On the first day of the first biennial Labrador Research Forum in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Grand Chief Anastasia Qupee of the Innu Nation addressed the assembled delegates in Innu-aimun and then in English.
“We are at an important crossroads in Nitassinan,” she said.
Immediately highlighting her northerly geographic location — Labrador, the ancestral home of her people — got to the heart of why the group had gathered for the inaugural conference from April 30-May 3.
But Grand Chief Qupee had more to say to the people in the room, to the northern organizations and communities, the government representatives, the Indigenous nations and governments, and the researchers who came together to dialogue, knowledge share, learn and collaborate with Labrador, for Labrador.
“Innu have been the subject of many researchers for many years.”
“For decades, we have tried to explain who we are as Innu people. Innu have been the subject of many researchers for many years,” she said.
“It is difficult for anyone who studies us to encompass who we are, what’s important to us, how our culture and language defines us, and what is our connection to our land, our rights and our culture — that we are determined to protect and maintain.”
And so the tone was set.
Dr. Ashlee Cunsolo, director of the Labrador Institute in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, which, along with Sheshatshiu First Nation, hosted the conference, echoed Grand Chief Qupee’s message.
“The key themes that underscored the four days of sharing and scholarship were incorporating reconciliation and relationality in academic pursuits, understanding and respecting multiple perspectives and world views, and the importance of northern-led research,” she said.
One example of such was a plenary presentation titled Protected Areas. Dr. Darroch Whitaker, an ecosystem scientist with Parks Canada and an adjunct professor of environmental science at Grenfell Campus, shared some of the work he’s been involved with towards the establishment of a new national park in the Mealy Mountains.
This park will encompass 10,700 square-kilometres, a large swath of land adjacent to and south of Lake Melville/Atashi-uinipekᶸ/Tasialutsuak. It will be known as Akami-uapishqu/KakKasuak/Mealy Mountains National Park Reserve of Canada, a name which recognizes the important role that both Innu and Inuit will play in the park’s co-operative management.
Dr. Whitaker explained that co-operative management has already been working in Torngat Mountains National Park, located in the far northern tip of Labrador, and highlighted the ways in which Inuit rights, values and perspectives infuse all aspects of the management of that park.
He said Parks Canada is committed to conducting research in a manner which addresses the priorities of Indigenous Peoples and which includes them and respects their perspectives and values.
“Ongoing work on the Torngat Mountains caribou herd exemplifies this,” Dr. Whitaker said.
“A collaborative approach is being taken where Parks Canada is working together with Inuit from Nunatsiavut and Nunavik as well as other organizations, and this has involved a rigorous assessment of Inuit traditional knowledge, community consultations and reporting, and most recently an aerial survey that was led by the Torngat Secretariat and which included Inuit participants from Nain and Kangiqsualujjuaq.”
Health and wellness
Another plenary presentation, titled Health and Wellness, included Melita Paul.
Ms. Paul, a community health worker with the NunatuKavut Community Council, is well versed in the subject. As a co-author of the 2012 NunatuKavut Community Council Health Needs Assessment: A Community-Based Research Report, she knows her people’s health depends on incorporating reconciliation and relationality in academic pursuits, and doing so with a northern point of view.
“Universities come to do research, but for this study we secured the money, we went looking for the researchers, we did the interviewing — the data was our own,” she said. “This made the study more personable and engaged people from our own communities. It got people talking about health priorities.”
Ms. Paul said the importance of conducting NunatuKavut-driven research and reporting is made even more apparent when it comes to combatting pervasive myths about Indigenous Peoples. One of these myths is that all Indigenous Peoples have health benefits.
“People of NunatuKavut do not have the privilege of having medications and medical travel covered by non-insured health benefits, which again for our people becomes a community responsibility,” said Ms. Paul.
“Often times, especially during times of extended health issues like cancer, communities come together to fundraise and support families in need and crises. This shows again how health is a community’s concern.”
‘We sought balance’
For Grand Chief Qupee, community — the collective good — is the foundation of her culture, a point she reiterated in her opening words.
“It’s time to work together, all of us who value the land and the resources to understand what is happening and act together to ensure the things that we care most about are maintained for future generations,” she said.
“I am proud to say the Innu are among the last truly nomadic hunting peoples in the world. We sought balance and learned to do so through our parents and grandparents, who in turn learned this from theirs to respect the land and the animals. I invite you to listen and take away and come back to us as we renew the relationship and together strengthen and create a deeper understanding of the work upon us.”
You can find the full itinerary of the 2017 Labrador Research Forum online.