Wednesday, July 08, 2009


Sometimes when I stay at home by myself and it is quiet, I cry. My heart is very sad. I wonder, who changed my people? Who took away everything we had? We had everything in the country, the children and people were happy and there were plenty of animals. When the government wanted to change our people, they worked just a little bit at a time every day and we didn’t notice. We didn’t know what was happening. Maybe the government thought, “The Innu people aren’t ever going to know. We’re just going to keep doing this little by little.” I cry many times when I think about that—it hurts, especially when I think about the young children. Sometimes I sit down at my table and I feel like someone is sitting there with me, but I don’t know who it is. I can’t see him clearly. I want to ask him, “What did you do this for? Why? My people didn’t know what was happening.”

When I was young I never understood that the church and the government were working together. We really respected the priest. I remember when the priest came to visit our tent, he said, “What a nice tent. Your daughters must help you a lot.” But then he said to my father, “Why don’t you stop taking your family into the bush all the time when you go hunting? Why don’t you leave your wife and children and just go with the men? If you don’t stop what you’re doing you’re going to lose your family allowance.” My father didn’t say anything. He looked shocked. After the priest left the tent my mom and dad had an argument. My mom wanted to listen to what the priest said, but my father said, “No, we’re going into the bush all together.” I heard all this and was mad at the priest. Why did he come and start this argument between my parents? I went outside to play to get my mind off it. The priest went on to visit all the Innu tents along the beach.

I remember when my mom first had a house she was happy, because when it rained it didn’t drip in the house like it did in the tent and there was water close by. But she didn’t know that this was the start of the government trying to change the people. Long ago the people didn’t understand, they thought the changes would be good.

We had a good life in the country. Everything was clean and alive—the land, rivers, lakes and the Innu people. Everything lived together. Mother Earth never thought, “In a couple years time, I’m going to die. My trees are going to be cut off at the base.” Water never thought, “I’m going to die. Everything that lives in me is going to be gone.” Innu people sometimes see the animals now and wonder, “What happened to the animals? They look very sick. Something happened.” This never happened before. When I was young I thought all these things would be with us forever.

The beaver has a big house. But he knows when someone is trying to kill him, they are going to look for him in his big house, so he builds small houses around the lake to run to when he’s in danger. However, with the dams, all the houses will be destroyed and the beaver will have nowhere to go. It’s not just the beaver. It’s all kinds of animals that live in the water—the mink, marten and otter. These animals have their nest in the woods, but they stay close to the water. They make a small hole near the water and their babies are born there and stay until they can take care of themselves. If there is an old tree with holes in it you will find a nest there, maybe with eggs. The partridge will have its eggs underground. Water animals, though, will always stay near the water.

Animals are just like people. If the government starts to make another dam, they will say, “Look my house is under water, I have to run away.” The beaver will be lost and afraid. The beaver makes dams too, but it is only a small dam, unlike the government. He needs to raise the water level so his small houses are under cover, but it only makes a small change to his environment. With the government, everything will be flooded—the trees, beaches, grass. If the government builds a dam at Muskrat Falls and Gull Island, there will be very big changes.

The Innu people have hunted this land for thousands of years. I will be very sad to see it damaged and the older people even more so. The government workers don’t understand what will happen to the animals, but the Innu know. They know how much the animals will be hurt. When the Innu people see animals, it’s like they talk with each other. Once Francis and I were out in the winter and we saw a partridge. Francis had to go back for the gun, so I stayed with the bird. It was like we were talking. The bird looked at me and cocked his head. It was like the bird was saying, “I want to feed you. I want to help you.” Francis came back and the bird did not fly away. It’s like with your dogs. You can see how they’re feeling, whether they’re happy, sad or sick.

If they start the dams at Gull Island and Muskrat Falls many things will be lost. I have been to Gull Island 4 times so far this summer and already there is so much damage. Big mountains are being ground into tiny bits of gravel for the road. When I go to Gull Island I think about the boat that sunk there and I wonder what kind of damage that caused. I look across the river to the trees and I know the trees on both sides are going to die. The Innu people would put in a net and fish in the river, but if the dam goes in what’s going to happen to the fish.

For thirteen years now I’ve gone on the canoe trip every summer and walked in the country every spring. When I go on these trips I feel sad. I don’t want to go on these trips for nothing. I thought it would help change things. I work hard when I go on the spring walk. It’s hard work to walk every day, but I never give up. The land, animals, and my people, especially the children, are so important. That’s why I never give up. It’s the same with the canoe trip—we paddle every day, sometimes all day. We only stay for the day if the weather is bad. I don’t understand how the government could make a dam on Mista Shipu. The river is so beautiful—the mountains, the rocks, the beaches. This river has belonged to the Innu for thousands of years—we’ve hunted there, camped there, died there, given birth there. Sometimes during the canoe trip when I get time I go for a walk by myself along the beach, I find a quiet place with a rock and I sit down, write in my journal and pray. Sometimes I go walking in the woods and I find the old campsites or the old traps of people who were here before. I can’t just walk by. I look at it and I wonder how many years it’s been there and who used it. I go back to the tent and I tell my people what I found. I feel very sad to think it will be flooded.

