Gorsebrook Research Institute
Nitassinan is the ancestral homeland of the Innu people. It covers much of the sub-arctic forest and interior barren lands of the Quebec-Labrador peninsula. The idea of Nitassinan is closely linked to Innu identity. It reflects the physical space that people occupy in the hunting, fishing, and trapping activities that sustain them and, through these activities, Nitassinan comes to embody and reflect the principles of Innu culture to those who are born to and live it. The relationship between people and the land in Nitassinan is often described as a moral one where people continually respect and nurture the land and the animals so that they will continue to provide for people. Nitassinan is thus a combination of physical and cultural landscapes. This notion of multi-dimensional landscapes has come to form the basis of a productive and collaborative research partnership in Labrador.
Since 1997, the Innu Nation, Environment Canada, the Gorsebrook Research Institute of Saint Mary's University, and Natural Resources Canada have been exploring new ways to connect Innu knowledge and western science. Our approach began in 1997 with the conceptual category of the Cultural Landscape Unit (CLU) as the basis for generating new knowledge about the biophysical make-up of Labrador. This method started with Innu knowledge and terminology for an element of the landscape that has value and meaning for the Innu and then built a knowledge base of that feature from a number of perspectives. Our hypothesis was that a combined form of ecological knowledge could be developed that recognizes the qualities and limitations of Innu and Scientific knowledge systems and situates both within the specific context of the times they are produced in.
The research partnership focuses on the three following elements:
- Collection of information from Innu experts about Nitassinan. This work has already been started and has collected Innu knowledge on the biological and environmental components of the land, the uses of the land, and the sociological importance of the land.
- Directed science initiatives based on the Innu knowledge of Nitassinan. Specific science initiatives have been undertaken to understand the distribution and function of . Hypotheses will be generated in concert with the Innu people in order to address issues and concern of relevance to them. For example, climate change research will investigate the impacts of modified timing of ashkui formation from physical, biological and cultural perspectives.
- Development of Hybrid Knowledge Products. The design of this project attempts to develop natural linkages between Innu knowledge and western science and as such it is expected that a number of standard output products (i.e. reports, publications, newsletters etc) will be produced that will focus on presentation of the hybrid knowledge. In addition, based on needs expressed by the Innu Nation, we plan to develop an interactive CD-ROM based multi-media application for use in the Innu school system that combines Innu and western science voices, faces and knowledge to describe the importance of the ashkui in the Labrador landscape. In principal it is possible to produce a comprehensive mapping of the landscape of Labrador based on Innu concepts. This mapping effort could then be augmented by a wide range of scientific and indigenous knowledge techniques to create a dynamic database that would serve the needs of a variety of users. From the outset, our research in Labrador has been based on a philosophy of shared interest in which all participants are equals who bring different perspectives and skills to the research agenda. This is, without a doubt, a challenging approach to researchers and Innu alike. It is nevertheless highly rewarding.