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Part of a special feature focused on celebrating and recognizing the contribution and impact of Aboriginal Peoples in Newfoundland and Labrador and highlighting contemporary topics and opportunities related to Aboriginal Peoples worldwide. This feature coincides with Aboriginal Peoples Week running March 21-24.

By Mandy Cook

Aboriginal students enrolled at Memorial University come from all across Canada, but the majority of students come from various areas in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

On the St. John’s campus, more than 500 students self-identify as Aboriginal; at Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook, which is located in traditional Mi’kmaw territory, there are more than 280 Aboriginal students. Memorial University understands “Aboriginal” as having First Nations, Inuit or Métis ancestry.

Post-colonial environment

Edward Allen, Aboriginal education co-ordinator, Aboriginal Resource Office, says that Aboriginal peoples’ place in academia is becoming more recognized through increased enrolment, by ever-increasing contributions to the academic literature and as informants who share complex systems of knowledge and pedagogy.

“As the quality of our education is often a function of the consideration we afford to multiple perspectives, inclusion and representation from all peoples of the province will ensure that we maximize educational outcomes,” he said. “Respectful partnerships will lead us to a post-colonial learning environment―one that is mutually beneficial for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students, faculty, and staff.”

Innu Nation

Most Innu students at Memorial belong to the Innu Nation, which is comprised of approximately 2,200 members. There are two Innu communities in Labrador: Sheshatshiu and Natuashish. Sheshatshiu is the home of the Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation and is located on the shore of Lake Melville about 30 kilometres north of Happy Valley-Goose Bay in central Labrador. Natuashish is the home of the Mushuau Innu First Nation and is located on the North Coast north of Hopedale and south of Nain. Innu speak the traditional language Innu-aimun―Sheshatshiu means “a narrow place in the river.” Caribou are of special significance in Innu culture and traditional craft is demonstrated in the Innu tea doll.

Miawpukek Mi’kmaq Nation

Most Memorial Miawpukek Mi’kmaw students call a reserve near the Southcentral Coast of Newfoundland home. Currently, there are approximately 800 members of the Miawpukek Mi’kmaq Nation living on reserve and approximately 1,800 members living in other areas. Miawpukek translates to “middle river” in English and refers to a territory that was often described as Conne River by peripheral sources. Miawpukek became a permanent community sometime around 1822; before 1822 it was one of many semi-permanent camping sites used throughout the Mi’kmaq domain of Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Maine. Miawpukek First Nation maintains a historical connection to the land through hunting and trapping, as well as a number of other cultural activities and practices.

Nunatsiavut Government

Nunatsiavut means “our beautiful land.” Of the approximately 7,200 beneficiaries of the Nunatsiavut Government, approximately 1,500 beneficiaries currently live inside the claim area. Many students hail from one of the five Inuit communities Rigolet, Postville, Makkovik, Hopedale and Nain, which are located within Nunatsiavut on Labrador’s North Coast. Many others come from Central Labrador communities such as Happy Valley-Goose Bay. The Inuit language is Inuktitut; English is spoken fluently by the majority of Nunatsiavimiut (the people of Nunatsiavut). Nunatsiavimiut share a rich culture that includes hunting seals, fish, caribou and migratory birds, and express their traditions in nearly all aspects of life.

NunatuKavut Community Council

NunatuKavut means “our ancient land.” Memorial students who are members of the Nunatukavut Community Council identify as Southern Inuit, a group of about 6,000 people who reside primarily in Southern and Central Labrador communities such as Forteau and Port Hope Simpson. Members were formally referred to as the Inuit-Métis. English is the language of everyday use; some Inuktitut words and phrases are spoken and a language revival is taking root. Traditional customs include the lighting of the Kullik, a seal oil lamp, drumming and dog sledding. The Southern Inuit have strong ties to the land, sea and ice.

Qalipu Mi’kmaq Nation

A First Nation band, there are approximately 24,000 members of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq of Newfoundland and Labrador and membership is growing. Many Qalipu Memorial students hail from communities such as Stephenville and Norris Point on Newfoundland’s West Coast and Gander and Grand Falls-Windsor in Central Newfoundland. Strong efforts are being made to preserve and promote the Mi’kmaw culture, including traditional activities, crafts and language. “Qalipu” means caribou in Mi’kmaq; the animal is used for food, tools, clothing, wigwam covering and floor blankets, canoes, moccasins, snowshoes and packsacks.

For more about Aboriginal Peoples Week: Truth and Reconciliation, please visit here.

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