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Research needed in many areas

Lure of Labrador

(December 2, 1999, Gazette)

A vista from Northwest River looking across at Sheshatshiu.
Photo by David Sorensen

By David Sorensen

Considering the size and diversity of Labrador, it’s not surprising there is plenty of research potential in this province’s north. And while Memorial is engaged in research across many disciplines in that region, people in Labrador suggested a raft of other areas that need attention, at a workshop sponsored by Memorial Labrador Institute last month.

The Labrador Workshop was an opportunity for Memorial researchers to talk about their work. But the workshop in Happy Valley-Goose Bay Nov. 18-21 also gave local groups and individuals a chance to point out opportunities in the northern part of the province.

Many Labradorians want answers to pressing questions affecting their social and economic well-being. They want information on subjects ranging from schools, roads and hospitals to rocks, plants and animals.
Harvey Best, director of the Labrador Institute, said the goals of the workshop – to identify a list of projects to be pursued and to develop dialogue between community and faculty – are also the goals of the Labrador Institute.

School board administrators Roger Nippard and Cal Patey were first up at the workshop, pointing out the need for research support for northern schools.

Mr. Nippard said that “the assumed strengths of small rural schools must be investigated as part of a concerted research agenda.” He was one of many speakers from Labrador to identify advances in telecommunications as a key for the north.

Martha MacDonald, pointed to the great potential for folklore studies in Labrador. She said Memorial’s folklore department had combed Newfoundland’s bays and inlets over the past 30 years, collecting data on dialects, music and storytelling, just to name a few areas. She said the same could happen in Labrador.

A suggestion for the study of dialect followed shortly after. Canon Derek Thomas said he’s been informally studying the distinctiveness of Labrador Inuktitut, the language of the Inuit. He said even a casual observer could see the influence of the Moravian missionaries on the language of Labrador’s Inuit, but suggested a more rigourous academic approach to studying the differences.

It wasn’t only Labradorians who presented ideas for research during the Labrador Workshop. Dr. Hans Rollmann of Memorial’s Religious Studies department gave a fascinating presentation about the university’s vast archive of material from the Moravian missionaries in Labrador.

The first Moravian missionaries set foot in Labrador in 1752 and by 1771 they had established their first permanent settlement in Nain. To the benefit of future researchers, members of the German religious order were meticulous record-keepers, he said. The result is stacks of material about 18th and 19th century Labrador. And they were not passive observers, explained Dr. Rollmann. “For 150 years, they affected all aspects of aboriginal and settler life in Labrador,” he said.
With three major collections of material, Memorial has about 160 reels of microfilm containing Moravian archival material.

“These records are a unique window on Moravian, Inuit and Innu life.”
Dr. Rollmann said these records offer an unique opportunity for researchers. Among his suggestions for study was women’s studies – Moravian women were active participants in missionary work. He also pointed out that detailed scientific observations contained in some of the material would be useful for comparative scientific research today.

Even Memorial president Dr. Axel Meisen got into the act of suggesting research ideas. Speaking dinner on Saturday night, Dr. Meisen said the vast reserves of natural gas off the Labrador coast could bring huge economic benefit to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

However, there are major technical problems getting natural gas from offshore to markets, particularly in ice-infested northern waters.
“MUN and C-CORE can get these problems solved,” he said.

While there were many suggestions for research endeavours in Labrador, there was also a note of caution. Larry Innes, an advisor to the Innu Nation, said researchers must respect native people when conducting research. That means consulting with them before carrying out research in their communities. Mr. Innes also suggested disclosing the nature of the research underway, respecting the intellectual property rights of the Innu, incorporating Innu communities in the research activity where possible, and reporting the results of any research to the communities.

Respect for the people of Labrador was a unifying theme of speakers during the workshop.

“Projects undertaken without consultation will not be a benefit to the people of Labrador,” said Yvonne Jones, MHA for Cartwright-L’Anse au Clair.