Communicating the Mary River Project

How do you translate 10 volumes of an Environmental Impact Statement containing thousands upon thousands of pages riddled with technical English terminology into everyday-spoken Inuktitut?

Inuit of Baffin Island are being asked to actively participate in the review of the proposed Mary River project. Informing them about the project can look like a titanic task considering the scope and size of the proposed mine. With a strong oral history, Inuit are more reliant on giving and receiving information through word of mouth and messages are more likely to resonate effectively using visual imagery.

Today, most Baffin Inuit are well versed in English as a second language yet, Inuktitut is considered to be one of the strongest Aboriginal languages in Canada.

The advantage of English literacy is that it is used by mainstream media agencies including social media. Local and regional radio programming and community consultations, though costly, are useful communication vehicles to inform Inuit of what is happening in their region. You have to keep in mind that there are drawbacks to community consultations since arranging the logistics and scheduling can prove to be very tricky and could mean that very little or no public attendance and engagement happens.

The internet is a powerful tool that Inuit are embracing and is a perfect opportunity to be taken advantage of. It is important to strengthen literacy levels and enhance Inuktitut written materials available on the internet at the same time. Especially since the use of modern technology allow us to share information instantly.

The development of IsumaTV’s online resource is encouraging to see and could very well serve extremely useful for any organization conducting communication projects in our communities. And social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter are now becoming more predominant in our little corner of the globe.

The Mary River project touches many aspects of the life and land of North Baffin Island and therefore makes it a challenge to understand all of its components. To add to this complexity, interpreters and translators have difficulty explaining and defining many words that are coming out of the mouths of mining companies, consultants, government departments and agencies and even our Inuit organizations themselves. They have limited resources to draw upon and yet do their best to make the messages understandable to Inuit ears.

To communicate about the Mary River project, the language it is being communicated in is vital. There are not many Inuit who can communicate effectively in Inuktitut about the Mary River project. It is more likely that better communications happens in English. This is because the driving force behind the project is not from Inuit and hence not Inuktitut. If Inuit developed iron, it was or would have been to make knives (savirajaksaq or saviksaq – “savik” = “knife”). But the purpose of the Mary River mine is being planned for another reason which is to export iron ore to world markets.