John Thompson on Editing Nunatsiaq News

by Camille Croteau

On Wednesday, January 8th, the Editors Kingston twig met for its monthly meeting. I’m a new member to this twig, and I was very eager to meet my colleagues and learn about the unique role that John Thompson plays as the web editor for Nunatsiaq News. Not only did we get a chance to hear about the intricacies of publishing for a multicultural and geographically massive region, but John also shared with us his experiences of working remotely.

Nunatsiaq News is the newspaper of record for Nunavut and the Nunavik territory of northern Quebec. It’s published online daily and in print weekly, and it’s been around since 1975. Nunatsiaq News is read by over 70,000 readers each week, many ­­of whom live in the Arctic.

It’s important to recognize that not all Indigenous groups are the same. Inuit, Métis, and First Nations peoples represent the three groups of Indigenous peoples in Canada, and each has a unique culture and history.

Inuit means “the people.” Some say that makes “the Inuit people” redundant. Also to be avoided is “Inuits.” Inuk refers to one person of Inuit descent. There was also some discussion around periods of word transitions and the debates around proper language usage. For example, some argue that Inuktut should be used as an umbrella term for different dialects of the language. The term Inuktitut has historically served this purpose, but it also refers to several specific dialects spoken in Nunavut. Either way, as an editor, it can be difficult to manage these words-in-flux so that readers understand the written content and so that the writer’s story is accurate.

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In addition to these uses, other uses of originally Indigenous words could be negatively received if written in the adapted (or stolen) English spelling. For example, in some circumstances it could be culturally insensitive to spell words such as iglu and qajaq using English spelling. It makes me wonder whether editors who are not writing for the Nunavummiut explicitly are considering these types of cultural concerns during the editorial process.

We also learned some rather humorous mistakes that can occur when working with the Inuit language. The crowd favourite was the word Iqualuit, a misspelling of Iqaluit (the capital of Nunavut) that means “people with unwiped bums.” I’m happy to finally have a word for that! Additionally, I hadn’t known about the historic implementation of syllabics in Inuktitut. Syllabics is a form of abugida, which is writing that is based on consonant–vowel pairs. The language is very intuitive, and, for many, using it is considered a part of the Inuit identity.

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John’s talk opened my eyes to the relationship between language and Inuit identities. This was also mentioned by Jim Penistan, who talked about the book he had recently purchased, Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writers by and about Indigenous People. Language, when speaking about the Indigenous population, is particularly important since language can convey importance, respect, and values. Respecting Indigenous language identity and ownership should be a priority for editors when discussing the Indigenous community.

Coming Up

February 12: Fun with Hard-Copy Marks—Let’s explore these retro editing squiggles together! Come to learn or to share your expertise (or perhaps a bit of both). We’ll have hands-on exercises and a discussion of contexts in which the marks are relevant today.

March 11: Shelley Tanaka, award-winning Kingston writer and editor

April 8: David Sweet of Books and Company, beloved indie bookstore in Picton

Join Us

Ongwanada Resource Centre
191 Portsmouth Avenue
7 to 9 p.m. (doors open at 6:30)
Free for Editors Canada members
$5 for visitors

Find Us on Facebook

Whether or not you come to our gatherings, feel free to join our Facebook group and chat with other Kingston-area editors and assorted word nerds.

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Elizabeth d’Anjou and Stephanie Stone

Editors Kingston coordinators

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