Traveller and Translator: Angus Andersen Shares Culture and Connection Across Canada and Beyond
"Every day we all learn. Even now in my 60s, I'm still open minded to learning new things from other cultures, but also from my histories," Angus Andersen reflects. Andersen has learned about Labrador Inuit history going back 8000 years and how his people lived transiently in tents made from seal or caribou. At his side as he learns is his wife of fifteen years who has always supported his efforts.
These days Andersen lives in St. John’s Newfoundland but is from Labrador. He is Inuk and has been travelling across Canada for decades with various organizations and universities. Fluently bilingual in English and Inuktitut, he’s been a teacher, a politician, a garbage collector, a fish plant worker, fisherman, and a journalist in newspapers, radio and TV. He translates for organizations including universities and medical institutions locally and nationally, working to help maintain and teach Labrador Inuit language.
What Andersen has observed in the last twenty years is a decline in youth learning the language, but the Inuit government in Northern Labrador has established a department to provide more language instruction. Now people in their thirties are increasingly becoming instructors and teachers who are also helping to maintain fluency in the language.
In the Seventies, Andersen nearly lost his language himself. When he was ten or eleven, his grandmother told him he could only speak to her in Inuktitut, so he did everything he could to regain his language skills. He learned from elders, grandparents, hunters, anyone who could help him.
He finished school in grade nine because to continue further he would have to go stay at a boarding school, something his grandparents did not want him to do. They saw how going there impacted their own children and decided to keep him with them. He later went to St. John’s, Newfoundland for university but his funding didn’t come through. When people found out he was fluent, professors asked him to help with different projects. Andersen flourished and worked with many professors in different universities. He completed one year of a program but the rest of his learning has been informal as a student of life.
His advice for anyone who might be thinking about leaving their community to travel or to go learn abroad comes from his own experiences. He was initially afraid of traveling to big cities because he came from a small town. In his twenties, he joined a Northern justice committee and presented about the work he was doing in his community, going to court as an interpreter and starting a youth drop in center. He was the youngest at the conference and terrified to present. Andersen learned over time to trust the people who hired him to go places. “It takes trust and courage to face big projects,” he explains. What he would want youth who want to travel to know is, “Keep an open mind because each city is different. Each culture is different. But at the same time, respect who you meet and learn.”
In his travels over the last forty years, he’s been to every province but Manitoba, he’s been to Alaska, Eastern Russia, Greenland and learned who their people have lived the way his people did for eons. He’s travelled to reserves and learned from elders about how they adapted, survived and thrived.
The barriers Andersen have faced have been linguistic, mainly because there aren’t always words in Inuktitut for some new words or ideas, and there are words that have not been translated before. He struggles to remember street names but has learned to adapt by remembering landmarks to navigate, as he did when he was young and on the land.
If he could give a message to his younger self, it would be, “Don't be afraid to take different jobs, new jobs, traveling, education. Always remember that modern education is not the only education. You can learn from elders…Always keep an open mind.”
To keep himself balanced, Andersen goes for walks in the forest or sits by the lake, much like he would do with his grandfather. He likes to sit around the fire in his backyard and tell stories, recording them and sharing them with the world. Reconnecting with the land, wildlife and nature are things that make him happy.
Something he would like to share to inspire Indigenous youth is, “Now, with talk of truth and reconciliation, we are not the one to be reconciled because we did nothing wrong. It’s the government, the RCMP, the church, any level of government that tried to suppress us. Stand strong, remember who we are, remember what we were and keep that going.”
Every day, even in his 60s, Angus Andersen is learning. Still open minded to learn new things from other cultures, he’s also learning from the history of his people. Inspired by a grandmother who urged him to speak to her in Inuktitut and learning the language to stay connected to her, he ended up getting to connect so many more people over many years, provinces and countries.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.