July 9, 2015: Nunavut Day

Nunavut Day is celebrated annually on July 9 to commemorate the passing of two Nunavut acts — the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement Act and the Nunavut Act — by the Canadian Parliament on July 9, 1993. Nunavut officially split from the Northwest Territories on April 1, 1999, becoming Canada’s third territory.

The CCBC would like to honour this day by sharing a profile of Iqaluit-based publisher, Inhabit Media. This profile is a segment of an article from the Spring 2015 issue of Canadian Children’s Book News which highlighted a number of Canadian Aboriginal publishing houses.

Inhabit Media
Looking for an authentic Northern voice

By Gillian O’Reilly

“We are like the little publisher that could… or at least we keep trying,” says Louise Flaherty of Inhabit Media.

For Inhabit Media, based in Iqaluit and Toronto, some of the challenges are different from more southern presses. The company, founded in 2006, now has approximately 200 books in print — about 80-90 titles in various language editions. Almost every book Inhabit Media publishes is available in English and Inuktitut. Many are also available in Inuinnaqtun and French and there are eBook editions in other Inuit dialects. Books for children and teens make up about 75 percent of its list.

Flaherty, an Inuk who saw books written only in English in her growing-up years, had been an elementary school teacher before she co-founded the company with Neil Christopher, a southerner who came north to teach and stayed, and his brother Danny Christopher. She says, “I knew we were lacking in books with Inuit content, written by Inuit for an Inuit audience. Why I started was to make sure the children in my daughters’ generation had more appealing books than I had.”

Neil Christopher says that when they sit down to decide on the work-list for the year, “we always make sure that the bulk of our list is for a Northern audience. However we always make sure that one or two might appeal to a southern audience.”

He points to Inhabit Media’s picture book on custom adoption (Nala’s Magical Mitsiaq) as a book that is likely to find most of its readers in the North but has now also found a southern audience.

It is a challenge to produce books in so many languages. Flaherty has a limited pool of translators; she tries to pick ones who are educators as well. Christopher observes that all their translators are, in a way, social justice advocates. “We select talented Inuktituk-speaking educators, because of their talent but also because of their commitment to the language. We make sure we don’t get sloppy with the language, sloppy with the orthography or sloppy with the grammar.”

While they publish in Inuktituk and other northern dialects, they see themselves as publishing not just Inuit authors but as publishing Nunavummiut authors (those from the entire northern community). “We are looking for an authentic northern voice,” says Christopher. “Part of that is living here, having a shared experience of the North.”

Unlike Theytus and Pemmican (two other Canadian Aboriginal publishers), who try to work almost entirely with First Nations and Métis authors and illustrators, Inhabit has reached out to national and international creators to help them achieve their goals. While they have prolific northern authors like Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, the company has often paired southern writers and mentors with northern writers to develop texts. In addition, they have worked with many non-northern illustrators, who have been very excited by the imaginative possibilities of northern stories. Flaherty and Christopher took this step in order to be able to produce their list at the pace they needed. “We were not content to do one or two books a year. We have wonderful artists in the North, but not a tremendous number of illustrators. We maintain control and approval, but we don’t have the luxury of not trying to involve national and international artists [and southern mentors].”

Inhabit has three people in the Iqaluit office (sometimes more at busy times) and two or three at the Toronto office. Staffing — finding translators and editors — is an ongoing challenge, as is the cost of living and consequent higher salaries (30 percent more) in the North. Christopher observes, “We don’t get to sell our books for 30 percent more. We have to do more with fewer people.”

For the full article, click here.