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Leadership shift

Community-focused research to remain at centre of Tradition and Transition partnership


By Jeff Green

A shift in leadership roles on one of Memorial’s largest research projects is allowing the new principal investigator to further her interest in Indigenous research.

Dr. Lisa Rankin, professor, Department of Archaeology, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, and Memorial University Research Chair, Northern Indigenous Community Archaeology, took over the lead role with the Tradition and Transition Among the Labrador Inuit project in early January.

Dr. Lisa Rankin is the new principal investigator with the Tradition and Transition Among the Labrador Inuit project.
Dr. Lisa Rankin is the new principal investigator of the Tradition and Transition Among the Labrador Inuit project.
Photo: Richard Blenkinsopp

She succeeds Dr. Tom Gordon, professor emeritus, School of Music, who has taken a step back to focus on his own research.

Dr. Rankin says she has “a lot to live up to.”

“It is exciting and daunting at the same time,” she told the Gazette. “But, I really enjoy working in an interdisciplinary setting and particularly working with the communities in Nunatsiavut, so this is a great opportunity for me to learn a lot more about community priorities and the ways in which Memorial and our other partner organizations can help these communities to realize their goals.”

Strengthen knowledge

Launched in 2015, Tradition and Transition is a five-year partnership between Memorial University and the Nunatsiavut Government, which represents Labrador Inuit.

The goal of the partnership is to strengthen both traditional Inuit knowledge and the research being done in Nunatsiavut in order to ensure the continuing vitality of Labrador Inuit culture.

The project is supported by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) partnership grant valued at $2.3 million; investments of $1.6 million from the Nunatsiavut Government and $1.38 million from Memorial; and $2.12 million in combined contributions from 20 partner organizations, for a total of $7.4 million.

Community-focused research

During his tenure as principal investigator, Dr. Gordon played a key role in establishing the partnership and collaborating with the wider community. In the coming years, Dr. Rankin will focus on several ongoing research activities and projects — such as those in Rigolet and Hopedale — and a number of new initiatives, as well.

“Three of the biggest goals for this year will be to conduct research and schedule events around the commemoration of the 100 year anniversary of the tragedy at Okak, when the community was decimated by the 1918 flu epidemic,” Dr. Rankin said.

“Another project is to get a series of edited volumes resulting from the 2016 Inuit Studies conference hosted by the partnership to press. There are multiple volumes on art, leadership, film, archaeology and more planned. In my spare time, I am trying to edit a volume on the archaeology of the Rigolet area for Newfoundland and Labrador Studies.”

Dr. Lisa Rankin in her Queen's College laboratory.
Dr. Lisa Rankin in her Queen’s College laboratory.
Photo: Richard Blenkinsopp

There are also plans to publish the first of a series of Inukbooks and get two more to press.

“These are illustrated children’s books written in the Labrador dialect of Inuktitut and will be used for language learning as well as fun reading,” Dr. Rankin said. “The stories and art work are derived from Nunatsiavut communities.”

Dr. Rankin says the partnership is also looking at ways to archive all of its data to make it accessible to people in the communities through the development of a digital archive, while continuing to provide research experience for undergraduate and graduate students, as well as post-doctoral scholar and members of the community.

Special obligation to N.L.

The collaborative, multidisciplinary research at the heart of the Tradition and Transition partnership demonstrates the kind of research that Memorial has always excelled at, says Dr. Rankin, who believes this work largely stems from Memorial’s special obligation to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

“This obligation has prioritized community-based research agendas, promoting social justice at the local scale by providing education, training, economic opportunities, and more recently, paths toward reconciliation. All this began long before community engagement and knowledge transfer was institutionalized elsewhere.”

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