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Publisher Spotlight: Inhabit Media

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NeilInhabit Media is an Inuit-owned publishing company, with their head office located in Iqaluit, Nunavut. They are the only independent publishing company located in the Canadian Arctic. Their mission is to preserve and promote the stories, knowledge, and talent of Inuit and northern Canada. Here, Inhabit Media co-founder and English Publisher Neil Christopher shares how Inhabit Media emerged out of the need for more Inuktitut-language books, how their connection with the community expresses itself in what they publish, and their goals for branching into foreign markets.

IPG: How did Inhabit Media get its start?

Neil Christopher: Louise Flaherty, Inhabit Media’s Inuktitut Publisher, and I were working in Iqaluit for the Nunavut Teacher Education Program. This program trained teachers who were to teach in Inuktitut, the Inuit language spoken in the central and eastern Canadian arctic. However, a common complaint from the staff and alumni was that there were very few books available that reflected the perspectives and culture of the Arctic, and there were even fewer books that were published in Inuktitut. Louise and I decided to try to figure out how to resolve this situation, and we included Danny Christopher (artist and Art Director) in this initiative. In 2006, the three of us incorporated and Inhabit Media was born.

IPG: Other than being the only independent publishing company located in the Canadian Arctic, what differentiates Inhabit Media from other publishing companies?

sized_cover_kulu_eng_softcoverNeil: When we started, the Arctic was often represented in print by explorers, researchers…people who had visited the North. These stories are important, however, we believed the voices of the people who lived in the Arctic had to also be heard. We wanted to ensure that the North was also represented by Northerners in literature. Because of this mission, Inhabit Media owners and staff feel accountable to the Arctic community. Our owners and staff are deeply connected to the communities we serve. We don’t try to publish all authors and all stories. We are focused on a small group of people in a huge Arctic territory. When we publish a book, we have the knowledge of the author’s connection to the community or lived experience in the Arctic. We can ensure the authenticity of our books in a way that is perhaps difficult for other publishers.

Perhaps another unique aspect of our publishing program is the work we do to preserve and promote Inuit traditional knowledge and oral history. This knowledge and cultural history is slowly disappearing, as knowledge holders pass away. Inhabit Media invests a lot of time and money to go into smaller communities to work with elders, hunters, toolmakers, etc. to record their knowledge and stories. We work closely with many of these people to help them publish important books that may never have been published otherwise.

IPG: How do you think your promotion of Arctic voices contributes to the overall collection of Canadian literature?

akilak_print_cover_revisedNeil: We feel that our work contributes greatly to Canadian literature. Canadian and North American children usually grow up with stories that are based on European folklore, or folklore from other places in the world. Many of our children’s books are based on traditional Inuit stories, such as The Owl and the Lemming and Kiviuq and the Mermaids. These are indigenous stories from our country. These are Canadian stories! These stories are part of the cultural richness of our country. We are very proud to bring these stories to a larger audience.

IPG: What do our readers need to know about your books?

Neil: Readers should know that our books are primarily for the people of the North. That is part of their uniqueness and authenticity. However, over the years we have been getting better at providing information, such as glossaries, maps, footnotes, etc. so that our books are accessible to a wider audience. In our books, Inuit culture and language are not a special feature; Inuit culture and language are the foundation of our publishing program and our editorial choices. I believe that is something a reader will notice when they start reading our books.

IPG: In your opinion, how has the publishing industry at large changed over the years?

Neil: This I do not know! We feel a little isolated in the North, and are still learning a lot about the publishing industry. One thing we can speak to, is that when we started a decade ago, our books were always put in the “native studies” section of bookstores. We have always fought against this, as we wanted our books to be seen as part of contemporary culture. Our children’s books should be with other children’s book. Our YA novels should be with other YA novels. Now our books are included with other Canadian books, with very few found in the “native studies” section of the bookstore. This is a very positive development, and something we have definitely seen change over the past few years.

IPG: What do you think are the benefits of independent publishing? The drawbacks?

Neil: One of the benefits of being a small independent publisher is that we can publish the books that we feel matter. We can take the risks we feel need to be taken to represent the North and our community honestly. We are not completely commercially driven, and often choose to publish books because they are important to our community.

The drawbacks are perhaps the same as the benefits… We are not always commercially driven and we take a lot of risks for our community! 

cover owl lemmingIPG: Where do you see Inhabit Media in five years?

Neil: That is a good question! We were so excited to make it past the ten-year mark, and I think we are still digesting that success. I guess we have never been sure where our company and books would go. This started out as something we were doing for Nunavut, and northern Canada.

We certainly have an interest in seeing if there is an appetite for our books in foreign markets. I hope in five years we will have books distributed in many other countries (besides Canada and the US). And I know we will continue challenging ourselves to improve our books and production quality.

Check out select Inhabit Media titles in our Reading Without Walls book collection!

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