When I meet new people, and they ask me where I am from, I say Labrador. Just about everyone then asks, “Where is Labrador?”
I have many answers, and the details depend on the audience. Generally I say that Labrador is a big chunk of land on Canada’s northeast coast, that in the wintertime it’s cold with lots of snow and ice, and that we have polar bears, wolves, arctic char, ring seals and caribou. I always add that we have a large indigenous population and that the region is home to some very large mega projects run by multinational conglomerates that extract our resources with little benefit for local people, except a handful of jobs when we are lucky. While Labrador is much more than this, for conversational purposes it’s a good starting point. Interestingly, as I travel around the North I find that much of this description would fit many of the areas served by the University of the Arctic.
Like many other northern areas, we draw researchers from around the world studying topics as diverse as mental health, climate change, food security, and indigenous language retention. My home institution is Memorial University of Newfoundland, and we are very lucky to have a group of passionate researchers and professors who feel that conducting work in Labrador is an important contribution to our province, to our people, and to the world. The Labrador Institute in particular brings together committed academics that work very hard to expand the Labrador knowledge base and to provide new educational opportunities for all Labradorians. Recently the Labrador Institute has received significant support from Memorial and key partner agencies (i.e., ACOA, IBRD, etc.) to increase our capacity to conduct applied and basic research in the region.
For example, Labrador has a limited history of agriculture, mainly because our growing seasons are very short and soil quality is often poor, so one of our new researchers is collaborating with a small group of farmers using Biochar to improve local soils. The goal is to improve local food security and to reduce our dependence on imported produce. Our plan is then to take this knowledge and bring it to other regions of Labrador so it can be tested in smaller and more remote communities.
Another researcher in our midst is conducting archaeological research that has been requested by a local indigenous community. Through this work the community will be better able to plan housing developments for its people while protecting important cultural and historic sites.
Our team has also been developing an indigenous teacher training program, so these individuals can return to their home communities and connect with students in ways that are often difficult for transient instructors to achieve.
Through these and many other projects we are bringing the resources of the academic community to the North to improve the quality of life of people living in our region. Some of our projects are small in scope, and some will take longer than others, but ultimately over time we hope to have a positive impact on the lives of northern peoples, through research, innovation and education right here in Labrador. In this way the Labrador Institute is a mirror of the objectives of the University of the Arctic, in that we are in the North, for the North and by the North.
This article can be found on page 18 in the 2014 edition of Shared Voices.