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Deepening connections

Community Scholars program experiential learning for faculty

By Janet Harron

Dr. Sylvia Moore has worked and lived in Labrador for 10 years, but her recent experience as a community scholar in Nunatsiavut significantly deepened her connection to the people and place of northern Labrador.

The Community Scholars program, initiated by the Office of the President and administered by the Harris Centre, allows faculty and post-doctoral fellows to spend 8-10 weeks in a rural community. But it is not intended for direct research.

“By spending time in the community without a specific agenda or structured schedule, I was able to meet more people, build relationships with individuals and experience the place. It was the sort of experiential learning we encourage students to participate in,” said Dr. Moore, an associate professor in the School of Arctic and Subarctic Studies. “I was there simply as a visitor, not as a researcher.”

Her time in Nain and Makkovik was not without incident. A planned trip to Rigolet was postponed due to dangerous weather conditions. The travel delays she experienced due to stormy weather were challenging, but she acknowledges that the overall experience gave her a deeper appreciation of the stories she has heard from community members who face such travel interruptions regularly.

Winter in Labrador
A winter scene in northern Labrador

‘Storms, extreme cold and high wind are reminders of how vulnerable human survival is in the face of the forces of nature. Our technology and infrastructure make our lives more comfortable but, ultimately, we cannot control the weather,” said Dr. Moore, adding that spending a week on weather-hold in a remote community was an opportunity for her to reflect on the precariousness of life in a harsh environment.

Community and conversations

Ironically, despite such travel challenges, the flexibility of her schedule proved to be one of the greatest benefits she experienced as a community scholar.

“My time was more relaxed. I could sit down and have a conversation with somebody and go back to them two days later and pick up that discussion in a way you just aren’t able to through Zoom or on the phone,” explained Dr. Moore, who was previously the Faculty of Education lead for Memorial’s teacher education programs in Labrador.

These wide-ranging conversations with community members ultimately coalesced into big-picture discussions on what it means to live a good life and how education prepares children for life.

“In western worldview, education is linked to your social status and encouraged as a goal for youth. Although K-12 schools provide a basic academic education for all children, they also promote the values of individual achievement and competitiveness. What about the youth who wants to live more closely to the land and who can support themselves in living a good life with land-based skills and knowledge? What are other ways of looking at a range of notions about what a good life is and how can we as educators support such choices?” asked Dr. Moore, who added that Nunatsiavut has the highest rate of post-secondary education in Inuit Nunangat.

Living a good life

Dr. Moore maintains that the opportunity to consider a more holistic view of what it means to have a good life and the role of education as part of that good life is timely in this post-Truth and Reconciliation period.

“Canada as a nation continues to grapple with our past history and we as educators are determining how to move forward with the knowledge of residential schools and their impacts foremost in our mind. As educators, it is valuable to go out and talk to elders, parents, youth and teachers in Indigenous communities about their ideas and their life stories and then say, what is a good life and what is the role of education in that,” she said. “My time in Nunatsiavut gave me an opportunity to consider the importance of such work and to listen more deeply to people as they talked about what they value in life.”

Dr. Moore personifies the goal of the Community Scholars project — to extend out and connect broadly; to respond to what community members want and how it gets shaped. She heard stories about how life is changing and the desire community members may have to maintain their traditional Inuit skills and knowledge, while also acquiring the skills and knowledge required of global citizenship.

“The world is changing quickly and as educators we are preparing youth for a world we don’t know. We have to ask the big questions as to what the role of research is in building better lives and a better world and how the university and the community can work together to create new knowledge,” explained Dr. Moore.

“Research is a big part of the work of reconciliation and better lives for all people. But this research needs to be done collaboratively and in good relationship with Indigenous Peoples. It has to be co-created and co-conducted with Indigenous communities.”

“I think the community scholar award is an incredible opportunity for any Memorial researcher to experience life within Newfoundland and Labrador’s communities and to build relationships that are the very foundation of our institutional obligations to the people of the province.”

Details on applying for the Community Scholars program can be found here.

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