughout that day in different conversations trying to impress me by speaking or saying that they're bilingual.

Janet: Even with adults, even just a word, even just a word helps. Even though it’s only for an hour, you can listen to us on the radio in Inuktitut. And it feels like it feels like home for a bit. You know? You feel connected to your community. I've had people telling me that they're listening back home.

Jessie: Yeah, and we interview each other. What's always fun is when you're walking around the city and you run into other Inuit, they're always like, “Hey! When’s your next show? I love your show!” That's always encouraging. It makes you, like Janet says, it makes you forget for a moment you're in Ottawa and you just feel like you're walking like a normal human being just being able to walk out. There are ample resources out there for us to do our own media. I think it's important: what is your message? What is your theme? Who is your audience? And what is your vision? And stick with it!

Janet: We’ve come a long way as Inuit. We are the First People. We are Aboriginal people. We started on the land. Our ancestors worked so hard for us to be able to be here today. We need to teach our culture and language because we are important as well – as any other human being.