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Study connects language with community involvement

Ukallaysaaq Okleasik, a consultant with Northwest Planning (and KNOM board member), recently took to the airwaves to share about a survey he and researcher Paasha Mahdavi conducted.

As language is what holds many key cultural concepts together, it is a crucial connection to one’s heritage, way of life and others. The two hypothesized a correlation between knowledge of Inuit languages and community engagement.

“Language is more than language, and it has the ability to build people’s confidence,” Okleasik said.

“We’re trying to put together a painting of the different ways in which each person is thinking about language in their daily lives and then connecting that with the other questions about community engagement,” Mahdavi shared.

The survey, conducted online, inquired about comfort levels with Inuit languages: from no understanding, to comprehending key words, to fluency. It also included questions about civic and cultural activities, like contacting elected officials, attending tribal meetings and subsistence practices.

“Learning an Inuit language — does that provide community connection? Does that provide this mechanism for getting more engaged and more involved?” Mahdavi pondered. “If language is a cornerstone to being engaged with one’s community, then there really is no time like the present, and there is very little time to move,” he said.

When the results are in they intend to follow up with more studies, particularly for people who don’t have internet access. They anticipate the data will start conversations about Inuit language learning and helping organizations encourage language learning and community involvement.

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