Beloved television host Rassi Nashalik will be inducted into the CBC News Hall of Fame on Wednesday.
Before her retirement in 2014, Nashalik was the host of Igalaaq, CBC’s first daily television news show to be delivered entirely in Inuktitut, the language of the Inuit.
Over the course of an 18-year career, she became a trusted and respected figure among her viewers and colleagues, bridging the unilingual Inuit population to the rest of the world during the nightly supper-hour newscast.
“A lot of people started calling me Igalaaq!” Nashalik told CBC News with a smile ahead of her induction ceremony. The word Igalaaq means “window” in Inuktitut — a fitting moniker for Nashalik, whose newscast was a portal for CBC viewers in the North.
Born on a small island in Cumberland Sound, Nunavut, Nashalik is a survivor of the residential school system in Manitoba. Before starting at CBC North in 1995, she worked with the Language Bureau of the Northwest Territories.
Having no formal journalism education, Nashalik was effectively self-taught, said her friend Joanna Awa, who is the current host of Igalaaq. Nashalik became known for her skillful sight-translations, reading an English script from the teleprompter and speaking Inuktitut to her audience.
“I mean, it’s easy to read the teleprompter, but it’s also something else to put feelings and caring and passion into it as a host, and that really does come through,” Awa said.
Filled a void for Inuktitut-language news
Recalling her first day on the job, Nashalik said she was nervous, knowing that she could not afford to make any mistakes during the broadcast. But more than anything, she was excited to quench a thirst — and fill a void — for Inuktitut-language news.
“I remember calling my mom and dad right after my show was over and I said, ‘Did you see me? Did that make any sense?’ Everybody was … so happy to hear something in their language,” Nashalik said.
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“Everyone in the North knows Rassi Nashalik,” said Juanita Taylor, a senior reporter at CBC News Network and Nashalik’s close friend.
“When I started working at CBC North in , I was very starstruck,” she said. “Even though I had met her a couple of times before, actually seeing her work was very inspirational to me because she’s so professional … and she cared about so much with her show.”
Because Nashalik held the position for 18 years, she’s known both to an elderly generation of viewers and to young ones who watched her in the years before her retirement, Taylor added.
“She knew that Inuit were only going to be getting their news stories from her, so she always made sure that it was the best show that she could give them.”
‘The reason why I did that was for my people’
The work was most challenging on days when Nashalik had to report on a death in her community, often about people she knew personally. While debating whether she would accept the Hall of Fame honour, Nashalik said she thought back to why she took the CBC job in the first place.
“The reason why I did that was for my people,” she said. “For my people, who should have the right to listen to any kind of news in their language.”
She added that she would like to see Indigenous people have their own news station at CBC, noting that many of the national broadcaster’s Indigenous employees are multi-talented reporters, producers and directors.
“I see — like, in the big picture — I see all that run by our own people, Indigenous people.”
She advised young Indigenous reporters to not be afraid of asking questions, and to “never, never think that you are the best. Just be humble about yourself. And you will go a long ways if you carry yourself like that.”
Both Taylor and Awa say that Nashalik is deeply missed in the CBC North newsroom, where she had a “real presence,” Taylor said.
“She was very well-respected and she carried that, I think, with great honour in her day-to-day work.”
“I mean, she’s just wonderful. An absolute icon,” Awa added. “[She was] always so willing to put herself out there so that the people can understand what is going on in their communities in their backyard, in Canada and around the world.”
“Her contributions have been absolutely invaluable.”