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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


July 28, 2001 - Issue 41


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A Passion for Translation


 by Miriam Hill Nunatsiaq News-July 20, 2001


Photo of Martha Kauki of Miriam Hill

KANGIRSUK — Martha Kauki says she sometimes gets so wrapped up in her job, she doesn’t realize what she’s doing.

"If the speaker puts up his hand," she says, gesturing in her Kangirsuk kitchen, "I put up my hand. If he bangs the table, I bang the table. If he starts bawling, I’ll start bawling."

Kauki, 48, is a self-employed interpreter-translator and has a real passion for her work, even though she finds simultaneous interpreting the most difficult.

"You really have to be into it," she says. "And you have to be serious."

She says she’s known people who have tried it and failed because they didn’t have a passion for it.

Kauki was born in a tent just down the road from where she now lives with her three children in Kangirsuk. She’s been hosting relatives at her home and apologizes for its disheveled appearance.

During the summer, she says, things are a bit slower in the translation business as there are fewer public meetings, but she still has some documents to proof for the Makivik Corporation’s newsletter.

Controlling bias
Kauki represents Kangirsuk on Makivik’s board of directors, and she says it can sometimes be a challenge when she’s called to interpret for their meetings, and to keep her bias from showing.

"It’s hard when you’re translating something you don’t necessarily believe," she says. "I have to separate myself, I can’t put any of my own ideas in when translating."

After learning English at the federal day school in Kangirsuk, she first began translating back in 1974 during negotiations for the James Bay agreement. She mostly translates English to Inuktitut, but can go both ways.

"Unfortunately I haven’t learned French," she smiles as she takes fish sticks out of the freezer for lunch. The desk and computer she uses for her work are set up next to the kitchen table, so she’s easily accessible, she explains.

Terminology development
Kauki is involved with language development workshops with elders where experts in a specific field – say politics, recreation, or science — come to explain in English what a word means.

Kauki then translates that explanation to the elders who tell her if there is an equivalent word in Inuktitut. If there isn’t, a new word or phrase is developed. That information is put into a database administered by the Avataq Cultural Institute.

Self-employed since 1986, she works on contract and has travelled extensively throughout Nunavik, with some travel in Nunavut. There’s always a shortage of interpreters, she says, but the pay is good.

"But you have to take care of a lot of expenses the employer normally would," she says. "And I’m a single parent, I have to look after my kids."

Beside Kauki’s fridge hang two footprints made in paint on a small card. She explains they come from a one-year-old she was fostering who was just returned to his parents after seven months.

Before embarking on a simultaneous translation job, she practises first with the TV.

"If you’re familiar with the issues, it’s a lot easier," she says. "Recently I did a hospital board meeting and I’m not used to those words, so it was hard… one time I did a scientific one and that really blew my mind."

She says the trick is to not get stuck on one word because you lose track of what the speaker is saying. After a week of simultaneous translation there is little energy left, she admits, and everything seems hysterically funny.

Kauki says there’s no retirement in sight for her yet. She’s been offered other jobs and has turned them down, but admits when her children go to college in the South, she may tag along with them. Law may be her next passion.

 Maps by Travel

Kangirsuk, meaning 'the bay' in Inuktitut, is located on the north shore of the Payne River, 13 km inland from Ungava Bay. The village lies between a rocky cliff to the north and a large, rocky hill to the west

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