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Inuit place names recognized
GN looks for feedback before approving 624 traditional Cape Dorset place names

Beth Brown
Northern News Services
Monday, December 5, 2016

KINNGAIT/CAPE DORSET
Maps in Cape Dorset are about to get an update.

The Department of Culture and Heritage is requesting public feedback on 624 new geographic place names for the Kinngait area, as proposed by the Inuit Heritage Trust.

Once approved, 569 new Inuktitut names will be added to Cape Dorset maps and 55 names will receive changes.

"The names Inuit give to places are not reflected in Canada's geographical names," said Lynn Peplinski, place names manager for the Inuit Heritage Trust.

"Nowhere in Canada do you have the volume where names need to be added like they do here.

"We're probably at 4,000 names that are sitting with the toponymist right now that need to be made official, and there are a lot more coming in that we need to submit to the government."

One role of the Inuit Heritage Trust, under article 33, part 9 of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, is to review place names to ensure traditional names are captured from oral history and added to the official corpus of names on Canada's maps, said Peplinski.

The proposed Cape Dorset names were gathered by third-party researchers. The Inuit Heritage Trust submitted the names to the GN on March 20, 2009. The proposed maps by the Geological Survey of Canada are dated 2008.

But territorial toponymist Silvia Qulitalik said the project has been underway for even longer.

"This has been happening since Nunavut was created."

Toponymy is the study of place names and their meanings, origins and uses. There are seven stages to toponymy work in Nunavut.

The public feedback stage comes quite late in the process, and looks for input on correct spelling and identification of the places determined by researchers. Public input will be reviewed by the Minister of Culture and Heritage before the data is officially approved.

The following stage will be endorsement of the names and the final stage is a notification of decision, or go-ahead for the database and existing maps to be modified.

"We're very close," said Qulitalik.

In Canada, priority is given to names that have long-standing public usage.

"The people who live in the area can choose to name the places," said Peplinski.

But while provinces and territories have jurisdiction to change their place names to match public experience, the process is lengthy and expensive, and there is a lack of resources in the GN for delivering timely toponymy work, she said.

"It's great progress that the Cape Dorset maps are at that point where they are being made official."

Focus on preservation

The rigorous process is also focused on preservation, as elders with extensive knowledge of the place names are getting harder to come by.

But the names do more than represent Inuit language they're inherently more useful than the surnames of European explorers that currently litter Nunavut maps, as Inuit naming conventions are founded on communication.

"In Inuktitut, (place names are) an environmental inventory. (They show) where birds are nesting, where there are currents, where the snow remains longer, where it freezes up earlier or where the caribou are," she said.

The Inuit place names also provide an exponential amount of geographical detail.

One map in the Pangnirtung area has 36 English names and over 450 Inuktitut place names, said Peplinski.

"They represent an intense usage of the land, it's so extensively named. Every little inlet and point it's all named. There's so much we don't know or understand about the land if we only look at the English names."

She said the maps have really come into their own during search and rescue operations when the distinct points allow people to communicate more specific locations.

Current European names cover larger areas, and are distinct to one part of the landscape, like a body of water.

"With Inuktitut names, it can be a combination of features, so it's the bay, and this hill over on the left," said Celine Gilbert of the Canada-Nunavut Geoscience Office and cartographer of the proposed Cape Dorset maps.

"And places can have different names depending which direction you are traveling."

The proposed maps feature specific delineations or outlines for the areas being named, and will include explanations for the names as well.

"They're not always literal translations, they could be little stories or something about the place," she said.

The Inuktitut names for the Kinngait maps will be in the South Baffin dialect.

The deadline to provide public feedback to the GN is Dec. 21.

The GN hopes to approve the names early in the new year.

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