The Innu of Labrador

Nature and Culture book coverExcerpt from: Nature and Culture

The Innu of northern Labrador, Canada have undergone profound transitions in recent decades with important implications for conservation, food and health policy. The change from permanent nomadic hunting, gathering and trapping in `the country’ (nutshimit) to sedentary village life (known as ‘sedentarisation’) has been associated with a marked decline in physical and mental health. The overarching response of the national government has been to emphasize village-based and institutional solutions. We show that changing the balance back to country-based activities would address both the primary causes of the crisis and improve the health and well-being of the Innu. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork, interviews with Innu older people (Tshenut), empirical data on nutrition and activity, and comparative data from the experiences of other indigenous peoples, we identify pertinent biological and environmental transitions of significance to the current plight of the Innu. We show that nutrition and physical activity transitions have had major negative impacts on individual and community health. However, hunting and its associated social and cultural forms is still a viable option as part of a mixed livelihood and economy in the environmentally-significant boreal forests and tundra of northern Labrador. Cultural continuity through Innu hunting activities is a means to decelerate, and possibly reverse, their decline. We have suggested four new policy areas to help restore country-based activities: i) a food policy for country food; ii) an outpost programme; iii) ecotourism; and iv) an amended school calendar. Finally, we indicate the implications of our analysis for people in other countries.

Jules Pretty and Colin Samson also work with the Tshikapisk Foundation of Labrador.

In the early 1990s a group of Innu people had become increasingly concerned over the direction in which Innu society was heading. As a vehicle for new activities, Foundation was established with an educational mission and revenue generating activities both to provide employment to Nutshimiu Innut (country Innu) and to pay for the experiential learning programs for Innu youth. The Foundation has a Board which includes both Innu members and non-Innu members.