When I started writing for my website, I was very happy that I found a friend who was able to help me. I wanted to do this for a very long time. Now you can see my pictures, see my children, see the animals, see the country and read my story. If you see my website, I hope you will support me. I don’t want to see another dam. Years ago when they made the dam in Churchill Falls we lost many things—burial grounds, hunting grounds, old Innu things (tents, canoes, stoves). All these things were lost when it was flooded. People sometimes left things in the country, because they thought they would go back again. I don’t want to go back to how things were before, but I want the children to still have something. I don’t want them to lose everything. The Innu life is so important. This story is important, but even more important is what we do. We have to show the people what we want, not just write about it. Thank you for your support.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Life in the country

When I think about Innu life before the government came here, I remember it was a good life—the children were happy, we were all strong and happy. Innu people always used tents. There were no houses or schools. We did have a hospital in Northwest River and a small school in Sheshatshui very close to the church, but we didn’t use them very much because the people were always going to the bush. Sometimes the people came into the community for one month. When I think about it, it hurts because I miss it so much.

We would walk many miles in the country, but people never complained about how far they had to go. No one ever said, “How far is it? Are we there yet? When are we going to go back to Sheshatshui?” The people were happy to go hunting. The men would bring lots of wood and put it just outside the tent. The women would saw it as they needed it while the men were away hunting. The people didn’t need to plan all day for the men to make the trip; they would just talk together for a little bit and then everyone knew what they needed to do.

Innu people’s minds were clear. In the summer the tents were all on the beach at Sheshatshui. Around September, as soon as they knew it was going to be cold, they would move the tents to the woods because it would be too cold along the beach with the wind. They knew everything about living in the country and they were happy there. They ate fresh food and exercised every day. In the summer the men carried the canoes and the women carried the babies and other bags on their backs. I remember my mom having a big bag on her back and on top of that her baby. Now people don’t know what to do in the bush with a small baby. They are always concerned, “What are we going to do with the baby?” My mom always had a baby with her and when it would cry she would stop and breastfeed the baby. She would eat plenty of good healthy food so she would stay strong and well and have enough milk. She never used formula. I would help her with the baby, the bag or the tea pot. I would carry some of her stuff. The young children were always happy to help their parents. The boys would help dad and the girls would help their mom. My father would carry the canoe and as soon we got to water he would put the canoe in with all the stuff and both parents would row, while the baby and the small children rode in the middle and up front. We would row until we came to land again. Then we would portage and walk. While walking I would always think about animals and look for them, hoping to see beaver babies.

Children had everything they wanted to play with in the country. They never asked for toys. They would play with what they found; they’d make their toys. My brother, George, and I were playing outside, pretending to do what our father would do—bring a caribou back and put the meat up on a scaffold. My brother went out and found a squirrel and we pretended it was a caribou. We cut the squirrel just like my dad cut the caribou. We called the skin “caribou skin.” We cut off the meat and made a little scaffold to put the meat on and covered it with boughs to protect it from animals, like the whisky jack. My mom came out and asked what we’re doing. We told her we were preparing a caribou, just like dad did. This is how we played as young children.

The people were never worried or concerned about staying close to the hospital in Northwest River when they went out in the bush. If the baby was sick, my mom would just go into the woods and find Innu medicine. Nobody said, “There’s no hospital in the country, I can’t go too far.” They didn’t need a doctor; they just needed an old lady to help them. I remember all kinds of medicines my mother would make and use. Sometimes the men asked, “What kind of medicine do you need?” After the women would explain, the men would go looking for it. Sometimes the women would go too and then the women would cook and prepare it. There was one small ball we would cut open and squeeze out the sticky liquid. We put the liquid on a paper and placed it where there was pain. If there was a cough, we would put it on the chest. For small babies we only left it on a short time (just until we could smell it on their breath), for older people we could leave it on longer. My mom knew many medicines.

Animals have medicine too, like the beaver and otter. Innu people never used their medicine and then complained about the pain. When they used Innu medicine they would say, “The medicine is so good and so strong, I don’t feel the pain anymore.” You can’t say, “Nothing changed.” You have to support the medicine and say how much it helped you like, “I feel so much better, thank you.” It’s not like that with white medicine.

Caribou skin was used to make moccasins, snowshoes, and mattresses inside the tent. A long time ago they used the caribou skin to make the tent and they even used it for clothing, before there was money and other clothes. The men would kill the caribou and the women would prepare the hides and sew them together for the tent. They would eat all the meat. The caribou has everything in it. It can feed the people. It can dress the people. Even though we don’t make dresses anymore and we use canvas tents, the caribou is still so important.

We always have to respect the animals in the bush. We eat the meat, we use the medicine to help us, and we use the skins for many purposes. If we eat beaver or otter we have to put the bones in the water, because they are water animals. For the caribou, which lives in the woods, we hide the bones in the trees. We would make a small scaffold, one for the meat and one for the bones.

Innu people never used to consider asking the government for money. They would try to find their own food. Sometimes they would charge a little to the Hudson Bay Store if the manager would agree and they would pay him back after they got back from the country. Innu people never bought chips and sweet stuff. We bought flour, sugar, baking powder, tea, oats, rice, or macaroni. Then we went into the bush and my dad would go hunting the next morning. He would take the small tent and stove. He would set 4 or 5 traps and check them every couple days, bringing any animals home for my mom to clean. We would eat the meat from the animals, but sell the firs. When we knew we had enough firs—beaver, otter, mink, marten—the men would take them to Sheshatshui to pay back the manager and buy more food. The trip took 10-15 days. The women and children would stay behind in the tent.