innu people

Innu: The Sub-Arctic Hunters

Everything you need to know about the indigenous nomadic Canadians…


GEOGRAPHY

The Innu inhabit a region in Canada that they themselves refer to as ‘Nitassinan’, which means ‘our land’ in their ancient language, covering a section of Quebec and parts of Labrador on the east side of the country.  The Nitassinan covers a vast subarctic area of forests, lakes, rivers and rocky barrens .

The communities in Labrador consist of Sheshatshiu, the meeting point of the Grand Lake and Lake Melville, and Utshimassit, which is an island just off the north coast of Labrador.

innu geography

POPULATION

They’re comprised of roughly 18,000 people in eleven communities in Quebec and two in Labrador, although these are spread out across different regions. Sheshatshiu contains 1000 Innu people, while Utshimassit holds around 500.

They are normally split into two groups. The first are the ‘Neenoilno’, sometimes called the ‘mountain people’ or the ‘Innu proper’, who reside lower down on the north shore of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence in Quebec. The second are the far fewer Naskapi, who live further up north in the Quebec and Labrador regions.

The primary language of the Innu is ‘Innu-aimun’, but they also speak English and French, which is one of the native languages in Quebec. Most Innu are Christians and are members of the Cree, one of the founding nations of the aboriginal Canadians.

CULTURE

innu cultureTraditionally, the Innu people live in cone-shaped skin tents, relying on the caribou, a moose-like creature, as the primary resource for their materials in making their housing, clothing and other objects.

They also eat the caribou, along with squirrels, hares, geese, ducks, salmon, trout and many others. The Innu and their ancestors have always been known as hunter-gatherers, summed up by their tendencies to hunt for animals and use their skin to sustain life and shelter. They sometimes used the hides of the animals they hunt to create buckskin- used for boots, house covering and storage.

Another key tradition in Innu life is crafting, and it is custom that children are given the classic tea doll, which is a toy made out of cloth and caribou hide. The idea behind the tea doll is that children could play with it whilst also carrying small, yet important goods, such as tea, inside the doll.

CONTROVERSIES

While the Innu are a peaceful people, this has not prevented other groups, organisations and governments from innu strugglesattempting to sabotage their tranquil environment.

In a conflict known as the Beavers Wars in the 1600s, the Innu were subject to attacks from the Iroquois, a powerful Candian region at the time, and enslaved their women and warriors defending the tribes, as well as raiding their materials they had gathered over time.

More recently, the New York Power Authority has come under criticism for its contract with the province of Quebec to buy power from their hydroelectric dams, because the construction of electric transmission lines to harness the power would disrupt the Innu’s hunting lifestyle.


Article written by Oli Gamp

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