Innu

Innu

The Innu are the indigenous inhabitants of an area they refer to as Nitassinan, which comprises most of what other Canadians refer to as eastern Quebec and Labrador, Canada. Their population in 2003 includes about 18,000 persons, of which 15,000 live in Quebec. They are known to have lived on these lands as hunter-gatherers for several thousand years, living in tents made of animal skins. Their subsistence activities were historically centred on hunting and trapping caribou, moose, deer and small game. Some coastal clans also practised agriculture, fished, and managed maple sugarbush. Their language, Innu-aimun or Montagnais, is spoken throughout Nitassinan, with certain dialect differences. Innu-aimun is related to the language spoken by the Cree of the James Bay region of Quebec and Ontario.

Montagnais, Naskapi or Innu

The Innu people are frequently categorized into two groups, the Montagnais who live along the north shore of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, in Quebec, and the less numerous Naskapi who live farther north. The Innu themselves recognize several distinctions (e.g. Mushuau Innuat, Maskuanu Innut, Uashau Innuat) based on different regional affiliations and various dialects of the Innu language.

The word "Naskapi" (meaning "people beyond the horizon") first made an appearance in the 17th century and was subsequently applied to Innu groups beyond the reach of missionary influence, most notably those living in the lands which bordered Ungava Bay and the northern Labrador coast, near the Inuit communities of northern Quebec and northern Labrador. It is here that this term finally settled upon the Naskapi First Nation. The Naskapi are traditionally nomadic peoples, in contrast with the territorial Montagnais. Mushuau Innuat (plural), while related to the Naskapi, split off from the tribe in the 1900s and were subject to a government relocation program at Davis Inlet. The Naskapi language and culture is quite different from the Montagnais, in which the dialect changes from y to n as in "Iiyuu" versus "Innu". Some of the families of the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach have close relatives in the Cree village of Whapmagoostui, on the eastern shore of Hudson Bay.

Since 1990, the Montagnais people have generally been officially referred to as the Innu, which means human being in Innu-aimun, while the Naskapi have continued to use the word "Naskapi".

The Innu should not be confused with the Inuit, a distinct people who live in the Canadian Arctic. Although their languages vary in source, the word itself derives from the same root, meaning "people".

History

The Innu of Labrador and those living on the north shore of the Gulf of Saint-Lawrence have never officially surrendered their territory to Canada by way of treaty or other agreement. As the forest and mining operations began at the turn of the 20th century, the Innu became increasingly settled in coastal communities and in the interior of Quebec. The settlement of the Innu was furthermore encouraged by the Canadian government, the provinces of Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as the Catholic, Moravian, and Anglican churches, thus changing their traditional lifestyle. However, with the gradual decline of traditional activities (hunting, trapping, fishing), life in these permanent settlements was often marred by high levels of alcoholism, substance abuse by children, domestic violence and suicide.

Davis Inlet, Labrador

Survival International published in 1999 a scathing study of the Innu communities of Labrador and the impact of the Canadian government's policy of relocating them far away from their ancestral lands and preventing them from practising their ancient way of life. Survival International considered these policies to be in violation of international law and have drawn parallels with the treatment of Tibetans by the People's Republic of China. During the period from 1990 to 1997, according to the Survival International study, the Innu community of Davis Inlet had a suicide rate more than twelve times the Canadian average, and well over three times the rate often observed in isolated northern villages.

By 2000, the Innu island community of Davis Inlet asked the Canadian government to assist with a local addiction crisis and the community was moved, at their request, to a nearby mainland location now known as Natuashish. At the same time, the Canadian government created the Natuashish and Sheshatshiu band councils under the Indian Act.

Kawawachikamach, Québec

The Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach, of Quebec, is the only Quebec First Nations community that has signed a comprehensive land claims settlement, the Northeastern Quebec Agreement, in 1978. Since that date, the Naskapi of Kawawachikamach are no longer subject to the Indian Act, as are all Innu communities of Quebec.

Natuashish and Sheshatshiu, Newfoundland

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams struck a deal on September 26, 2008 with Labrador's Innu, that would allow construction for a hydroelectric megaproject to procede on the proposed Lower Churchill site and compensation for another project on the Upper Churchill where large tracts of traditional Innu hunting lands were flooded. Jdumont (Jdumont) 01:03, 27 September 2008 (UTC)

Culture

The best-known members of the Innu nation are the folk rock duo Kashtin of Quebec.

A well-known example of a traditional Innu craft is the Innu Tea Doll. These beautifully crafted children's toys originally served a dual purpose for nomadic Innu tribes. When traveling vast distances over challenging terrain, nothing was left behind. Everyone needed to help with the transportation of essential goods - including young children. Innu women developed intricate dolls made from caribou hides and scraps of cloth. These dolls were filled with tea and given to young girls to carry on long journeys. The young girls played with the dolls while simultaneously transporting important goods on behalf of the tribe.

Food

Animals eaten: moose, caribou, bear, beaver, porcupine, fox, hare, marten, woodchuck, wolverine, squirrel, Canada geese, snow geese, brants, ducks, teals, loons, spruce grouse, woodcocks, snipes, passenger pigeons, ptarmigan, eel, whitefish, lake trout, salmon, pike, walleye, seals, sucker (Catostomidae), sturgeon, catfish, lamprey, smelt, turtles. Eels were eaten fresh and smoke-dried. Moose meat and several types of fish were also smoked.

Plants: raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, cherries, wild grapes, hazelnuts, wild apples, red martagon bulbs, Indian potato, maple tree sap. Cornmeal was traded for with Iroquois, Algonquin, and Abenaki.

Innu communities

Labrador

Quebec

External links

Bibliography

  • Rogers, Edward S.; & Leacock, Eleanor. (1981). Montagnais-Naskapi. In J. Helm (Ed.), Handbook of North American Indians: Subarctic (Vol. 6, pp. 169-189). Washington: Smithsonian Institute.

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