Nunatsiavut’s new president has SSHRC ties

Former research collaborator committed to revitalizing Inuit language and culture

Photo: Nain Community / Nunatsiavut / CC BY-NC-ND

Johannes Lampe has just been sworn in as the new president of the regional government of Nunatsiavut, in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Nunatsiavut is the first Inuit region in Canada to achieve self-government. It was formed in 2005 after the signing of the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement. As only its third president, Lampe has vowed to “set a new direction for the Nunatsiasvut government.” One of his main goals is to preserve and reinvigorate Labrador Inuit culture—specifically, to promote the use of its traditional language, Inuktitut.

Lampe, who is an Inuit from the northern coast of Labrador, feels the use of Inuktitut has been in rapid decline over the years. He feels this is primarily due to the resettlement and marginalization of many Inuit who felt discouraged to speak their native language. Statistics back up this view. In 2006, Statistics Canada reported that only seven per cent of Labrador Inuit spoke Inuktitut as the main language at home.

“We owe it to our ancestors and to our youth, while there is still time, to find a way to preserve and promote our language. It will take many years and a lot of hard work on the part of all Labrador Inuit, but I believe it can be done,” he says.

Before becoming president, Lampe had already set the wheels in motion to help see this become a reality. He was an original partner in a SSHRC-funded project with Memorial University and the Nunatsiavut Government: Tradition and Transition Among the Labrador Inuit. This five-year venture, announced in October 2015, is aided by a $2.3 million partnership grant from SSHRC.

An immediate result of the project was the launch on May 17 of the website: Tradition + Transition, in English and Inuktitut. It aims to combine and present the work of researchers from Memorial and other universities exploring the Labrador Inuit’s rich heritage.

The project is also engaging Labrador Inuit in a way never before seen. According to Memorial University, more than 30 Inuit-tradition bearers and academic researchers from across North America will work together to share knowledge about Inuit culture in the hope of helping it flourish. The Tradition + Transition team is consulting with the community to ensure Inuit values are represented on the website.

Tom Gordon, professor emeritus at Memorial ’s School of Music, is the project lead. He has studied Labrador Inuit culture extensively, especially the discovery of classical music manuscripts from the 1800s with text handwritten in Inuktitut.

Gordon remembers the lunch meeting between himself and Lampe in which the idea for this initiative was born.

“We talked about what might emerge from the combined resources of a group of committed academic researchers working together with Inuit Elders with generations of experience of life on the land. Johannes’ vision for the project came to shape our discussion.”

He feels Lampe’s new position as president of Nunatsiavut means his role in the partnership will need to change.

“While he will no longer be part of the day-to-day work of the partnership, we are convinced that we share a vision for a knowledge-based future for the people of Nunatsiavut,” says Gordon. “Language revitalization and cultural sustainability are articles of faith for Johannes, and I anticipate that he will be an ardent advocate for everything that supports those goals.”