Thursday, April 30, 2009

Lower Churchill; More talks needed

This Letter to the Editor was published in the April 27,2009 issue of "The Labradorian."

Dear Editor,
My name is Elizabeth Penashue. I want to talk about the Mista Shipu (Churchill River).I don’t understand and I am confused about how the government will make another Dam. If they do we, the Innu, will loose so many things. Look what happened with the Upper Churchill. So many important things were lost, for example, the burial grounds. In the past when the Innu lived in the country they were far, far away. Women, men and children were buried in the country.

They also left important stuff in the country, like tents, canoes, traps and hunting supplies- all this stuff got lost when the land was flooded. What happened to the animals- not only the fish, the animals too? Many things were killed and damaged with Upper Churchill. They cut a lot of trees, and also when gas was spilled on the ground from the equipment – many things were damaged- the animals never smelled the gas before. What happened to them if they ate what the gas was on – did they die? What about where they lived before- the beaver houses- where did all of these kinds of animals move to when they flooded the land- how many animals died because of the Upper Churchill?

Sometimes when I go to Churchill Falls with my husband and my grandchildren I stop at the Brinco Bridge and explain to my grandchildren what happened. I am very sad when I step out on the bridge- I cry. I show my granddaughter – no water, what does that mean for the fish and the animals? I cry in my heart when I tell my children and grandchildren about it. I tell them we never saw that when we were young. There was a lot of water there.

My father told me about how they could see the mist from far, far away, and how it was used as a marker for them to find the place. Now we don’t see what my parents saw. My father was from Quebec and he always walked or used the canoe for travelling. It makes me sad to think about if this happened when he was alive and he might not be able to find his way because of so many changes-would he have to turn back because he is lost because of all of the changes. He would say where is that mountain, or where is that river or marsh that would help find their way. He would say – who changed everything?

My parent’s hearts would be broken. It was not explained to the people about Upper Churchill- nobody explained it to the Old people- they did not know that all of this would happen.We lost of the names of the places and they were so important to the Innu. I heard my mother on a tape recorder when she was interviewed one time. She was talking like if she was looking at a map- but she wasn’t –it was just from her memory of these places. They never thought these names would be changed- they thought the places would have the same names forever. Many babies were born in the country- I was born in a place called Kanekuanikau- it is in around Churchill Falls area- it is in the Country.

I would like to ask - why would you make another dam when so much damage was done with the first one? We don’t want to drink dirty water - like the animals they want clean water. So many things will be damaged- the trees, the water, the animals and the fish.The Innu have been hunting for thousands of years. What will happen?

I can’t believe they want to do this – it makes me very confused. What about that barge that is under the water in the river? How much damage has this caused? When the government says there will be jobs for the young Innu- it is hard for the older people to say anything bad about it – we might just think we should be lucky that the young people have the jobs- but jobs are not the answer to everything – more jobs/money can also cause more problems.

I will work hard to get the old people to sit down and talk together. We need to know and understand what is going on. We need to do that- and we all need to work together.

Elizabeth Penashue, Sheshatshiu, NL

Spring Snowshoe Walk 2009

The walk went very, very well this year. I was so happy to have completed it, even with a small group at the end. No matter how many people accompany me, I will always keep walking for the protection of the land, trees, mountains, animals, rivers, lakes, for the future of the children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, the Innu community and for Innu culture and way of life. I hope more people will join me next year.

The group varied in size throughout the 3 weeks on the land. We had many visitors and were happy when people came out even if their commitments at home kept them from walking this year. One 8 year old grandson walked with me nearly the entire trip, walking some days and helping Francis on the skidoo other days. Many of our children came to visit or stay for a night. We have 9 children, 39 grandchildren (41 this summer) and 9 great-grandchildren. The Chief of Sheshatshui walked for several days. Other grandsons and young men walked and helped Francis. A Cree woman from Manitoba walked for 10 days—we shared many similar experiences, struggles and dreams, and she is preparing to do cultural teaching and healing on the land in her community. A local woman from Northwest River came for one week for the second year in a row. A young Ojibwa/Mi’kmaq woman from Toronto walked for several days. A friend who used to live in Sheshatshui 30 years ago came from Halifax for one week. A friend who recently moved to Happy Valley with MCC walked with me for almost the entire trip. An independent filmmaker from New York City was along the whole time.

