For Pujjuut Kusugak, doing commentary in Inuktitut for the Olympic men and women’s hockey games is a dream come true.
“I am a hockey player. I still play. I am still coaching and to use our language and hockey to help build some understanding,” said Kusugak. “When this opportunity came up, I jumped all over it.”
The Olympic Winter Games get underway in Beijing on Friday with the opening ceremonies and will run until Feb. 20.
Kusugak and David Ningeongan will be providing live play-by-play in Inuktitut for all of the men and women’s hockey games during the Olympics, a first for the CBC.
They are part of CBC’s Indigenous languages coverage of the games, which will also include coverage of the opening and closing ceremonies in Eastern Cree, as well as some select men’s and women’s hockey games in Eastern Cree in both Southern Inland and Northern Coastal dialects that are spoken in Quebec Cree communities.
Hockey is just so relatable up North.– Pujjuut Kusugak, Inuktitut Olympic announcer
Both Kusugak and Ningeongan are from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, where they say hockey rules.
“Hockey is just so relatable up North,” said Kusugak. “Pretty much every community knows hockey and coming from Rankin Inlet, we’re the self-proclaimed hockey town of Nunavut.”
Ningeongan has been providing play-by-play of hockey games on local radio in Nunavut for more than 12 years.
“Hockey… there’s not a lot of other sports that people are engaged with North of 60 really,” said Ningeongan from Toronto, where he and Kusugak are already preparing for their coverage.
For the Inuktitut language hockey coverage, Ningeongan has been working on the terminology for more than a decade.
He was also the first Inuk to do play-by-play during the Fred Sasakamoose National Aboriginal Hockey Championship in Saskatoon. He also worked with CBC North during it’s Arctic Winter games coverage in 2019.
Meanwhile, Kusugak is a former mayor of Rankin Inlet and played AAA hockey and Junior A hockey in Ontario. He also coached both the local and territorial Nunavut teams.
‘Historic’ Cree-language coverage
Dorothy Stewart, host of CBC North’s Cree-language morning show, Winschgaoug, on CBC North Quebec, provided Cree-language coverage of the opening ceremonies of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.
“I think it will make it extra special for the Cree people of Eeyou Istchee,” said Stewart.
“To have the opportunity to use the Cree language and let it be heard … I think it’s important and it’s historic.”
For these winter games, Stewart will be joined by Betsy Longchap, who was a long-time sports reporter with CBC North Cree unit and has covered the Arctic Winter Games for CBC, as well as hockey tournaments in northern Quebec.
“I think it will be a lot of fun,” said Longchap, who will provide coverage in the Southern Inland dialect of Eastern Cree. Stewart will be providing coverage in the Northern coastal dialect.
Longchap said it’s not only important to use the language, but for youth and children to hear it and relate to it. She said covering hockey is a great way to do that.
“Young people will be super happy to hear play-by-play being done,” Longchap said. “That’s what I’m proud of.”
The CBC’s coverage will include Cree-language hockey play-by-play for the matches between Canada and United States in both men’s and women’s hockey, as well as the gold or bronze medal matches in both men’s and women’s hockey.
Stewart says she has been preparing by consulting with language experts in the territory and working on Cree translations for words like “penalty” and “puck” and even “Olympics.”
We don’t have individual words for things the way English does.– Dorothy Stewart, Winschgaoug host
“We don’t have individual words for things the way English does,” said Stewart, adding in Cree there is a lot of describing.
Stewart says these last few weeks, she’s been waking up in the middle of the night with inspiration about how to explain the action to her audience.
Coverage in English, Eastern Cree, and Inuktitut as well as American Sign Language and described video will stream live starting Friday at 6:30 a.m. ET (3:30 PT) on CBC Gem, the CBC’s dedicated Beijing 2022 website (cbc.ca/beijing2022) and the CBC Sports app for iOS and Android devices.