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Looking to the future through examining the past

Dr. Tom Gordon of Memorial University says it has taken years to see a cultural sustainability project come to life in Labrador. The initiative has now begun.
Dr. Tom Gordon of Memorial University says it has taken years to see a cultural sustainability project come to life in Labrador. The initiative has now begun.

A collaborative project is underway on the topic of cultural sustainability in Labrador.

Dr. Tom Gordon of Memorial University is leading the project, which he said has been in the works for a long time.
“This is a project that’s been three years in the making and in another sense 30 or 40 years,” he said. “It stems from long ago, for the last 30 years, at least, there have been researchers from Memorial and other universities who have worked collaboratively with the people of Nunatsiavut on topics of interest to both parties.”
He said what’s come about is some excellent collaborative research that comes from lived experience and knowledge that comes from observation. A couple of years ago a group of researchers and the minister and deputy minister of culture from the Nunatsiavut government started talking about  doing individual projects in a collaborative, co-ordinated way.
Knowledge bearers from Nunatsiavut could work with academic researchers on the topic of cultural sustainability for the Nunatsiavut,Gordon said.
“Not so much to freeze the Inuit of Labrador into some sort of museum structure, but to get a more profound understanding from these various perspectives,” Gordon said. “What are the values that underscore Inuit identity as Nunatsiavut moves forward, to become a contemporary indigenous government, a contemporary society? How can those values be reflected and maintained in the way the society organizes?”
That was the starting point of the project, known as Tradition and Transition Among the Labrador Inuit, which is funded 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 University; and $2.12 million in combined contributions from 20 partner organizations. Gordon said they went through a 15-month consultation process with the impacted communities before making the research grant submission.
The project has three broad themes: how people are defined by the environment in which they live; the social patterns of how to interact in Nunatsiavut and how that is distinct to the history and the structure of the communities there; and how people express who they are through creative expression, whether through how they speak, the stories they tell, the songs they sing, the embroidery patterns they put on their boots and other forms of creative expression. There are 49 sub-projects that will be under the umbrella of the larger project.
“We’re going through just the widest possible range of topics,” Gordon said. “We have a group working down in Rigolet, for instance, excavating an 18th-century Inuit village at the end of their now infamous boardwalk, which will both tell us about how the people of Rigolet area lived 200 years ago and create something of a tourist attraction for the town. We have a group of people who are working on collecting stories form Inuit storytellers that we can morph into children’s books in Inuktitut so we can help support the early childhood language strategies the Nunatsiavut government has going. We have another group of people who are collecting the stories of women in leadership roles, whether they are political or community leadership roles, chronicling those stories so we can create a bank of role models for people to look at.”
The potential outcomes for the project are far-reaching, Gordon said. One of them is to develop content for the Illusuak cultural centre that’s going to be the home for Nunatsiavut heritage that’s being built in Nain. Another is to developed content for the schools in Nunatsiavut to help them centre their curriculum on Inuit values and stories. They will also use the research to help the government develop policy backgrounders that will help sustain those values in the decision made by government.
“Nunatsiavut is only 10 years old and in that short period of time they developed a very robust research capacity around the environment and research management,” he said. “They haven’t had the opportunity to develop that same quality of resource capacity around matters cultural. We’re hoping because we’re doing this in a collaborative way, engaging as many people as we can on the project that this will be an exercise in capacity building. The youth of Nunatsiavut are in positions to manage their own culture as they go forward.”

The Labradorian

Dr. Tom Gordon of Memorial University is leading the project, which he said has been in the works for a long time.
“This is a project that’s been three years in the making and in another sense 30 or 40 years,” he said. “It stems from long ago, for the last 30 years, at least, there have been researchers from Memorial and other universities who have worked collaboratively with the people of Nunatsiavut on topics of interest to both parties.”
He said what’s come about is some excellent collaborative research that comes from lived experience and knowledge that comes from observation. A couple of years ago a group of researchers and the minister and deputy minister of culture from the Nunatsiavut government started talking about  doing individual projects in a collaborative, co-ordinated way.
Knowledge bearers from Nunatsiavut could work with academic researchers on the topic of cultural sustainability for the Nunatsiavut,Gordon said.
“Not so much to freeze the Inuit of Labrador into some sort of museum structure, but to get a more profound understanding from these various perspectives,” Gordon said. “What are the values that underscore Inuit identity as Nunatsiavut moves forward, to become a contemporary indigenous government, a contemporary society? How can those values be reflected and maintained in the way the society organizes?”
That was the starting point of the project, known as Tradition and Transition Among the Labrador Inuit, which is funded 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 University; and $2.12 million in combined contributions from 20 partner organizations. Gordon said they went through a 15-month consultation process with the impacted communities before making the research grant submission.
The project has three broad themes: how people are defined by the environment in which they live; the social patterns of how to interact in Nunatsiavut and how that is distinct to the history and the structure of the communities there; and how people express who they are through creative expression, whether through how they speak, the stories they tell, the songs they sing, the embroidery patterns they put on their boots and other forms of creative expression. There are 49 sub-projects that will be under the umbrella of the larger project.
“We’re going through just the widest possible range of topics,” Gordon said. “We have a group working down in Rigolet, for instance, excavating an 18th-century Inuit village at the end of their now infamous boardwalk, which will both tell us about how the people of Rigolet area lived 200 years ago and create something of a tourist attraction for the town. We have a group of people who are working on collecting stories form Inuit storytellers that we can morph into children’s books in Inuktitut so we can help support the early childhood language strategies the Nunatsiavut government has going. We have another group of people who are collecting the stories of women in leadership roles, whether they are political or community leadership roles, chronicling those stories so we can create a bank of role models for people to look at.”
The potential outcomes for the project are far-reaching, Gordon said. One of them is to develop content for the Illusuak cultural centre that’s going to be the home for Nunatsiavut heritage that’s being built in Nain. Another is to developed content for the schools in Nunatsiavut to help them centre their curriculum on Inuit values and stories. They will also use the research to help the government develop policy backgrounders that will help sustain those values in the decision made by government.
“Nunatsiavut is only 10 years old and in that short period of time they developed a very robust research capacity around the environment and research management,” he said. “They haven’t had the opportunity to develop that same quality of resource capacity around matters cultural. We’re hoping because we’re doing this in a collaborative way, engaging as many people as we can on the project that this will be an exercise in capacity building. The youth of Nunatsiavut are in positions to manage their own culture as they go forward.”

The Labradorian

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