The group became like family to each other and living together brought out the best qualities in all of us. We shared everything—food, space, stories, work, and laughter. Francis and I worked together preparing the tent and hunting. We each have our different responsibilities. Living on the land reveals the strong bonds that connect all of life. None of us could live without the earth, water, animals, sun, and our communities. It is important to learn how to live in balance and not take too much or cause damage.

Early in the trip there was quite a bit of wind and snow, but many days were sunny. The weather was very good the last week of walking. Spring arrived and we walked without jackets sometimes and even had the tent door open on days we stayed at camp. We were very fortunate and had no troubles along the way. All members of the group were in good health. One person got sick one evening, but he rested, ate, and was ready to walk again the next day.

Several of my grandsons are very good hunters and caught fish, partridge and rabbit for our meals. We also caught porcupine. When a porcupine was caught we would stay at camp out of respect for the animal and I would prepare it over the fire in the traditional way.

We arrived at Pants Lake on March 25. It was a very special moment for the whole group. Pants Lake is along a traditional travel route for Francis’ family and just miles from where Francis was born. I began going there once we were married. We sang and danced when we came to the place where the river meets the lake. The land, trees and water welcomed us and as did the spirits of the Innu who have walked that way before, the ancestors that have died.

We came back into the community Thursday evening March 26. The adjustment back is quite difficult. Life in the bush is very integrated, while life in town is more disconnected. I feel sad every time I return to the community. I remember the pain my family, along with many others, experienced when we were forced to move from our nomadic life on the land to town life. The two experiences are so different it is almost impossible to find ways to bring them together.

For the first year ever my family organized a large community meal in honour of the 13 years we’ve been doing the walk and canoe trip. No matter how hard it is I am committed to the land, the youth and Innu culture and I try to teach the young people in a good way. I do not do this for profit or fame, but for life—the life of our people and all living things!

Hydro project will wipe out Innu land

This Letter to the Editor was published in "The Labradorian" in January 2009:

Dear Editor:

First of all, I want to express .my feelings about the Hydro Project that will take place soon. I still have not forgotten about Mista-Shipu (Churchill River). There are many elders that are not happy about the Hydro Project that will take place. They talk about the land where our ancestors have lived for thousands and thousands of years. This is where our ances­tors survived from the land and animals.

There will be a lot of destruction and damage done to the land. We are not talking about a small project this will be huge. We will see a lot of big equipment being used, for example: big trucks and tractors that will destroy the trees. The water will be polluted and con­taminated. Once the land is flooded over, there will be no sign of where our people have lived. It will all be under the water. How is the Innu going to feel when they have to look at the land being flooded over again? It will be heartbreaking because it was the Innu and other non-native people that have once hunted in that area.

I keep asking myself ques­tions. Are we just going to stand by and watch this huge project take place? Once Mother Nature is hurt, that is how much our (Tshishenut) elders will feel the pain.
One last example, I want to ask the people who live in Goose Bay, the ones who live by the Churchill River, I know how beautiful it is when I look at the houses that are standing there by the shore, there are sandy beaches and boats tied up, what effect will it have? Already I see changes today. During the summer time we see many sandbars that we didn't see before. I believe this had to do with the new bridge that was built. We will see a lot of changes once the project goes ahead.

These are just some of the concerns the elders and I have. I want to thank the people who will take the time to read this.

Elizabeth Penashue Sheshatshiu, NL

Article about Elizabeth's walk protesting Lower Churchill Developments

This article appeared in October 20, 2008 issues of "The Labradorian."