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'Good Intentions Are Not Enough'
Written by Philip Burgess   
Wednesday, 22 October 2008 01:00
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languages_symp2The Arctic Indigenous Languages Symposium got underway in Tromso on Monday (20 October) and continued (Tuesday 21 October). This week, Tromso is host to a series of seminars and workshops that are connected to the Arctic Council Sustainable Development Working Group. A long planned and eagerly awaited symposium, it was well attended with Arctic language speakers, researchers, representatives and culture workers from around the Arctic. The International Centre for Reindeer Husbandry and the EALAT project were well represented.


The keynote presentation  was made by Mary Simon, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami with the theme, 'Good Intentions are Not Enough', asking when it will be normal for Inuit children to grow up lingual in Canada. Simon said that shifts needed to occur in the way that nation states perceived indigenous  languages. Progress has been made but Inuktitut language usage is decreasing. Simon however noted the apology by the Canadian government this year for the treatment of aboriginal peoples in the Residential School system that did so much to erode indigenous language usage and expressed the sentiment that this might signify an historic shift in Canada's relations with indigenous peoples. Simon also stated that policy processes also needed to shift and in so doing, education and control of  governance needed to be transferred to indigenous peoples.


EALAT Project leader Svein Mathiesen, Anna Degteva, Ole Isak Eira, Kristina Labba, Anders Oskal, Anne Maria Magga.

Hugues Sicard of UNESCO spoke of the UNESCO's role in the promotion, protection and recognition of indignous languages, language rights and UNESCO's cultural instruments such as the 2003 Convention of the Protection of intangible cultural heritage, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Atlas of Endangered Languages.


Representatives of Nivkh and Evenki speakers made presentations on the status of indigenous languages in Russia and they were followed by long time Inuktitut language advocate Jose Kusugak. Kusugak called for a single Inuktitut dialect that would facilitate the language's strength and remove the current need for 5 translators at Inuit Circumpolar Conference meetings, for example.

EALAT researcher Inger Marie Gaup Eira presented her work in EALAT as a linguist, and snow terminologies, and the work of her students under the CEAVVI project. Gaup spoke of the critical importance of language and knowledge and its role in adapting to climate change.


Inger Marie Gaup Eira presents her EALAT research


Carl Christian Olsen gave a historical overview of the processes in Greenland and the importance of specific policy steps that need to be taken. Tatiana Achirgina, a Chukchi journalist and language teacher (who attended the EALAT Information seminar in Anadyr, Chukotka), spoke of the dire situations of some languages in the Chukotka region with some of the losses being irreversible.

Zacharias Kunuk, the famous Inuit fim director (Attarnarjuat - The Fast Runner) gave his presentation in Inuktitut. He spoke of his vision of an indigenous people's television network for the Arctic and how ISUMA TV has initiated the first steps in this regard. Social networking for indigenous peoples needs to move at the same speed as governments and mining companies, Kunuk stated. The goal of ISUMA TV is to create Inuit expertise in the digital age. ISUMA TV has already compiled hundreds of hours of film and video that is available on demand through the ISUMA TV website. As Kunuk said, 'Mining companies plan ahead - so should we'.

The advances made in automatic translations and online dictionaries using automated processes was outlined, by Per Langgard and Trond Trosterud of Greenland and Norway. Philip
Burgess introduced the concept of the Arctic Portal, the Reindeer Portal and EALAT web resources and Sami student and reindeer herder Anne Maria Magga spoke about what an indigenous peoples language portal might contain - and envisaged a site where Sami could look up Chukchi reindeer terminology on a site that had Sami radio, literature, poetry and art.

The final day saw Hishinlai' Kathy Sikorski of the Gwich'in Council
International show how languages classes can be held in Gwich'in.

Gunn Britt Retter of the Saami Council clearly made  the point that language is a key to protecting the environment and reminded listeners that Sami language, in common with other indigenous languages, predates christianity. This was echoed by Yupik Vera Metcalf from St Lawrence Island, Alaska, that language, culture and identity are inseperable.


EALAT project leader Ole Henrik Magga closed the symposium. In Norway, Magga said, it is possible to see the positive effects of changes in language legislation. This, Magga stated must not be about promoting 'bilingualism' - which he called a dangerous concept. In his community this concept has actually meant that more resources have been pumped into supporting the majority Norwegian language. Places and situations are different and importing other peoples solutions rarely works Magga explained and he went on to say that there was no such thing as a minimum number of speakers of a language. There are example from many parts of the world where it has been shown that language revitalisation is possible, although some conflict may be necessary to achieve one's goals. Magga closed by saying that


"Some governments need to be reminded that when they redrew the borders, that they not only took responibility for indigenous peoples resources, but also for our languages. This Symposium is a positive step. In the spirit of the Salekhard Declaration, a continuity is called for."

EALAT was well represented, with EALAT project leader Svein
Mathiesen, EALAT researchers and participants including Inger Marie aup Eira, Anna Degteva, Ole Isak Eira and Anne Maria Magga. International Centre for Reindeer Husbandry Director, Anders Oskal was also present and the entire seminar was webcast on the Arctic Portal by ICR employee Philip Burgess in collaboration with ISUMA tv.

watch here...

Arctic Indigenous Languages Symposium, Mary Simon, SAO, SDWG
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