Northern-Led Leadership in Higher Education

Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 10.07.11 AM

The following Op-Ed was published on March 20, 2017 on the MUN Gazette, as part of a special feature celebrating and recognizing the contribution and impact of Aboriginal Peoples in N.L. and highlighting contemporary topics and opportunities related to Indigenous Peoples worldwide. This theme coincides with Aboriginal Peoples Week 2017: Building Reconciliation taking place at Memorial from March 20-24.

Research in the North has too often focused on answering the questions that the South has about the North.

Increasingly, Northern organizations, governments, researchers, and communities are calling for more leadership when deciding how research and education will be conducted, what research is a priority, and how funding will be controlled and allocated.

This changing academic landscape requires Northern-embedded institutions that can support this transition, and work towards greater sovereignty in higher education in these locations.

With the current federal focus on science, innovation, the North, and renewed relationships, now is the time to enhance already-present institutions to create research and educational strategies that reflect Northern, Indigenous, and remote contexts.

By the North, for the North

One of the unique attributes of the research and educational landscape in Labrador is the presence of the Labrador Institute of Memorial.

“As one of the few university-based units located in the Canadian North, the Labrador Institute occupies an important space in the country’s higher education landscape.”

The Labrador Institute was established 38 years ago with the aim of bringing the resources of Memorial to Labrador and the voices, ideas, needs, and priorities of Labrador to the university.

As one of the few university-based units located in the Canadian North, the Labrador Institute occupies an important space in the country’s higher education landscape, and holds tremendous potential for Northern-led intellectual leadership, high quality educational opportunities that meet local needs and priorities, and innovative research that can make tangible impacts for people and communities.

We are nimble and responsive, and reflective of a different way of understanding and conceptualizing what higher education can do and mean in Northern and Indigenous contexts.

Our commitment to place

Over the past months, I have been leading a strategic revisioning process at the Labrador Institute with the aim to refresh and reframe our activities in Labrador and to ensure that institutionally, we grow and transform within the changing context of Northern leadership and self-determination, including Indigenous Peoples.

“We will be guided by and work in partnership with the three Indigenous governments to strive to decolonize our research, education, and institutional structures.”

Our newly-emerging collective vision is to be a leading public centre of research, education, outreach, and policy, by and for the North.

We are located on the traditional homelands and territories of the Innu and the Inuit, and will be guided by and work in partnership with the three Indigenous governments to strive to decolonize our research, education, and institutional structures, while remaining responsive and committed to place.

Throughout this process, we are reclaiming what it means to be a Northern-based research and education centre, and how higher education can and should be different in the North.

We are striving to create land-based and interdisciplinary graduate programs and educational offerings that are offered in and reflective of the North, and open spaces for key dialogues and leading-edge research.

We are creating research hubs that collaborate on Northern priorities such as food systems, changing environments, marine resources, community health, culture and languages, resource development, and governance and determination.

And we are working to expand the infrastructure and resources in Labrador to support this vision and contribute to intellectual richness, diversity, and leadership in the North and across the country.

Responsibility in a time of reconciliation

These are exciting times with much hope and optimism in the North, and it is imperative we respond with thoughtful and timely support through higher education.

The North will provide essential leadership and, by doing so, will have the opportunity to realize sovereignty in research and education, led by the North, for the North.

As Newfoundland and Labrador’s only university, Memorial takes seriously its special responsibility and commitment to meeting the needs and priorities of the province, including in the North.

As one of the only universities with a full-time presence in a Northern location, Memorial and the Labrador Institute are strongly positioned to continue to be at the leading edge of Northern-led research and contribute to growing research capacity, infrastructure, and partnerships to create positive social changes with lasting impact in the region.

InukBook Project Featured in Canadian Geographic

This past week, members of the InukBook Team attended the Adaptation Canada conference in Ottawa, Ontario, including Dr. Sherilee Harper, Dr. James Ford, Anna Bunce, Derrick Pottle, and Jamie Snook. I had the privilege of representing the team, and presenting our project to a large audience of researchers, decision-makers, government representatives, Indigenous leaders, NGOs.

