Western Nunavut’s hub postpones a vote on changing its name

Elders have suggested five possible spellings for the Inuinnaqtun name of the town now known as Cambridge Bay: Ekaloktotiak, Ekaluktutiak, Ikaluktutiak, Iqaluluqtuutiak and Iqaluqtuuttiaq.

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Voters in Cambridge Bay, seen here shortly after sunset, with Mt. Pelly or Ovayok in the background, will be able to participate in an Oct. 28 plebiscite on whether to change the community’s official name to Iqaluktuuttiaq. (Jane George / Nunatsiaq News)

CAMBRIDGE BAY — The municipal council of Cambridge Bay decided in its last meeting before the Oct. 28 municipal elections to postpone a planned plebiscite on changing the community’s name back to its original Inuinnaqtun.

The council had earlier planned to ask voters when they headed to the polls Oct. 28 whether they’d like to change the name of their community to the traditional Inuinnaqtun word for the area.

The plebiscite would be non-binding.

But councillors decided to postpone the vote after elders suggested five different spelling variations at a meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 15: Ekaloktotiak, Ekaluktutiak, Ikaluktutiak, Iqaluluqtuutiak and Iqaluqtuuttiaq.

Cambridge Bay is now named for Prince Adolphus, duke of Cambridge, who died in 1850. The traditional Inuinnaqtun name for the area means “good fishing place.”

The idea for the name change was brought up during a “Seeds for the Future” meeting on the community’s development, which was held earlier this year, said chief administrative officer Marla Limousin.

As soon as the name-change vote was announced Oct. 9, opinions began circulating in town and on social media.

“It will give us Inuinnait and non-Inuit alike some who are long time northern residents a sense of pride and identity of who we are and where our people came from,” James Panioyak said on Facebook.

The community’s original Inuit residents came from traditional camps along the Victoria Island coastline, the mainland, and from some from other communities as well, he said.

“It is very evident today that this traditional camp here was a very good fishing place, and still is today,” Panioyak said. “You can clearly see it visually today how our ancestors stocked up and cached whole char or dried fish all along the river where you can see tent rings and meat caches from the past. The rich history of our Inuinnait ancestors should be the focus of this name change.”

Another resident suggested Inuit shouldn’t need have to have a plebiscite or election to change the community’s name.

“Each community or traditional area already has a traditional name, this is traditional Inuit law that was applied before explorers came,” he said.

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. has encouraged 14 municipalities in the territory that still use English names to consider a switch to their original Inuktut names.

“With 2019 being the International Year of Indigenous Languages, one of the things we’ve focused on is Inuktut-language rights and how to ensure that Inuit are able to receive essential public services in Inuktut,” NTI President Aluki Kotierk said earlier this year.

“I thought this would also signal to Canada and even beyond that Inuit were reclaiming and asserting their language rights.”

Under the territory’s Hamlet Act, a municipal council can make a request for a name change to the minister of community and government services.

In 2015, Repulse Bay went through the process to restore the community’s name to Naujaat.

Before Nunavut was created, Iqaluit (formerly Frobisher Bay), Kugluktuk (Coppermine), Kimmirut (Lake Harbour), Qikiqtarjuaq (Broughton Island,) Taloyoak (Spence Bay) and Kugaaruk (Pelly Bay) also changed their names.

Cape Dorset is another community considering a name-change. Cape Dorset was named by a British captain after the fourth earl of Dorset in the 1600s, but is commonly known by its Inuktut name, Kinngait.

The communities still with English names are below:

  • Cambridge Bay (Iqaluktuuttiaq)
  • Gjoa Haven (Uqsuqtuuq)
  • Hall Beach (Sanirajak)
  • Baker Lake (Qamani’tuaq)
  • Chesterfield Inlet (Igluligaarjuk)
  • Rankin Inlet (Kangiqliniq)
  • Whale Cove (Tikirarjuaq)
  • Coral Harbour (Salliq)
  • Clyde River (Kangiqtugaapik)
  • Pond Inlet (Mittimatalik)
  • Arctic Bay (Ikpiarjuk or Tununirusiq)
  • Grise Fiord (Ausuittuq)
  • Resolute Bay (Qausuittuq)
  • Cape Dorset (Kinngait)