Who We Are

The Innu First Nation of Labrador inhabited lands that stretched throughout the eastern portion of the Quebec/Labrador peninsula.  They called these ancestral lands Nitassinan. The word Innu, like the Mi’kmaq word, L’nu, means “people” and was chosen by the Labrador Innu to replace the names given to them by early French and English merchants and explorers— Montagnais and Naskapi (Tanner https://www.heritage.nf.ca/articles/aboriginal/aboriginal-peoples-introduction.php).

Even today Labrador Innu continue to travel back and forth to French-speaking Quebec to visit relatives, crossing political boundaries that did not exist before the arrival of Europeans and the creation of Canada in the late 1800s. The Innu are closely related to the Cree who extend from Quebec into western Canada. Innu Aimun, or the Innu language, continues to be their common language and is part of the Algonkian language family.

The Innu lived in bands of related families, surviving from hunting and fishing, and the medicines that came from plants as well as animals.  Caribou were the most important animal to the Innu.  They depended on them for food, tools, clothing and shelter made out of caribou skins and sewn with caribou sinew, and even medicines. They also developed a rich tradition of storytelling, dancing, singing and drumming.  These were crucial to their survival in the often harsh Labrador tundra. In fact, you cannot separate the ancient Innu culture from their ancestral lands and waterways because everything they did was done in relationship to this landscape.

In the early 1600s Jesuit and Recollect missionaries (later the Oblates) introduced Christianity to the Innu of Western Quebec. The religion spread north and east along with the fur trade, as the colonial government extended its control (Armitage http://www.er.uqam.ca/nobel/religio/no6/armit.pdf).  Contact with foreign cultures altered the social structure of the different bands with the introduction of new technologies, such as iron needles, guns, cloth, axes, and knives, and diseases that destroyed whole communities (Tanner https://www.heritage.nf.ca/articles/aboriginal/aboriginal-peoples-introduction.php).  Fur trading posts became a centre of activity for some bands, and families became associated with particular hunting territories, some of which still exist today.

The Innu of Labrador remain unique from other First Peoples in Canada because they lived on their ancestral lands up to the 1960s when they were settled into two communities—Sheshashiu and Utshimassits (now moved to another community named Natuashish) — by an act of the government of Newfoundland. [Insert photo: pine.innu.sheshashui.jpg]  Unlike other First Nations and Inuit peoples, they were not formally recognized or given status as First Nations until 2002. This was because when Newfoundland and Labrador became part of Canada in 1949, the government did not recognize the Innu and their rights to their lands.  Today, many development projects such as mining, hydroelectric dams, highway construction through Nitassinin, and forestry, threaten Innu territories and Innu rights to maintain them.

Many elders or tshishennuat who were interviewed for this web site, remember growing up on the land, camping besides the lakes and canoeing along the many rivers that acted as their highways throughout Nitassinan.  Since settlement, the dances and rituals they described for hunting, particularly caribou, are performed less and less.  Christian missionaries did not approve of many of the Innu ways of celebrating and honoring life. So in the communities many events became merged with Christian holidays.  Today, many of the grandchildren and great grand children of the tshishennuat grow up going to non-Innu schools, no longer dancing to, or drumming the sounds, songs, and rhythms of their ancestral lands.


© 2024 This project was made possible with the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage through Canadian Culture Online
Indigenous Dance