A journalist from Canadian Geographic wrote a feature on our project, highlighting the potential the InukBook has to support Inuit in making near real-time decisions through active monitoring of environment and health conditions. As an excerpt explains:

All the data that’s collected is specifically meant to meet local and regional needs and priorities,” said Willox. “While we expect much of it will be able to be expanded and inform other parts of the polar North, the key right now is to find a way for Nunatsiavut residents to be able to respond to what they’re experiencing at both the climatic change level and the impacts on health.”

To read the article, click on the picture below.

Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 7.25.32 PM.png

Introducing… the InukSUK Program in Nunatsiavut, Labrador

For the past two years, I’ve been working with some wonderful folks in Nunatsiavut, Labrador to conceptualize, design, and develop an Inuit-led, Inuit-run community-based environment and health monitoring program. The InukSUK program is based on Inuit-identified priorities, ways of knowing, and cultural contexts, and unites cutting-edge app technology with traditional knowledge and storytelling. It’s an exciting new project, and we’re just in the early stages.

If you’re interested in learning more, click on the picture to read the full article, free online.


Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 8.37.29 AM

Big thanks to all the amazing people with whom I get to work:

Dr. Sherilee Harper, Dr. Dan Gillis, Charlie Flowers, Inez Shiwak, Dr. Chris Furgal, Dr. James Ford, Michele Wood, Tom Sheldon, Anna Bunce, Alex Sawatzky, Oliver Cook, and the Rigolet Inuit Community Government. And of course, to all the amazing people in Rigolet who have lent their time, ideas, wisdom, expertise, and knowledge to the development of this app, and will make the program possible. Nakummek!

Something happened on stage tonight…

… and there are no words to describe it. I am left only with raw, visceral emotion, that impacts, that lingers, that stays in your gut and your chest, which moves through your body in ways that you know, now, will change you.

I am left with the deep pain of witnessing such tremendous suffering, such unimaginable sorrow, and such tragedy.

And I am left with deep gratitude for the strength, courage, endurance, perseverance, resilience, power, and love that was demonstrated in that moment, on that stage, by the indomitable and inspirational Elder Agnes “Aggie Baby” Gould.

For 23 years this April, Elder Agnes has unflinchingly faced her grief, loss, and uncertainty to become a strong, powerful, and passionate advocate for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and their loved ones everywhere. She has worked tirelessly to ensure that her sister, and the many other sisters, wives, mothers, daughters, grandmothers, cousins, and friends out there, will not be forgotten. She has lobbied, she has spoken, she has persisted – and now, finally, Canada is moving forward with a National Inquiry, to discover the truths, to find out the stories, to expose another dark corner of Canada.

In 2014, the RCMP released a report attempting to identify how many Indigenous women in Canada have been murdered or gone missing. In this report, they identify that 1,017 Indigenous women and girls were murdered between 1980 and 2012, and 164 are missing. 225 cases are unsolved.  Indigenous women and girls are over-represented at the national homicide level, representing approximately 16% of all female homicides in the country, which is greater than their representation in the female population as a whole.

While the report concluded “that the total number of murdered and missing Aboriginal females exceeds previous public estimates”, many argue that these numbers are low estimates that do not reflect the full story and, that with a National Inquiry, a truer representation will emerge, as current data sources are limited at best.

Behind all the numbers, behind the statistics, behind the reporting, there are faces, and lives, and people, and family and friends who are deeply affected, day after day, who persevere, who fight, who advocate, who reach out, who endure for those they love, for those they will never forget.

We need to honour each and every one of them.

And, as we were reminded last night, this isn’t just a woman’s issue. It is for all of us. We need to stop this violence against everyone, and we need all voices in this dialogue.  We need to stop classifying people on gender identity and sexual identity; we need to stop blaming the victims; we need to stop perpetuating damaging stereotypes that excuse the actions of others, and that have allowed this national tragedy to continue for so many years.

This work and this understanding is part of the Reconciliation journey in Canada. We have no choice to move forward with Reconciliation in this country – and in order to do so, we need to honour, respect, understand, listen, and bear witness to the stories of loss that thousands live with across this country.

