Preserving the past through technology: Pasch records Inuit voices
He packed his bags and took to the Arctic ice to help preserve the language and culture of the Inuit.
He brought with him his digital media tools and expertise in the areas of still image and video, audio, social media, web- and mobile app design to preserve and broadcast the voices of the Inuit.
With citizenship in two countries--Canada and the United States-- Pasch understands the role communication plays within a culture.
“I came to realize that the ability to speak different languages is a great treasure of life, and that culture is inextricably linked to language,” said Pasch, who speaks French and Japanese fluently.
While working on his Ph.D. at the University of Washington, Pasch had the opportunity from a FLAS grant to study the Inuit language of Inuktitut near the Arctic Circle of Canada--the first person to receive this type of grant to study a First Nations language. “First Nations” is the Canadian equivalent term for Native Americans.
Pasch lived with an Inuit family in the Nunavik community of Inukjuak, a part of Arctic Quebec, to research the effects of social networking on the Inuktitut language.
Pasch discovered that communities across the Canadian Artic were experiencing dramatic changes: languages and cultural identities were vanishing. Pasch researched the history of the Canadian Artic, only to find a recent past filled with social upheavals.
Pasch theorizes that teaching digital communication technologies in the Arctic may help prevent certain human rights concerns from reoccurring there.
“Having seen how quickly language can be lost, and how challenging it can be to teach language, I became focused on adapting technologies for endangered language learning; through recording and broadcasting cultural knowledge and awareness,” said Pasch.
For Pasch, communication is an important facet of cultural preservation. The loss of a language can result in loss of knowledge and wisdom accumulated over generations.
In June, Pasch recorded two Inuit Elders with several high definition recording devices as they described their advice for young Inuit preparing for an extended hunt on the land. Around that time, two young Inuit passed away on a snowmobile trek because they had not adequately prepared for their journey. A young girl fell through cracks in the ice on the Hudson Bay while Pasch was in Arviat.
“These elders have great concern for future generations of Inuit,” said Pasch. “However as Inuktitut has principally been an oral language until recently, it has not always been preserved in writing.”
Pasch created a model for Arctic New Media Convergence in the Digital Humanities to train and encourage young Inuit to use the technologies of still image and video, audio, social media, web- and mobile app design to preserve and broadcast the voices of the Inuit Elders, while sharing their own.
“Seeing these students become so excited and animated while using technology to create new media forms in their own language was immensely rewarding on both scholarly and spiritual levels,” said Pasch.
Pasch has shared his research in the Kivalliq News, CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corp.) North and Twitter feeds across the Circumpolar Arctic.
“I am exceedingly grateful for these connections and the ability to broadcast my thought that the fact that the Northwest Passage is becoming navigable makes the Inuit voice more important and valuable than ever,” said Pasch.
His work with our northern neighbors doesn’t stop there.
Pasch was recently appointed to the Board of Directors for the Association for Canadian Studies in the United States (ACSUS), as representative for Communication and Arctic Affairs. He also co-authored a book with Dr. Kyle Conway, also a UND Communication professor, titled Beyond the Border; which focuses on the border between the U.S. and Canada and was published this summer by McGill-Queens University Press.
Now, Pasch is working on an Arctic initiative to take place at UND later this fall. This will be a joint venture between UND, the Consulate General of Canada in Minneapolis, the Nunavut Arctic College and other Arctic-focused partners, that will celebrate the centennial anniversary of the Canadian Arctic Expedition (CAE) of 1913 that was led by UND alum Vilhjalmur Stefansson.
Pasch will bring his Arctic experiences to the classroom by discussing his research findings. He hopes that he will be able to inspire students to learn about different cultures by studying a foreign language or having international involvements through study abroad or research opportunities.
“For me as faculty, there was a true sense of coming full circle in this visit, in that many of my theories and speculations regarding technologies for cultural preservation came to life this summer on the upper northwest coast of the Hudson Bay,” said Pasch.