Indigenous Success Stories

Language and Culture (13-17)

A passion for preserving language led to this Makkovik resident being named Inuk Woman of the Year

February 17, 2024

Janine Lightfoot’s love of Inuktitut began with listening to her grandmother

A woman in nature smiles toward the camera. She's in a snowy setting and is wearing a purple winter hat and coat.
Janine Lightfoot of Makkovik has been named 2024’s Inuk Woman of the Year by Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada. (Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada)

CBC Indigenous: Janine Lightfoot was shocked when she picked up the phone and found out she had been named the Inuk Woman of the Year by Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada.

“It’s like my brain glitched,” Lightfoot said. “I couldn’t download what she was actually saying and I was just a little bit stunned.”

Pauktuutit is a non-profit organization representing Inuit women in Canada. The group awarded Lightfoot the honour due to her work in revitalizing Inuit language and culture.

“Inuktitut is so much more than just grammar and vocabulary,” Lighfoot said. “It’s like a connection to your community, to yourself, to your family, your history.”

For Lightfoot, who holds a degree in political science and native studies, that love of language began when she was just a child. “It all started with my Gram, who was originally from Hebron,” she said, referring to the abandoned community in northern Labrador.

“I was really close to my grandmother, whose first language was Inuktitut,” Lightfoot recalled. “Hearing her speak Inuktitut, that was the hardest I used to hear her laugh.”

“And I thought, ‘I need to learn this,'” she said. “Our language has eroded quite a bit and for a lot of different factors. Our history of colonialism, past government policies, and even current, have all impacted our ability to communicate in Inuktitut. Yet there are all these people who still speak Inuktitut and I wanted to be able to celebrate that. “

The 2024 Inuk Woman of the Year from Makkovik credits her grandmother for her skills; 5 days ago, Duration 2:37

Janine Lightfoot’s work in Inuktitut is one of the reasons she has been named the 2024 Inuk Woman of the Year by Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada. She tells Weekend AM host Melissa Tobin how her love of the language started at a young age in her grandmother’s house.

Click on the following link to view the video:

Lightfoot’s work in preserving Inuktitut began a few years ago when she was living in Iqaluit. Her employer at the time encouraged staff to receive Inuktitut training at the Pirurvik Centre.  “Through that I was able to take their Aurniarvik program and it has given me so much,” Lightfoot said.

“I felt the responsibility to pass on what I know, to share what I know. Even though I’m not a bilingual person in Inuktitut and English, I knew enough that I knew I could share that with my peers and community.”

As a result of her desire to help teach others, Lightfoot has offered free weekly Inuktitut classes, established a memorial bursary for high school students prioritizing Inuktitut, and organized workshops on hunting and other aspects of Inuit culture.

“You’re creating a forum for hunters to be able to share their knowledge with younger people,” Lightfoot said. “Hunting and language, they’re all very critical pieces of our way of life here.”

But Lightfoot said it’s not easy work. “To be able to do this work, I had to work outside of the current systems,” she said. “Investment in language is something that’s needed.”

A purple graphic with Inuktitut letters surrounds the same image of Janine Lightfoot from earlier in the article. She is outdoors in the snow wearing a purple coat and hat.
This graphic written in Inuktitut from Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada announces Janine Lightfoot as winner of Inuk Woman of the Year. (Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada)

As for her Inuktitut classes, she said she bases them on what she learned at the Pirurvik Centre in Iqaluit.  “One of my favorite things about Pirurvik was that it was a safe space to learn because learning another language is not easy,” Lightfoot said. “You were expected to make mistakes so that you can learn.”

“Our values create a lot of room for people to make mistakes and to learn from those mistakes,” she said. “I just make a commitment to people who are learning with me that I’ll create as safe a space as I can as you learn and I won’t make fun of you. I recognize that we’re all learning, including myself.” 

With files from Weekend AM