Northern Lights

Posted in anthropology, Labrador on January 11th, 2011 by Emily S. Channell-Justice

The new year started with sad news, that of the death of Judy Bonds, one of West Virginia’s most respected, famed, and generous activists. Unfortunately I was never lucky enough to meet Judy, but her spirit and dedication permeate the movement against mountaintop removal in Appalachia – her memory will be a guiding light for the years to come.

There are a few West Virginia-based issues I’m thinking of writing about in the coming weeks, but for now, my energy has been focused north. Just about as north as you can imagine, really…

This semester, I have the great opportunity to travel with Professor Kirk Dombrowski (who I’ve worked with at John Jay College for about a year and a half) to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, the “hub” of Labrador, Canada, where he’s doing a research project in the town of about 8,000 people. Last spring, Kirk was in Nain, the northernmost town of Labrador, doing a study of social networks among a mostly Inuit population. In Goose Bay, we’ll be doing a similar study where we discuss different types of social networks – food sharing, traditional knowledge, kinship, alcohol co-use, housing, etc. – that people have in a bigger town with a much more mixed population (Innu, Inuit, Inuit Metis, white, etc.). I’ve been generating background research about the region for the entire time I’ve been working with Kirk, and now I’m in the process of analyzing the kinship data from the Nain project. Now I’ll be adding data from Goose Bay and hopefully expanding this network study.

I’ll be doing interviews with folks in Goose Bay for two weeks in February, which is not only a great chance to stretch my researcher wings but also to experience a really remote and misunderstood place. I say this because anthropologists have been dealing with Native American groups for nearly two centuries, and it’s only really maybe in the past two decades that we’ve really been able to portray them in a way that reflects the impact of white settlers on their populations. Because of relocations and land claims, most native groups in the US and Canada have been uprooted and squeezed onto small tracts of land with government-run schools and minimal job opportunities – rates of unemployment, alcoholism, domestic violence, and suicide are all quite high. Furthermore, extraction companies are recently attempting to come up with new land use agreements with native groups and the Canadian government that will allow them to mine for resources like uranium and nickel, providing some jobs but greatly impacting land and environment. By looking at people’s social networks, we’re hoping to try to understand a community based on the way that they see and use it, not the way that the Canadian Government has decided it should work.

While I doubt I will have much time for blogging while I’m there, I will definitely put a write-up of the experience here when I return. In the meantime, I highly suggest reading Anastasia Shkilnyk’s A Poison Stronger Than Love, which is about the Canadian Ojibwa and is an amazing book depicting the changes this group faced and the truly hideous things that happened to them again and again.

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