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Building northern capacity

Nunavut Arctic College partnership helps unearth rare archival collections


By Jeff Green

Newly repatriated archival materials and unique historical recordings are being seen and heard for the first time thanks in part to a research collaboration between the Nunavut Arctic College (NAC) and Memorial.

A man and woman speak while seated at table.
From left, Leo Mimmialik and Aksatungauq Ashoona share stories.
Photo: Submitted

Through the support of ArcticNet’s North-by-North Program, the two institutions are partnering on a case study exploring Inuit Qaujimanituqangit (IQ), or Inuit traditional knowledge, in Nunavut institutional research.

The project is examining research trends, needs and outlooks in Nunavut according to Inuit and northern standards, specifically in regards to IQ and its relationships with western sciences.

Part of the work also focuses on archival material about life in the North.

Collaborative process

“One of the central objectives of North-by-North is to enhance Nunavut Arctic College’s specialized research expertise related to Inuit oral history through a project called Tuqqutausimajuviniit Angiramut Utiqtut – Home from the Archives,” said Jamal Shirley, director, innovation and research, Nunavut Research Institute, which is part of NAC.

Holding a notebook, a person speaks into a radio microphone.
NAC oral history researcher, Aksatungauq Ashoona, hosting a community radio call-in show in Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut in 2021 to share historical recordings from the community.
Photo: Sean Guistini

Researchers are working with Indigenous communities to examine the material, revise and fill any historical gaps and edit and/or revise any Inuktut terms.

They are also inviting community members to share their own archival materials for preservation and digitization and will partner with communities to develop resources to bring exposure to the historical collections.

Some of the historical material includes songs recorded in 1942 by American ethnomusicologist, Laura Boulton; wax recordings of Capt. George Comer, made for Franz Boas and thought to be the first Inuit voices ever recorded, dating from 1903-09; and 1938 films and song recordings from Arviat made by Swiss ethnologist, Jean Gabus.

Cassette and video tapes.
Cassette and VHS video tapes shared by community residents in Baker Lake, Nunavut.
Photo: Sean Guistini

“These are archival materials that have never been heard or seen in these communities,” said Mr. Shirley. “NAC Media currently holds all of these as digital assets and is working with each institution where the originals are held.”

The college is working with a number of Memorial researchers who are providing support, best practices and knowledge to the college’s project team.

Sharing knowledge

“I’m mostly a facilitator for the logistics of managing a large research grant like this one. I work with Jamal on finances, reporting and hiring, and I share what I know about the unwritten cultural norms of research institutions and granting agencies,” said Dr. Max Liboiron, associate professor, Department of Geography, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.

“Sometimes I help with research methods and training, but that role is disappearing as the project evolves, a stepping back that we designed into the process from the beginning. The goal is that by the last year of the grant, I will be obsolete.”

Part of building strong community partnerships as researchers is also facilitating from behind-the-scenes while sharing knowledge so community partners can become their own researchers.

Dr. Liboiron also says there’s an assumption in academia that things ending is an indicator of failure, but here it is the hallmark of success.

“Becoming obsolete to a project and planning to end a partnership in a good way requires planning, skill and constant communication. I consider it a key research method that should be part of all partnerships.”

‘Important contributions’

Part of the project also includes an analysis to “disentangle” the many ways that IQ is used to advance research outcomes in Nunavut institutional research.

Standing in a line, a group of people smile for the camera.
Nunavut Arctic College oral history research leaders Aksatunaq Ashoona and Sean Guistini (at left), with elders and knowledge holders of Baker Lake, Nunavut, during NAC’s 2021 community archives tour.
Photo: Sean Guistini

Edward Allen, a PhD candidate in the Department of Geography and a Memorial graduate (BA’01, B.Sc.’06), is working with research assistants Tuttu Hunter, Tapisa Kilabuk, Darlene Jacque and Christine Lussier on the project.

He says that as IQ is mobilized in their methodology, they expect that the systematic literature review will be noteworthy in both process and outcome.

“In gathering our data, we are simultaneously recognizing the important contributions of research collaborators (Ikajuqtigiinniq), building capacity among early career researchers (Pilimmaksarniq) and fostering community throughout (Tunnganarniq). We will produce reports and a living database of Nunavut institutional research that will serve the community and the future of Nunavut research (Pijitsirarniq).”

‘By the North’

This latest project builds on a longstanding partnership between Memorial and NAC.

In 2019 Memorial signed a 10-year memorandum of understanding with the college to promote northern research opportunities, build administrative capacity and expand post-secondary programs available to learners in Nunavut through joint credentials with the expressed purpose of increasing Inuit employment.

“The critical thing to know about this applied research is that its northern-led,” said Jesse Jacobs, director, Nunavut Arctic College–Memorial University Partnership. “It is certainly research that is leveraging Memorial University’s administrative capacity, but overall it is research that is being done by the North and for the North. And, as such, is consistent with the philosophical underpinnings of our partnership with the Nunavut Arctic College.”

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