And while there are no words to adequately articulate the gift that Agnes gave to all of us through the class last night, to the #taliaqCBU family, there was an outpouring of beauty and love from social media:


Now, there is nothing more to be said other than this:

We listened.

We experienced.

We felt.

We are honoured.

We are humbled.

We are changed.

Wela’lin, Agnes, for gracing us with your presence, your power, and your spirit. To you – and all the others who have been impacted by Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls – we dedicate our deepest honour, respect, and love.

And now that we heard your story, we will never be the same.

As Jeff Ward said to close out last night’s class, if no one has told you today they love you, let me be the first:

Kesalul. I love you.

Kesasul. I shine on you brightly.

Msit No’kmaq. All my relations.


In solidarity,




 Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls Inquiry 24-Hr National Crisis Line: 1-844-413-6649

 MMIWG Fact Sheet from the Native Women’s Association of Canada

Amnesty International Report

Amnesty International No More Stolen Sisters Campaign

Moose Hide Campaign: “It’s a way to connect us to the healthy warrior within.”

The REDress Project:

Porchlight song by Twin Flames

Hashtags to connect with social media conversations: #MMIW #MMIWG #stolensisters #nomorestolensisters #imnotnext

** Originally published on CBU Blogs on March 1, 2016


Coverage of Climate Change & Mental Health Research

Today, the Toronto Star published the second in a series of articles by Tyler Hamilton examining the many complex facets related to climate change and mental health, and featured our work in Nunatsiavut, Labrador.

Sometimes there are moments in life that change you, that alter you in ways that you can never really fully articulate… and that continue to teach you things years later. This research, and working with the Inuit communities in Nunatsiavut, Labrador, is one of the moments. Hearing the voices, experiences, and wisdom of the people with whom I work is humbling beyond belief. And dealing with, responding too, and hopefully mitigating the mental and emotional impacts of a rapidly changing climate and environment is something that continues, daily, to occupy my thoughts and drive my actions.


An excerpt:

Ashlee Cunsolo Willox, an assistant professor of indigenous studies at Cape Breton University, said the connection between mental health and climate change in Canada’s North is growing stronger and in “urgent” need of further investigation.

“There’s this dialogue that’s just waiting to leap out into the national and international consciousness,” she said. “In Canada, we have this active fishing culture, active farming culture, and large Arctic indigenous groups who are on the front lines of climate change, yet we have been really quiet on this topic.”

This is indeed a national dialogue that needs to happen in this country, and we are in a time in this country that I believe there is a willingness and and ability to listen and to act.

Thank you to Tyler Hamilton for his excellent reporting, and for his interest in this topic. His work is making sure this information and these voices get out, and for that, I am eternally grateful.


The Amazing Moment When We Created A Course & the World Showed Up

That First Monday

 It was midnight on Monday night, and I found myself sitting in my darkened living room, looking out at the water, holding a cup of tea, and scrolling through the hundreds of tweets, messages, and Facebook posts.

I was trying to decompress and reflect on what had happened a few hours earlier, when myself and Stephen Augustine – together with an incredible team from Cape Breton University – launched an educational experiment to create a course that would honour and share Mi’kmaq culture, stories, and wisdom freely to anyone who was interested.

And what a night it was! Joined by an amazing group of in-house participants and over 12,500 online, folks showed up in a BIG way. And we have been inundated with messages from around the globe ever since!

It is hard not to feel humbled. It is hard not to feel honoured. And it is hard not to be overwhelmed by emotion – emotion at the power and the words of what was being shared; emotion at witnessing a conversation erupt across this country, and in 26 different countries, which was celebrating and respecting and giving space to Indigenous culture; emotion at the ways in which people were able to connect with the course, resonate with the learning, and reach out to us and to each other.

Wow. Just wow.

So many themes came out from all these interactions. Some of our favourites (and sticking with the symbolism of the number 7) include:

  1. Freely available courses are awesome!

Indeed they are – we couldn’t agree more! So many people have reached out to thank us for putting this course online and making it freely available to anyone who wanted to tune in, connect, listen, and learn. And so many congratulated us on a ‘groundbreaking course’. Ah thanks – you are welcome., and we are flattered. Thank you for coming out and giving your time to this learning journey! Wela’liek!


