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Passion for knowledge

Labrador Institute International Indigenous Intern announced

Part of a special back to school featuring student voices, student success and important resources available to Memorial University students.


By Mandy Cook

As is often the case, the third, and final, Labrador Institute International Intern was inspired by those who preceded her to apply for the Northern-based opportunity.

“I remember following along the past two interns, Matthew Pike and Jennelle Doyle, over the past two years and thought what an amazing opportunity it would be,” said Michelle Saunders, the 2018 Labrador Institute International Indigenous Intern.

Ms. Saunders, a 22-year-old recent Memorial bachelor of science graduate (with a concentration in ecology and conservation) is an Inuit woman from Happy Valley-Goose Bay, whose family is originally from Davis Inlet, Rigolet, and other Inuit communities in Labrador.

Michelle Saunders with her dog Sasha.
Photo: Submitted

Scandinavian experience

The internship will give Ms. Saunders the opportunity to live and work abroad while gaining a perspective on Indigenous cultures in Norway and Finland, which she will then share throughout Labrador schools, as well as a university class, upon her return home.

“Participation in the Labrador Institute International Indigenous Internship program is a wonderful way to learn about and share international Indigenous issues, including environmental protection, cultural heritage, governance, education, health, social justice, and language retention,” said Karen Pottle-Fewer, the program’s co-ordinator.

“This is an excellent opportunity to connect an Indigenous youth from Labrador with Indigenous leaders, government representatives, and organizations in Finland and Norway to enhance learning and create opportunities for inspiring and transformative North-to-North partnerships,” said Dr. Ashlee Cunsolo, director of the Labrador Institute.

The internship will take shape in the form of a two-month stint starting in January 2019 in Rovaniemi, Finland, with the University of the Arctic (UArctic) located at the University of Lapland, and another two months in Tromsø, Norway, with the Arctic Council Indigenous People’s Secretariat (IPS).

“I’m really looking forward to meeting other Indigenous youth, researchers and people of Finland and Norway and learning more about their culture whilst also showing mine,” said Ms. Saunders. “As well, working with UArctic and the IPS will be an amazing opportunity to see what they do at these organizations and how this can help me with my career.”

Western, scientific and traditional

Career-focused, she is.

As part and parcel of her passion, combining Western, scientific and traditional Indigenous knowledge, she is already working on a field guide to the birds of Nunatsiavut. Thanks to a successful grant application through the Tradition and Transition Partnership, she and her co-investigator, Dr. Ian Jones of Memorial’s biology department in the Faculty of Science, received funding to conduct field work this past summer along Labrador’s North Coast.

The researchers conducted community meetings, photographed birds of the region and gathered traditional knowledge from community residents to be included in the guide.

“Our plan is to have the guide written with a specific focus on subsistence use, cultural significance and folklore about birds, as well as all or at least most of the photographs be taken in Nunatsiavut and by Nunatsiavummiut,” Ms. Saunders said.

Michelle Saunders at Gannet Islands, Labrador’s largest seabird reserve.
Photo: Submitted

In addition to furthering her own work in this area, Ms. Saunders hopes the internship experience will allow her to encourage other Indigenous youth to pursue their own research, as well as to make connections with international Indigenous groups.

During the Labrador-based month of the internship, she says she hopes to speak with as many Indigenous youth as she can to show them what they can do during and after post-secondary education.

“Being Inuit and from Labrador, this seemed to be an unreachable feat at times, and I’m hoping to show the youth that you can really do whatever you like to do.”

The Labrador Institute thanks all its valued partners who are involved in this initiative, including the International Grenfell Association, Nunatsiavut, NunatuKavut, the Indigenous People’s Secretariat and the University of the Arctic.


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