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Annie Ford (left) and Charlie Panigoniak made history this weekend with their play-by-play commentary of an NHL game in Inuktitut. (Kirsten Murphy/Globe and Mail)
Annie Ford (left) and Charlie Panigoniak made history this weekend with their play-by-play commentary of an NHL game in Inuktitut. (Kirsten Murphy/Globe and Mail)

Hockey day in Canada

Inuktitut broadcast broadens the hockey lexicon Add to ...

At the top of Canada, in an Arctic hamlet so far north that the sun has not yet risen in 2010, Annie Audlaluk sat in front of her television, hit the mute button, and turned on the radio.

It was an awkward way to watch a hockey game: pictures on the screen, sound from CBC Radio One.

But Ms. Audlaluk, who lives in Grise Fiord, Nunavut, wasn't complaining. Neither were the thousands of other Inuit who did the same across the territories, northern Quebec and southern Canada. For the first time, they had the chance to watch a hockey game with a play-by-play call in their own language, Inuktitut.

Some watched on satellite or cable, which carried the feed from a pair of Inuit announcers in Yellowknife.

Others without access to those signals, like Ms. Audlaluk, caught the Inuktitut on the radio as they watched the Ottawa Senators beat the Montreal Canadiens in overtime.

"It was awesome," said Ms. Audlaluk, a die-hard Senators fan who savoured both the win and the chance to hear Canada's game, which many of the country's 50,000 Inuit ardently follow, in the language of her people. "I hope they could do that again in the future."

Over the past four years, the CBC has broadcast NHL games in Italian, Mandarin and Cantonese - and succeeded wildly with Punjabi, which it also now uses for some Toronto Raptors games as well. Inuktitut is the first aboriginal language it has tried, in a one-time experiment on the broadcaster's Hockey Day in Canada Saturday.

Joel Darling, director of production with CBC Sports, called it a chance to "reach another group of people and turn them on to hockey."

And even though most Inuit hardly need turning on to a game they began watching when video recordings were flown north for re-broadcast in the 1960s, the early days of far northern television, it was a cause for celebration.

"We've had historic things last year and this year," said Stephen Hendrie, spokesman for Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, which represents Canada's Inuit. Chief among them was the appointment of the first federal Inuit cabinet minister, Leona Aglukkaq.

"But this, this takes the cake," he said. "This is it. This is the Rubicon."

Yet for some, at least, the promise was better than the delivery. In Arviat, a Nunavut hamlet on the west coast of Hudson Bay, Jonathan Pameolik turned on the Inuktitut broadcast, but only briefly.

"I tuned in for about five minutes but it didn't do any justice for the excitement of the hockey game, so we just switched to the regular CBC broadcast," he said. The Inuktitut feed "was sort of hard to follow. And they were repetitive. So it just got boring quickly. It was pretty neat, though."

Inuktitut simply doesn't have the hockey vocabulary to describe all of the many moves in a game, he said. And Mr. Pameolik had to laugh when the announcers - Annie Ford and Charlie Panigoniak, both seasoned CBC radio voices - used the Inuit word for fishing net to describe the hockey net.

"It was more comical than useful," he said.

The CBC, however, was making no apologies.

"This is a recognition of the Inuit presence in the Canadian fabric of things that has been missing," said John Agnew, the managing director of CBC's northern operations. "Is it hugely practical? I don't know. But it's certainly a lot of fun."

 

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