Living Language and Culture

A Poetry Mixtape Edited by Ashley Qilavaq-Savard

Ashley's Liner Notes

As a small messy haired child, I noticed that our language in my home community of Iqaluit was a mix of slapped together English and choppy Inuktitut. You would often hear bilingual phrases such as “Niuviriaqtunga (I am going shopping) to get cigarettes” or “ilaujumavit? (do you want to come along?) it’ll be tons of fun!” Life is just a messy mixing of cultures, unbeknownst to me, these cultures were competing for my time and attention.

Being a young person in our ever-changing environments is difficult enough without the added pressures of securing identity, especially being biracial on top of all that. In my youth, Inuktitut felt like that long-term visitor, just always hanging out in the corner, ready to tell you stories of epic adventures and real hardships, to sing you ancient songs and soothe your sorrows.

 As I got older, I was pulled more towards western society and lifestyle, forgetting the importance of saying hello to my old friend Inuktitut. As time danced forward, I forgot more and more how to speak Inuktitut, how beautifully constructed it is, how straightforward and insightful it can be, and how much it connects me to this awe-inspiring world, one that is still very much alive and breathing. Although I hold sadness for having left my dear friend Inuktitut behind for so many years, I am so grateful they are still there to greet me with such tenderness.

I sit with Inuktitut, enjoying a coffee or two together while I repeat the essentials over and over again until it has nestled nicely in my memory. I found that the trick is to continuously live language, bring it to the table and allow it to eat. Take it for a walk and discover the way the malikkaat (mountain aven) flowers follow the sun is the exact reason for its name – malik-to follow. Language and culture can be an essential key to understanding indigenous identity and history; unfortunately many of us were displaced. Making the act of searching for these keys to identity increasingly difficult, especially since these are parts of ourselves that should have never been locked away.  It takes great strength and powerful love to waddle through the thick of it, I admire the dedication it takes to breathe life into tradition by reclaiming language and culture.

The Poems

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