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‘Hidden voice’

Students reflect on first year in unique, Labrador-made graduate program

Teaching and Learning

By Courtenay Griffin

One year after the Arctic and Subarctic Futures Graduate Program launched at Memorial’s newest campus in Labrador, student Natalie Jacque is in her glee.

Student, Natalie Jacque, smiles outdoors in winter with the sun shining over the land in the background.
Natalie Jacque on the land.
Photo: Submitted

Working as a teacher in Makkovik, Ms. Jacque had become drawn to the idea of going back to school to challenge herself.

She jumped at the chance to be part of Labrador Campus’s inaugural offering and was one of 14 students accepted into the program last year.

“I have been working alongside an amazing group of people within a program that just seems to fit,” she said. “It’s more like an extended family to me now. With small, intimate courses, everyone knows one another well.”

Launched in May 2023, the program starts each spring so students can explore academic, cultural and personal learning across all seasons in Labrador.

A variety of program pathways are available, including master’s (coursework), master’s (thesis), PhD and diploma options.

In each pathway, students in the unique program have an opportunity to connect with and learn from Indigenous land and cultures that both serve and reflect the North. 

Opportunities at home

“It’s a beautiful program and my first year has been amazing,” says doctoral student Jodie Lane, who was born and raised in Makkovik and currently works as director of education with the Nunatsiavut Government.

A dish from a Labrador-themed cook-off event, presented on a wooden cutting board.
The delicious result of a cook-off assignment.
Photo: Submitted

Ms. Lane always wanted to complete her PhD, but she didn’t want to have to leave her job or her home. The program has changed all of that.

“There are going to be more master’s degrees and PhDs on the coast than ever,” she said. “I’m so pumped to see where this is going.”

Many students in the first cohort already work in various roles in the education field and are focusing their graduate work on education governance, curriculum, language and culture, and mental health.

“I’ll be able to pull on my learning and all these other research topics and theses from the class and apply them,” said Ms. Lane.

Program highlights

Ms. Jacque is completing the master’s thesis pathway of the program.

Natalie wearing rubber gloves crouched over a bin cleaning a sealskin.
Natalie Jacque cleaning a sealskin.
Photo: Submitted

When asked about her highlights from the past year, she jokes that her highlight marker may soon run out of ink.

“From walking the halls of the residential school where my aunt and uncle attended, to having the ulu in my hands, learning about what it takes to clean a sealskin, walking the land, harvesting nourishing food and speaking with farmers, to creating a Labrador-themed menu for our Labrador cook-off assignment — this program is as unique as unique can be, with Indigenous-led knowledge and skills within.”

Ms. Lane points to something she learned about herself from the course, People, Place and Identity.

“One of the first things we were told to do was go outdoors,” she said. “And that sparked a realization in me. The course changed the way I connect with the land. I realized I’m very connected to the land by smell.”

A photo of a shadowbox created by graduate student, Jodie Lane, that depicts a smokehouse made with materials, pictures and scents from the land.
Jodie Lane’s shadowbox of a smokehouse.
Photo: Submitted

In a course shadowbox project, Ms. Lane used this revelation and selected natural materials, scents and pictures she took in the course while learning on the land to depict a smokehouse scene.

“I took berry bushes left over from last year’s smokehouse, soot from my woodstove and things like that. I even rubbed the oil of smoked fish on the outside of the box so people can smell what I experience,” Ms. Lane said.

Hidden voice

Originally from St. John’s, Ms. Jacque knew she wanted a quieter life in a small town and moved to Makkovik 17 years ago where she now lives with her family.

“I knew I wanted to become a teacher within Nunatsiavut because my mom hails from Hopedale. I’ve wanted to close the gap for a long time, to rediscover my roots and reconnect to my Inuit identity.”

While Ms. Jacque never considered herself to be a studious person, the idea of challenging herself and going back to school became hard to ignore, especially when she heard about the Arctic and Subarctic Futures Graduate Program.

“I have found a hidden voice within myself.” — Natalie Jacque

One year later, she says the program has already made an impact.

“I have found a hidden voice within myself,” she said. “This program has shown that I can be confident and that I am capable of those studious skills after all.

“I have begun creative writing again, thanks to a creative writing portfolio used in one of my courses,” she continued. “I enjoy the alternate and artistic forms of writing, learning and working, and I feel I have found that within this program.”

‘It’s beautiful’

According to Ms. Lane, the Labrador Campus programing is a game-changer.

“Not only does the campus give ownership to those of us in the program,” she said, “but it’s knowing we can contribute in a way that can impact the future that makes it much more valuable to us. It’s beautiful, and the way Labrador Campus supports its students is just mind-blowing.”

Ms. Jacque encourages anyone considering applying for the program to go for it.

“It’s a path I’m thrilled to have taken.”

The Labrador Campus recently welcomed a second cohort of 12 graduate students into the program in May 2024.

For information about the Arctic and Subarctic Futures Graduate Program, visit the Labrador Campus website. 

A teepee frame in the sunset on the edge of a lake
A teepee frame overlooking the shore of Lake Melville in Northwest River, Labrador.
Photo: Britt Bailey

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