The Innu are the indigenous inhabitants of an area they refer to as Nitassinan, which comprises most of the Quebec-Labrador peninsula in Eastern Canada. Their population in 2003 was between 15,000 and 20,000. They are known to have lived on these lands as hunter-gatherers for several thousand years, living in tents made of animal skins. Their most important resource is the caribou, and the animal is culturally very significant to them. Their language, Innu-aimun , is spoken throughout Nitassinan, with certain dialect differences.
The Innu people are sometimes sub-divided into two communities, the Montagnais ["mountain people" in French] who live along the shore of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, and the less numerous Naskapi ["inland people" in Innu-aimun] who live farther North. However, the Innu themselves dislike these terms, and according to most sources the distinction is anyway largely an artificial one invented by the French colonists. Neither group has any common heritage with the Inuit, a completely separate people whose lands lie much further North. (Confusion may arise due to the similarity of their names.)
The Innu have never officially surrendered their territory to Canada. As a consequence of this they are not registered under the Indian Act and the government does not afford them the same protection, tax-breaks and benefits as other First Nations. From the 1950s on, the Canadian government and the Catholic church attempted to "civilise" the Innu, inducing them to settle in fixed encampments and to abandon their nomadic lifestyle. Before long, life in these artificially constructed settlements became marred by extremely high levels of alcoholism, volatile substance abuse by children, domestic violence, and suicide. Between 1975 and 1995 the Innu settlements averaged 178 suicides per 100,000 persons per year. This is more than twelve times the Canadian average.
Survival International have alleged that the Canadian government's policy of relocating the Innu away from their ancestral lands and preventing them from practising their ancient way of life is in contravention of international law, and they have drawn parallels with the treatment of the Tibetans in the People's Republic of China.
The best-known members of the Innu nation are the Peneshue Family. The folk rock duo Kashtin were popular and well known in the 1990s.
Last updated: 05-15-2005 13:40:46