INNU – The Forgotten people (Essay Synopsis)
(Photo gallery at bottom)
NATUASHISH, Labrador, Canada – The Innu people of Labrador in remote isolated north east Canada are the last indigenous nomadic hunters in North America. They are a people of the caribou. For thousands of years they followed the caribou herds as they ranged from Hudson’s Bay to the St Lawrence River in the south to the Labrador Sea in the east where they would also hunt seal and fish in the summer months.
Not until the 1960s were they forced and coerced off the land and their nomadic lifestyle into permanent settlements on the coast of the Labrador Sea by government and churches.
The results were a lost of cultural identity and dependence on government services and the inherent racism and abuse that came with it.
Alcoholism, substance abuse, diabetes mental health issue and suicide became endemic among the INNU to this day.
That abuse continues today as the federal government of Canada has stalled and dragged out land claims negotiations for more than thirty years. A Canadian Human Rights Commission report in the summer of 2021 condemned Canada for the delays and stalling.
They have lost much of their traditional land (Nitassinan) due to hydro projects, mining, logging and other groups claiming their land.
Many of the Innu who started the negotiations have since died. Some of their children and grand children continue the fight.
The Labrador Innu, live in two settlements now, the Sheshshatshui First Nations near Goose bay and the Mushuau Innu of Natuashish on the remote north coast of Labrador. They are related to the Quebec Innu on Quebec’s Lower North Shore but do not share their recognition, status or development. While they are more remote and isolated the source of this comes from when the province of Newfoundland and Labrador joined the Canadian confederation in 1949 as its 10th province. They were not granted federal status by the federal government like the rest of indigenous groups in the country and hence not entitled to the benefits and funding that it offered.
There are currently …approximately a little over 3000 Innu living in two communities (1000 in Natuashish and 2000 in Sheshatshui) and a smaller number living outside these villages.
These photos were shot in 2021 and mainly around the annual gatherings which are reminiscent of the times of traditional migrations to hunt caribou bringing the widely disperse Innu together on a seasonal basis.
St John’s, Newfoundland