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Curating a community

Labrador Research Forum underscores importance of collaboration, accountability and sharing knowledge

By Jeff Green

A historic book launch, critical conversations led by Indigenous leaders and youth, research that meets local interests, needs and priorities and a keynote talk by renowned Unangax scholar Dr. Eve Tuck are among the key highlights of this year’s Labrador Research Forum.

More than 120 researchers, community leaders, government representatives and students took part in this year’s event, held May 1-3 in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and the Upper Lake Melville area.

The biennial forum – held for the first time in 2017 – is dedicated to sharing knowledge, experience and innovations about work happening in Labrador. Representatives from the Labrador Institute, Innu Nation, Nunatsiavut Government, NunatuKavut Community Council, the Torngat Wildlife, Plants and Fisheries Secretariat and the Town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay organized the event.

From left Cathryn Andersen, Dr. Eve Tuck, Dr. Ashlee Cunsolo and Dr. Max Liboiron.
From left are Cathryn Andersen, Dr. Eve Tuck, Dr. Ashlee Cunsolo and Dr. Max Liboiron.
Photo: Shawn Rivoire

‘At the leading edge’

“As an organizing committee, we are all deeply committed to highlighting and celebrating the exceptional research led by and conducted in Labrador, and to creating space for people to come together in community and dialogue to discuss and reflect on key research topics and priorities, by and for Labrador,” said Dr. Ashlee Cunsolo, director, Labrador Institute, and conference chair and emcee.

“Labrador is at the leading edge of Indigenous-led research, research governance and ethics, and self-determination in research. The Labrador Research Forum – including participation of Elders, the keynote by the University of Toronto’s Dr. Tuck and the all-Indigenous plenary panels – illustrated the rich and transformative research occurring in Labrador, and the ways in which communities and researchers can come together to create meaningful, accessible and usable research. This was a gathering for the mind and the heart, culture and community, leadership and learning, and was a demonstration of research partnerships, sovereignty and self-determination.”

A number of members of the Memorial community – from disciplines including Geography, Medicine, Earth Sciences, Grenfell Campus, Education, and those based at the Labrador Institute – took part this year.

Comprehensive programming

The forum included plenaries focused on Indigenous research governance and ethics; arts, culture and research in Labrador; and youth perspectives and suggestions for Labrador research. Other sessions focused on topics ranging from the environment, climate change and adaptation, and health and medicine.

“The youth are definitely being celebrated here,” said Michelle Saunders, a recent undergraduate from Memorial, the Labrador Institute’s 2019 International Indigenous Intern and a Nunatsiavut Inuk. “This is a good place for collaboration and it makes Indigenous researchers more comfortable.”

From left Jenelle Doyle, Abigail Poole, Michelle Saunders and Matthew Pike.
From left are Jennelle Doyle, Abigail Poole, Michelle Saunders and Matthew Pike.
Photo: Shawn Rivoire

“This conference is important for established and young researchers just entering the field,” added Abigail Poole, an undergraduate student in psychology at Grenfell Campus and a NunatuKavut Inuk, who was a panellist during the youth perspectives session.

“We saw how there are differences between how research is conducted by youth and established researchers, and here we can feed off one another and offer each other learning experiences, especially for Indigenous researchers.”

Jennelle Doyle, a co-panellist, a NunatuKavut Inuk and a Government of Canada employee working in partnership with the Labrador Institute, says “the learning needs to go both ways.”

“I feel that the Labrador Research Forum has provided an opportunity for Innu, Inuit and researchers alike to experience this two-way learning. Open communication is essential; we share the land here.”

Book launch

Elder Dr. Tshaukuesh (Elizabeth) Penashue – an honorary degree recipient from Memorial – released her new memoir during the forum, the first book authored by an Innu woman from Labrador.

Nitinikiau Innusi: I Keep the Land Alive is edited by Dr. Elizabeth Yeoman, professor, Faculty of Education.

Elder Dr. Tshaukuesh (Elizabeth) Penashue – an honorary degree recipient from Memorial – released her new memoir during the forum.
Elder Dr. Tshaukuesh (Elizabeth) Penashue – an honorary degree recipient from Memorial – released her new memoir during the forum.
Photo: Shawn Rivoire

Dr. Tuck, associate professor of critical race and Indigenous studies at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, and Canada Research Chair of Indigenous Methodologies with Youth and Communities from St. Paul’s, Alaska, was this year’s keynote speaker. Her keynote address was titled Research On Our Own Terms and centered on community-focused and Indigenous-led approaches to research.

“It’s been so powerful,” Dr. Debbie Martin, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples Health and Well-Being at Dalhousie University and NunatuKavut Inuk, said after one of the sessions.

“It provides an opportunity to hear and share on all sides of the research continuum— from community members, to researchers, to those of us in-between. I’m hearing strong community voices around the theory of research, and the importance of ensuring community voices are embedded throughout research processes. And this is coming directly from communities. Its Labrador’s Indigenous peoples theorizing directly, which is so powerful and inspiring to hear.”

‘Exceptional space’

Organizers say they were pleased by the strong participation of diverse individuals and organizations who are committed to growing research in Labrador – research that’s by the North, for the North, and in the North.

“The Labrador Research Forum is an exceptional space – the strong participation of Indigenous researchers and community members puts conversations about what research is for and accountability in research on the table in ways that are rarely at the forefront in conferences,” said Dr. Max Liboiron, associate vice-president (Indigenous research) and Michif from Lac la Biche.

“You can readily witness how local Indigenous people and youth are truly at the forefront of research in Labrador, sometimes with university collaborators and sometimes not. The selection committee has curated a community, rather than just presentations. This is easily the best conference I’ve been to in a very long time, and I look forward to the next one already!”

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