Canada Has A New Research Chair Focused on Inuit Relations

Caroline Hervé (pictured here) will serve as the New Inuit-Relations Research Chair at Laval University in Quebec, Canada. (Photo: Marc Robitaille)
Laval University (Quebec) in Canada has just hired Caroline Hervé as the new Research Chair focused on Inuit Relations.

Laval University (Quebec) in Canada has just hired Caroline Hervé as the new Research Chair focused on Inuit Relations.

Laval University created a new research Chair in October last year. According to a backgrounder on the position, the new Chair is designed to "support the development of good social relations with Inuit societies. It seeks to produce new knowledge on relations between Inuit and non-Inuit people and on how these relations have changed in recent decades." High North News has interviewed Caroline Hervé, who was recently appointed to the five-year position, via email.


What is the position?

Laval University's Sentinelle Nord program is working toward building the next generation of northern researches, while creating a knowledge hub of northern experts. Ms. Hervé is the most recent addition to their research chair program. This position is funded by Sentinelle Nord and is found in the department of anthropology at Laval University.

When asked about her experience for such a position, Ms. Hervé commented, "For over ten years I have been researching the political dynamics of Inuit societies with a special interest in the relationships the Inuit have built with the Qallunaat (white people) who live and work in the North." She has a doctorate from Laval and did postdoctoral work at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Most recently, she was the executive director for Saturviit, which is the Inuit women’s association of Nunavik.

When asked about her new role, Ms. Hervé explained her new position as having three objectives.  These objectives are:

1. To produce new knowledge on the history and social dynamics of Inuit societies in order to foster better intercultural understanding, whether on the topics of governance, justice, or health.

2. To develop training and educational tools for non-Inuit people (researchers, students, professionals, civil servants, politicians, etc.) to arm these individuals with the cultural and historical knowledge they need in order to build good relationships with the Inuit and provide more effective help for northern communities.

3. To put the Inuit at the forefront of research and educational projects in order to enhance their role as cultural experts.

Her focus will begin with one specific region, Nunavik (the northern region of Quebec), where she lived from 2012-2017. However, she already commented that she is interested in branching out her research to other parts of Canada and hopefully even Alaska.

Ms. Hervé has hit the ground running with her new position, as she is already, “discussing with some of [the regional organizations in Nunavik] to develop activities such as creating training tools for non-Inuit, organizing a forum for Inuit women living in Montreal for them to express their needs, and supporting for example Saturviit's leadership training.”  Yet she also recognizes she is at the start of a long project and is, "defining my 5 year-plan". She goes on to say that she is "open to suggestions from regional partners, governmental administrations and northern communities who want to work on reconciliation."


Why Is this Needed?

When asked why such research is needed in Canada, Ms. Hervé replied: "The Arctic is experiencing major physical, political, and social changes. For these changes to ensure the development of a sustainable society, it is important for the Inuit to be given centre stage."

Her reply mentioned that the Truth and Reconciliation Commision pushed the federal, but also provincial, governments to move forward with the process of reconciliation in Canada and further saying that it is, "important to analyze the nature of relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people and grasp the historical, political, and cultural origins of many cultural misunderstandings."

Ms. Herve also commented that, "[The research chair] will question the responsibility of non-Inuit in the transformation of Inuit lifestyle and the imposition of southern administration and cultural values."


Controversy Around the New Role

Yet not everyone has been happy with the announcement of this position, or that a Canadian from the south of the country will be doing this research. Many, although not all, comments on a recent article published about the position on Nunatsiaq Online were negative.

One commentator, with the username Flawed said, "This study is already flawed before it gets going. I’m hoping no inuit (sic) will participate in this nonsense. The chair appears to know about the misunderstandings north and south. Let me assure you most of the misunderstandings are from people like her. They come into our communities, and stay awhile, and become some type of expert!"

Another comment from a user named Unreal, asked "Where did this come from? To answer whose needs?  Once again, sounds like a colonial perspective on what Inuit need or not.  Did Inuit organizations ask for this?  This ‘chair’ will only serve the needs of university researchers, it will give them a network through which they can conduct studies in Nunavik with Inuit subjects. It is self serving to the extent that it is nearly laughable if it weren’t so blatant."

When asked about comments such as these, Ms. Hervé replied, "Southern researchers cannot ignore the Inuit expertise and perspectives anymore. They have to change their methodologies and welcome the critics from Inuit. This is the reason why the chair will also be a place where we will reflect on how to decolonize science and anthropology. This is why, and I think it is the originality of this chair, the main focus will be the relations between Inuit and non-Inuit, and not Inuit specifically." (Emphasis in original).  

Furthermore, she commented that: "For the chair to take good directions, we will create a direction committee composed of Inuit and non-Inuit."