  1. Learning about Indigenous culture is essential… because it’s 2016.

We were overwhelmed by the incredible sentiments from around the world celebrating and supporting Mi’kmaq culture and Indigenous wisdom. So many of those who joined us expressed that now is the time for ‘learning, understanding, and respecting’. Welcome to 2016.


  1. This is what Canada is all about

We received so many great tweets from people living coast to coast to coast articulating that Mi’kmaq culture, Indigenous cultures, and Indigenous ways of knowing, are really what it means to live in this country – and that it is the responsibility of everyone to learn as much as possible about First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples.


  1. This history has been silenced far too long…but it’s still here

So many expressed outrage and frustration and the ways in which the histories of Indigenous peoples in Canada have been long-silenced, marginalized, and tokenized. People showed us they want to change, they want to learn, and they want to move forward with deeper understanding for better Nation-to-Nation relationships. Even after all the abuses and traumas and mass inequities inflicted on Indigenous peoples, Stephen said it well: “Guess what? I’m still here!”


  1. Combining ancient teachings with 21st Century digital media is cool

We couldn’t agree more – it is cool! We have been thrilled to be able to beam in these stories and teachings to thousands of people around the globe, and continue to share them through the archived videos. Thanks to Bell Aliant for the partnership. It was quite the moment to have Stephen sharing a ceremonial telling of an ancient story, while social media lit up with thanks, gratitude, and response.


  1. Humour is the best medicine, and the best healing

And of course, we can’t forget the humour: the wonderful and warm humour for which Stephen is known; the slip-of-the-tongue that led to the hashtag #StephenMedia; the joke that #taliaqCBU was trending above Han Solo in Canada, leading to the hilarious hashtags of #StephenSolo and #MaytheCreatorBeWith and several great memes. To share these moments of humour and healing with audiences near and far, and have people respond with kindness and hilarity, is a gift beyond imagining. Keep ‘em coming! (And FYI – I’m still waiting for the ‘Magical Mi’kmaq Unicorn’ Meme…).



  1. The Creation Story has lessons for us all

Not surprisingly, The Creation Story moved many who witnessed Stephen’s sharing. So many people experienced deep resonance with the lessons and timeless teachings in the story, understanding that within this story lies deep wisdom for living better in this world. Many people also produced beautiful art and poetry in response, and we were in awe. Thank you. Truly.

Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 10.46.09 PM.png


The Truth About Stories…

And on the note of The Creation Story: as some of you may have noticed, one of the resources we are recommending for this course is Thomas King’s The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative. This is one of our favourites. Witty and disarming, powerful and pointed, King weaves an amazing narrative of Indigenous identity, cultural resurgence, and the importance of storytelling.

As he writes: “The truth about stories is that that’s all we are. ‘You can’t understand the world without telling a story,’ the Anishinabe writer Gerald Vizenor tells us. ‘There isn’t any center to the world but a story’” (King 2003, 32).

And this is what The Creation Story is: it’s the centre, it’s the pivot upon which life can be understood, it’s the hinge that allows us to move within multiple points of understanding, it’s the mechanism through which we can continually learn, reflect, and learn again. It speaks to us and tells us what we need to hear, in the moment we need to hear it.

It is there for us when we need it. And it will change each time we hear it.

And now that we have heard it, we have a responsibility. A responsibility to remember, listen, respect, honour, and respond.

As King writes, “It’s yours. Do with it what you will. Make it the topic of a discussion group at a scholarly conference Put it on the Web. Forget it, but don’t say in the years to come that you would have lived your life differently if only you had heard this story. You’ve heard it now.” (2003, 60).

Wela’liek, and see you soon.


Originally posted on here.

Climate Change & Inuit Mental Health

Today, an agreement is being tabled at COP21, calling on over 200 countries to sign on. As we continue these national and international dialogues, it is important to remember human impacts, including human suffering, distress, and psychological impacts.

I am pleased to share this new ebook feature through Adjacent Government that was just released to coincide with COP21. Click on the picture below to access the article.

Screen Shot 2015-12-12 at 12.34.43 PM