Sheshatshiu, Labrador – The Innu, a nation between two worlds

After deciding to rest one day we got a lot of visitors. Curious young people that ended up here in different ways and who tell us different stories. Despite we only spend two days here the social tensions seem to be tangible. The Innu live in Sheshatshiu on one side of the river, and White and Innuit in North West River on the other side. The cultural differences seem striking. We realize that only marginally, but topics seem to be punctuality and sense of time (here’s Innu clock, they say jokingly), destruction and waste disposal, alcohol and drug abuse.

In the evening we are invited for Caribou dinner with Simon and Marron. Caribou is very low-fat dark meat, but without harsh game taste. Simon from Germany fights his way through the world as professional clown. He got an 18 months training for that in his home country. History student Marron collects information about the Innu culture. The Innu are a nomadic nation that lives from fishing and Caribou hunting in Canada’s woods. Unlike the more settled Innuit that early arranged with the white settlers the Innu appeared only about 50 years ago. Before contacts to Whites were limited to some trade relations they kept. When the Canadian government flooded Smallwood dam it offered the Innu by the way of compensation for lost land one house per family in Sheshatshiu as well as a considerable amount of money. Social institutions were built but didn’t fall flat too much. Drug abuse and gas sniffing were widely spread activities especially among teenagers. Donated money doesn’t solve every problem, especially not loss of life content. The Canadian government realized that and installed flights once a week or every other week to different destinations in the midlands to offer the opportunity to the Innu to practise their original activities. The offer is accepted, most of them have a log cabin in the forests from where they go fishing and hunting like now in spring. The well-appointed school of Sheshatshiu lies empty in the meantime. But the Innu already got the taste of civilisation. The summer for instance when mosquitoes would eat them up in the woods they prefer to spend in town. There they help themselves to pass the time with alcohol; their numerous children fill the streets and are bored to death. The Innu can’t acquire a taste for the White culture, and the Whites meet them full of prejudices. A problem that will be difficult to solve in the near future.  

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