Celebrated son of Igloolik creates cultural Internet for his people

Two years ago, Igloolik became the first site for an innovative Internet broadcasting project that Kunuk and his partner Norman Cohn hope will help birth a new wave of grassroots filmmaking in 10 Nunavut communities. It’s called Digital Indigenous Democracy (DID), and it could have a big impact on the use of indigenous languages in digital media and on how isolated Northerners understand – and perhaps alter – the futures being dreamt for them in office towers in Calgary and Toronto.

“We’re trying to build an Internet that people can use in their own oral languages, and to do that, it has to work audiovisually,” says Cohn. Isuma TV, an arm of a film company co-founded by Kunuk, Cohn and two others in 1990, got the project started with a one-time, $1-million “supergrant” from the Canada Media Fund’s experimental stream. “Internet service in remote communities in Canada’s North are at least 100 times behind what you’ve got in Toronto, in cost per kilobyte, and that’s going to get worse, not better. It may be 200 times worse next year, and that’s fatal.”

Fatal, he says, because a low-bandwidth Internet forces Northerners to communicate through text, which even for people who are fluent speakers of Inuktitut often means English.