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Contributing his voice

Spring graduate committed to Mi'kmaw scholarship — by enrolling in PhD

Campus and Community

By Pamela Gill

Avery Velez will receive a master of arts in environmental policy at Grenfell Campus’s convocation ceremonies on May 16.

While that’s enough of an accomplishment for most, the resident of Elmastukwek Ktaqmkuk/Corner Brook is also well into his doctorate in transdisciplinary sustainability.

“I started my PhD last September; I was concurrently enrolled in both the MA and PhD for two semesters,” he said. “And yes — it was chaos!”

Relevant sources

That commitment to learning has been a theme throughout Mr. Velez’s studies at Grenfell Campus, with a critical focus on the lack of Mi’kmaw academic sources and course options.

“When I was researching for my master’s project, which is about exploring Mi’kmaw relationships to the land and colonial claims to sovereignty in Ktaqmkuk/Newfoundland through the lens of the evolving fishery, I had a really tough time finding relevant academic sources,” he said. “So few people write about Mi’kmaq in Ktaqmkuk/Newfoundland.”

Mr. Velez says having his research published as soon as possible will be one step toward solving that problem.

“It’s really important that as Mi’kmaq, we are able to speak for ourselves and tell our own stories.” — Avery Velez

He finished his major research paper in recent weeks and is working on reformatting and adjusting it to submit it for publication.

“I can help begin filling this gap,” he said. “I think it’s really important that as Mi’kmaq, we are able to speak for ourselves and tell our own stories and histories. I’m proud to be a part of that.”

In addition to contributing to scholarly discourse, Mr. Velez has been instrumental in the creation of a master of arts in environmental policy course elective that will be offered during the fall 2024 semester.

He collaborated with Dr. Kelly Vodden, his supervisor, and Chief Rhonda Sheppard of the St. George’s Indian Band as a community partner to facilitate community consultations with Mi’kmaq from across the island to develop the course.

“Together, we collaboratively defined “sustainability” from a Mi’kmaw perspective and co-designed a land-based course on Mi’kmaw sustainability,” he said.

The development of the course stemmed from the difficulty he experienced in finding Mi’kmaw courses, content and instructors.

“I’m really proud of this, because I think it was done in a good way and uplifted my community’s voices,” he said. “And also because it fills an important gap at Grenfell, and Memorial in general. Students coming into the Master of Arts and Environmental Policy Program next year will have at least one option for what I think is going to be a really cool course.”

‘More-than-human kin’

As for his future studies, Mr. Velez says his PhD project is tentatively on revitalizing Mi’kmaw relationships with the land in Nujio’qonik (Bay St. George) and Elmastukwek (Bay of Islands) according to the Mi’kmaw concept of Netukulimk.

Netukulimk is a Mi’kmaw concept based on living in relationship with the land in a way that protects the well-being of the lands, waters and future generations.

“My research is in collaboration and partnership with Mi’kmaw communities in tkisnuk Ktaqmkuk/Western Newfoundland,” he said. “The aim is to build ourselves up for reclaiming our rights and relationships to and with the lands, waters and more-than-human kin so that we can better protect them.”

During his master’s program, Mr. Velez received the Sceptre Investment Counsel Limited Bursary, an Indspire Award, the Ulnooweg Indigenous Communities Foundation EleV Award, the Michael Melancon-Koffend Award, the Peter Mackey Memorial Graduate Scholarship, and a Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

The text "Class of 2024" is in gold over a claret background with subtle bubbles and gold sparkles in the background. A gold sash that says "special feature" on it is in the upper left-hand corner.

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