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President highlights aboriginal initiatives in Labrador address

Speaking at Labrador Expo 2011 on June 28, Dr. Gary Kachanoski echoed the annual conference and trade show's theme, From Opportunity to Prosperity, in his comments and underscored Memorial's commitment to the region.

Memorial's president highlighted a long list of initiatives and opportunities for the university in Labrador, paying special attention to the aboriginal experience and Memorial's plans to help create a new generation of Labradorian leaders as a result of the Presidential Task Force on Aboriginal Initiatives.

Initiated in 2009, the task force was chaired by Dr. Evan Simpson, vice president (academic) pro tempore, and included several representatives from Newfoundland and Labrador's aboriginal groups. The task force outlined 22 recommendations designed to enhance the success of aboriginal students of all ages, which will be implemented gradually during the next two years.

Referring to the specific need for young people in aboriginal communities to receive higher education, Dr. Kachanoski outlined the four themes the task force focused on. They include early intervention, individual success, educational programming and coordination.

"In our role as educators we develop the intellectual capacity of young people so that they are ready and able to take advantage of the many opportunities that will be available to them," said Dr. Kachanoski, who delivered the keynote address during Tuesday's luncheon. "Those of you in the audience who are employers demand access to a well-trained, intelligent, creative and talented pool of potential employees."

In his speech, Dr. Kachanoski noted that the university is working on a Labrador initiative and has effectively doubled the base budget for the Labrador Institute. As a result, several new faculty members will be located in Labrador.

"As residents of Labrador, our new faculty and their research and education teams of postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, and research assistants will join you as champions for this region," he said. "The combined result will be the building of regional and northern research capacity, and significant increased outreach capacity and support for partnerships with communities, aboriginal groups and industry."

These faculty members will be based at Memorial's Labrador Institute, the university's multidisciplinary administrative unit based in Happy-Valley-Goose Bay and in Northwest River and Labrador City.

Memorial's proposed new Research Plan supports excellence in 10 strategic research themes, including Aboriginal Peoples, the Arctic and Northern Regions, and Environment and Natural Resources, among others. In his speech Dr. Kachanoski noted the effectiveness of the collaborative relationship between industry, university and government in the ocean technology sector located in St. John's.

"Memorial University, through the Labrador Institute, can also be a catalyst here," Dr. Kachanoski explained. "We are open to possibilities, and open to working with industry and community partners – with you – to shape the direction of the institute's work in Labrador."

Dr. Kachanoski also highlighted Memorial's significant education and research initiatives that are already underway in Labrador.

Among these activities are two books, A Very Rough Country and Polar Bear on the Rock.

A Very Rough Country is a collection from the Labrador Explorations Symposium Proceedings compiled by Martha MacDonald, a folklorist who works as associate director of Memorial's Labrador Institute.

It is a detailed introduction to Labrador history, culture and exploration; a complement to the academic literature that currently exists about Labrador, and an informative, exciting and emotional adventure that takes the reader through the Labrador wilderness. Among its contributors is Elizabeth Penashue who holds an honorary doctorate from the university.

Polar Bear in the Rock is a children's book that explores Labrador's unique geology and part of its traditional lore with input from Dr. Derek Wilton of Memorial's earth Sciences department.