New centre promises more Inuit researchers

Laval University home to Canada-wide program



A new centre at Laval University promises to make over the face of scientific research in Canada’s North by encouraging Inuit to pursue careers in the health sciences.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research, a federal agency based in Ottawa with centres across the country, and the CIHR’s Institute of Aboriginal Peoples’ Health, opened the $1.5-million centre for Inuit Health and Changing Environments on June 27.

Eric Dewailly, Quebec’s chief medical officer for environmental health and the centre’s director, said one of its main goals would be to increase the number of Inuit researchers over the coming decade.

Though Inuit traditional knowledge and Inuit communities are used to complement scientific research, Qallunaat scientists conduct most studies in Nunavik, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.

“I’m not sure you can even call it a shortage when it’s zero. It’s an absence,” Dewailly said. “The few Inuit that complete a college degree at a graduate level tend to go into administration, because there is a lot of need there. I’m not sure science has lobbied students well enough. It’s not that it’s not attractive, but it’s not well-known.”

He hopes initiatives like promoting science in northern secondary schools will change this.

The centre, he said, will also approach college students in the Montreal area and offer them summer mentorships with recognized scientists, continuing education opportunities, and possible scholarships.

Having more Inuit researchers in the field, he said, is not simply a question of ensuring studies are relevant to northern communities. It will also help communicate the results of Arctic studies to the people it directly affects.

“It happened in the past that some of the research conducted [by southern scientists alone] was irrelevant [to northern communities] but that’s not the major problem,” he said. “The major problem was the lack of consideration, of going back and conveying information to people that were involved. That was the missing piece.”

The Centre for Inuit Health and Changing Environments will focus on three primary areas of research: environmental change and health, integrating traditional Inuit knowledge with scientific knowledge and monitoring environmental and public health.

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