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‘Circle of conversation’

Memorial-led partnership yields Inuit symposium in Labrador

special feature: Aboriginal Peoples

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 Jeff Green

It was the first of many. And if the response was any indication, a research project led by Memorial and the Nunatsiavut Government has plenty of ideas on ways to protect and preserve Labrador Inuit tradition and culture.

Thanks in large part to a five-year, $7.4-million partnership―funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Memorial and the Nunatsiavut Government―a symposium was held for the first time in early December in Nain, Labrador, aimed at generating new knowledge and sharing ideas. It’s one of the outcomes of the research project titled Tradition and Transition Among the Labrador Inuit led by Dr. Tom Gordon, the principal investigator and professor emeritus from Memorial’s School of Music.

“Our goal from the outset has been to generate dialogue across ways of knowing—to be able to find meaningful ways in which traditional knowledge and academic knowledge can not only complement one another, but find a means of integration,” said Dr. Gordon. “This symposium was an encouraging first step.”

10-year milestone

The event coincided with the 10th anniversary of the creation of Nunatsiavut. More than 50 people, including architects of the Nunatsiavut Land Claims Agreement, current government leaders, researchers, high school students and a wide cross-section of Nunatsiavut beneficiaries from Nain and other coastal communities, attended the event.

Dr. Gordon says there was a strong desire to strengthen the “circle of conversation.”

Participants shared stories, experiences and cultural knowledge. They heard from Isabella Pain, one of the chief negotiators with the Nunatsiavut Land Claims Agreement and current deputy minister for the Nunatsiavut Secretariat, as well as Western University professor Christopher Alcantara, author of Negotiating the Deal: Comprehensive Land Claims Agreements in Canada.

More than 50 people attend a symposium in Nain, Labrador.
More than 50 people attended a symposium in Nain, Labrador, recently.
Photo: Andrea Quigley

Nunatsiavut’s leadership in promoting the Inuktitut language was the focus of a conversation with Rita Andersen, who has been an interpreter and translator for the Labrador Inuit Association and the Nunatsiavut Government for more than 30 years, and Alana Johns, professor of linguistics at the University of Toronto and a specialist in the Labrador dialect of Inuktitut.

Meanwhile, leadership roles of Inuit women was the focus of a dialogue among the partners in the Daughters of Mikak research group, which is focusing on women leaders and women’s leadership roles in Inuit Labrador. The group is named after an 18th-century Inuk who played an important role in negotiations with the British and the Moravians. Dr. Andrea Procter, Office of Public Engagement Post-doctoral Fellow with the Tradition and Transition Research Partnership, led the discussion along with Charlotte Wolfrey, Nunatsiavut’s Status of Women co-ordinator, as well as with members of the AnânauKatiget Tumingit Regional Inuit Women’s Association.

“I am interested in ensuring this type of lifestyle can still be practised by my grandchildren and great-grandchildren.” — Charlotte Wolfrey

Dr. Gordon says each of the presentations led to “lively and engaging” discussions among participants.

“These conversations were wide-ranging, reflecting on the striking achievements across Nunatsiavut’s brief history while highlighting issues ripe for legislative attention, including the protection of the Inuktitut language,” he said. “The whole conversation was recorded for broadcast by the OKâlaKatiget Society and the symposium transcripts are being prepared for publication.”

Ms. Wolfrey, who is from the community of Rigolet on Labrador’s North Coast, says the symposium has sparked an interest in “grassroots people” in starting a dialogue on preserving Inuit culture. She’s particularly interested in gathering ideas and stories from Labrador Inuit women. She also says she has high hopes for the research partnership.

“I am looking forward to seeing more traditional knowledge being used,” she said. “It has been learned from watching, listening and our experiences. When we were young we went to school because we had to, we went to church because we had to and we lived for the days when we could go back to the land because we wanted to.

“I am interested in ensuring this type of lifestyle can still be practised by my grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”

Future generations

During the next five years, the Tradition and Transition Research Partnership will initiate a wide range of collaborative research projects aimed at informing and supporting the sustainability of Labrador Inuit culture for future generations of Nunatsiavummiut.

With 15 co-researchers from Nunatsiavut and another 15 from six universities, 20 partner organizations and significant funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the research partnership will host workshops and symposia, provide training in cultural management and production and generate new knowledge that will be accessible to all those who share an interest in Labrador Inuit culture.

More information about the research partnership, as well as photos from the symposium in Nain, is available on the Tradition and Transition Research Partnership Facebook page.


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