The time has come for me to take the Aboriginal Studies language requirement and when I stepped into the classroom for my first Inuktitut lesson, I immediately stepped back out of it. Why? After stepping into the class and scanning the room for facial recognition, I was unable to detect a single student from my previous Aboriginal Studies courses. This was strange given the fact that Aboriginal Studies is an incredibly small department and I’m constantly interacting and studying with the same students. The likelihood of being in an ABS class without one familiar face is so beyond the norm that I walked across the hallway and asked the First Nations House Program Director if I was in the correct room. I was.
Sheepishly stepping back into the room for the second time, I sat down and waited for the instructors to arrive. As we went around the room introducing ourselves (in English), I was astounded by the amount of random majors in the course: Linguistics (okay, that doesn’t seem odd for a language course), Music, Biology, Economics and two randoms who sat beside one another and with a smirk, announced, “Undeclared” (they left at the first break).
I already know this is going to be the most challenging course I have ever taken in university. I immediately felt stupid as I tried to pronounce my first name in an Inuktitut Baffin dialect accent (the letter r is pronounced in a Parisian accent). Learning a completely new language is like returning to infancy, I just sort of sit there and until I’m prompted, I basically have no clue what is really going on. I have to hear the word over and over and over again before I feel even remotely comfortable trying to spit it out. Especially in front of an audience made up of random people I have never met before. Every time it was my turn to repeat, “My name is Erin” and “Who are you?” I butchered the sentence.
My writing is also horrendous as we are using the ICI (Inuit Cultural Institute) Syllabics and Roman writing system. I write like a kindergarten student, slowly, not knowing where to begin or end a letter and hoping that each character will align with the next one.
But being uncomfortable is a good thing. Since I consider myself to be in a privileged position in Canada, turning the tables and feeling tongue-tied and unable to express myself properly gives me a teeny, tiny taste of the intimidation and frustration newcomers might feel.
My favourite part about the course is hearing instructor Raigelee Alorut talk about living in Iquluit, Nunavut located on the southend of Baffin Island. It’s always been a place I’ve wanted to travel despite the extremely high flight cost (she paid $3000 for a one way ticket from Ottawa) and intense cold temperatures (frostbite is pretty normal if you decide to go to the store, especially when it hits lows like -50°C ). I also hope that someday, I learn to speak Inuktitut the way Raigelee Alorut does, which is with a lot of joy and spirit. At the moment, I sound like an angry robot.
Hopefully, next week, I’ll learn how to say goodbye to you. But right now, I’m still struggling with saying and writing, “My name is Erin”.