Finding and Using our Voices to #MakeMuskratRight: A Collaborative Open Letter from Students and Young Researchers

As a graduate student and young researcher, it often feels as if I am in a perpetual state of development.

Like many other young researchers, I am constantly challenged to reflect on the role I can play within research, as well as how I can do meaningful work from within that role. I am also challenged to think critically about the role(s) research itself can play within decision-making processes that involve multiple, diverse groups and knowledge sources.

Amidst all of this reflection on my academic and personal development, it is easy to feel lost. It is easy to feel like my voice as a researcher-in-progress is not yet worthy of being heard simply because I am still learning what that voice is, let alone how I can and should use it.

That said, I believe part of learning how to be a better researcher—and indeed a better person—involves immersing myself in the process of finding my voice when speaking about issues close to my heart. Finding that voice, learning how to use it, and choosing to use it is a deeply personal act that necessarily requires regular, intense reflexive exercises.

Reflexivity in research is the process of examining both your role as a researcher, and how your values, beliefs, and positionality influence your work.

Sometimes it can feel like these reflective exercises are fruitless, as they don’t always lead to tangible outputs that make us feel “productive”. Not to mention it can be difficult to make time to reflect on your positionality when you have a long to-do list of other, more “productive” research-related activities.

But reflexivity is, I would argue, one of the most important, useful, and productive research-related activities out there. For me at least, reflecting on how the interconnections between my research and my life inform and strengthen each other helps me to question my role in research. In turn, this enables me to explore how to target my efforts to engage in positive social change.

I am privileged to be one of many voices within an incredible lab group that truly believes in the importance of uniting research with Indigenous knowledge and local leadership, to create positive social change and contribute to evidence-based decision-making.

I am also privileged to be working alongside many of the Muskrat Falls land protectors through my research with the Inuit community of Rigolet over the past year. During this time, my heart has grown with love for the people, the place, and the project I am so lucky to be a part of. In the process of growing, my heart has also been changed in ways I could have never expected.

Last week, some members of our lab group met with Drs. Sheri Harper and Ashlee Cunsolo to discuss the current situation and issues surrounding the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric dam development in Labrador, and the imperative need to #MakeMuskratRight. As young researchers, we were frustrated with how Nalcor Energy, the provincial energy corporation of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, made decisions surrounding the development of this dam without regard for Indigenous voices and evidence-based decision-making processes.

We wanted to find a way to channel our individual voices into a collective expression of our frustration with this situation. Through much discussion and reflection, we decided an open letter would be the best means of expression.

With guidance and mentorship from Sheri and Ashlee, we were encouraged to think about what we could add to the dialogue surrounding Muskrat Falls that hadn’t already been said, and that didn’t take away from the strength and validity of the voices that were already speaking. Specifically, how could we use our voices without getting carried away with our passion and emotions while also not losing our passion and emotions in the process?

With this letter, we want to show how our positionalities as students and young researchers enable us to speak openly and authentically about the kind of world we want to work within. As stated so eloquently by Ashlee Cunsolo, this world already exists; we see it being created and fought for by the Muskrat Falls land protectors.

With this letter, we also want to express our solidarity with the Inuit and Innu communities, and all the Indigenous peoples of Labrador. With all the concerned citizens and organizations who have expressed concern and condemnation for this development. With all those who are leading the pathway forward in reconciliation.

To all of the Land Protectors in Labrador: Nakummek. Thank you. We are standing with you.

echo-lab-collaborative-open-letter

PDF version: echo-lab-collaborative-open-letter

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