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Towards a Labrador campus

Northern-led, Northern-focused and Northern-based higher education

By Dr. Ashlee Cunsolo

There is a strong and vibrant network of institutions of higher education across the North.

These institutions are gaining recognition for providing higher education that looks, thinks and acts differently from institutions in the South.

Dr. Ashlee Cunsolo
Photo: Submitted

These Northern institutions, including Yukon University, Dechinta Research and Learning Centre, Aurora College and Nunavut Arctic College, are embedded in, and responsive and committed to, peoples and cultures of the North.

They are providing high-quality, innovative and life-changing programming, in place, and they are leading important research that improves lives and informs decision-making for people in the North.

The Labrador Institute of Memorial University is proud to be both among, and work with, these institutions.

As one of the few university-based units in the North, the Labrador Institute is dedicated to providing Indigenous-led and Northern-inspired research and education opportunities in Labrador, while simultaneously connecting with researchers, leaders and educational institutions across the North.

We are nimble and responsive, flexible and adaptive, and our work is guided by the strength, resilience and beauty of the lands and waters of Labrador and the North. We illustrate what higher education means in Northern and Indigenous contexts, and what could be possible with greater institutional commitments and expanded scope.

We demonstrate the success of higher education that is embedded in place, led by people and communities, and focused on creating high-quality, locally appropriate and culturally-relevant programming.

We are a special place, essential not only to Memorial’s identity and influence in the province, but also to the fabric of Northern research and education in this country.

Towards a Labrador campus

Recognizing our important role for the university and in Northern higher education, and guided by Memorial University’s special obligation to the peoples and places of Newfoundland and Labrador, President Gary Kachanoski initiated the creation of a task force in 2018.

With members from the Nunatsiavut Government, the NunatuKavut Community Council, Innu Education and administrative leaders, faculty, and staff from all campuses of Memorial, this task force was dedicated to considering the future roles and responsibilities of Memorial in Labrador, and the potential for working together with the Indigenous governments and organizations in Labrador to create a full campus of the university and transitioning the Labrador Institute into an academic unit, which, after a nearly two-year process, were the task forces’ unanimous recommendations.

As part of this process, President Kachanoski and Vice-Presidents Council approved the recommendations in April and July 2019, respectively; and in September 2019, the Senate of Memorial University voted to: 1) support the transition of the Labrador Institute into an academic unit, pending the creation and approval of a constitution by Senate and the Board of Regents; and 2) support the development towards a full campus, pending approval of a business case by the Board of Regents. There was no budget increase associated with this vote.

What a campus means

A campus in Labrador provides the opportunity for people can be educated in place and access education that is reflective of their cultures and histories, languages and ways of knowing and doing.

It creates opportunities for North-to-North learning, co-production of knowledge, ideas sharing and exchange opportunities, particularly through the new generational partnership with Nunavut Arctic College.

“Innu, Inuit and Indigenous ways of knowing, doing and learning will be central to these programs.”

And, working together with Indigenous governments and leaders in Labrador, it means that the campus, and the related programming, will be a strong, rich and unique hub of higher education in the province, nationally and internationally.

A campus in Labrador means expanded research and educational resources, increased faculty and staff, and new infrastructure, and the transition of the Labrador Institute into an academic unit with the creation of a new school.

The Labrador campus will host an interdisciplinary Northern-focused and Northern-led undergraduate program (to be developed), allowing people to earn their full degree entirely in Labrador.

“Our programs will be highly attractive to people from throughout the circumpolar North, as well as those in other locales.”

Working in partnership with units in St. John’s campus, Grenfell Campus and the Marine Institute, the Labrador campus will also host graduate degree options, providing expanded educational opportunities for learners in the region.

Innu, Inuit and Indigenous ways of knowing, doing and learning will be central to these programs.

And while we are prioritizing meeting the needs and priorities of people in Labrador, we envision our programs will be highly attractive to people from throughout the circumpolar North, as well as those in other locales interested in living and learning in the North.

A campus also means the design and development of a new building in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, with state-of-the-art learning environments, innovative teaching technologies, laboratory spaces, library and archives, conference facilities and student residences.

This type of infrastructure investment is essential to provide high-end research and education options in Labrador and to house the new programs and will be an exciting new growth and development for Memorial, for Labrador and for the North.

Where we are now

Currently, the Labrador Institute is actively working towards the creation of a constitution, governance documents and a business case for the academic unit and the campus, with a target completion of spring 2020 for final approvals by Senate and the Board of Regents, with academic unit status achieved by fall 2020.

We are also working towards the ambitious goal of welcoming the first cohort of learners into the undergraduate degree program, and into the new building, by fall 2024.

We are seeking funds for infrastructure development from federal, corporate and private sources and are planning for a tiered increase in operational funds over the next five years.

The future is bright

The Labrador campus is about more than providing education in Labrador: It is about equity, social justice and rights.

It is a region-building initiative, which will create a stronger, more educated and more diversified population, who will continue to contribute to a strong province and a strong North.

It is about creating a different approach to higher education that respects the lands and waters on which our institutions are built and gives primacy to the cultures and histories of the peoples on whose homelands we exist.

The opportunities for Memorial University to partner with the Innu Nation, the Nunatsiavut Government and the NunatuKavut Community Council to develop educational opportunities that meet Indigenous and Northern needs and priorities are unprecedented.

Given the confluence of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s calls to action, Memorial’s singular generational partnership with the Nunavut Arctic College, and the development of an Indigenization Strategy, this is a key time for Memorial University to grow its resources and responsibilities in Labrador.

It is also a key time in the region, with Labrador’s young and growing population looking for educational opportunities to develop their knowledge, skills and leadership capacities at home.

In tough fiscals times, it is essential to continue to fund initiatives that strengthen individuals, communities and regions and to have the vision and foresight to develop what is needed to support the foundations for healthier communities.

While there is a cost to developing a campus in Labrador, there are even greater social, cultural, economic and human costs to not developing it — and it is not a cost that Labrador, nor the province, can afford.

A campus in Labrador is right. It is just. It creates opportunities for thriving and flourishing, and it positions higher education as a key component of growth and development in the region.

It is about bringing hope and providing opportunities to create a brighter educational future for the region that is by, for, and in the North.

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