Report from Elisabeth Thørring Dalsbø, Master Programme in Indigenous Studies, University of Tromsø
Financial Support to the Project: “We were told we were going to live in houses.” Relocation and housing of the Mushuau Innu from 1948 to 2003.With financial support from the Centre for Sami studies I have conducted fieldwork in Canada among the Mushuau Innu of Natuashish, and archive studies at the Memorial University Campus in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador. I also visited the University of McGill Library in Montreal to find more information on my subject.
“We were told we were going to live in houses” is a quotation taken from “The Davis Inlet People’s Inquiry, Gathering Voices, Finding the Strength to Help our Children” (1995) and represents the thoughts the Mushuau Innu have had – that the Canadian government and mainstream society decided for them what direction their way of living should take. When I visited Natuashish this summer, a town the Mushuau Innu decided for themselves to relocate to, I met a strong aboriginal community with great hopes for the future.
The Mushuau Innu are a First Nations people that traditionally were nomadic. They hunted Caribou in the interior of Labrador and only visited the coast during the summer months. The Innu has gone from a nomadic lifestyle in the interior of Labrador to a sedentary lifestyle in the coast through three relocations. The first relocation was in 1948 to the Inuit community of Nutak further north, then in 1967 to Utshimassit (Davis Inlet) on an island, and then the latest relocation in 2003 to Natuashish.
The purpose of doing fieldwork in Natuashish was to interview people about the three relocations and today’s community. I interviewed five elders, four women and one man, mainly about the relocation to Nutak in 1948, the relocation to Utshimassit (Davis Inlet) in 1967, and also their opinion on the new community of Natuashish. Mary Anne Nui worked with me on the interviews; she translated all my questions into Innu-Eimun and translated their answers back to me in English. Mary Anne is working on her own project: recording the voices of the elders in Natuashish. The elders contributed with a lot of information on the relocations, which gave me a greater understanding reading the written materials as well as filling in the blanks. They also expressed how they see the changes the Mushuau Innu have gone through during the last sixty years.
I also interviewed three men and one woman on the relocations in English. They were all working in the community and were Innu. I interviewed them on what they could remember from the relocation to Utshimassit (Davis Inlet), the relocation to Natuashish, and about their opinion on the community today.
Doing fieldwork this summer in Natuashish has been, without a doubt, one of the most giving months of my life. I am truly grateful for all the wonderful people I have had the chance to meet and work with. With the financial support from the Centre for Sami Studies I were able to conduct all my research during two months in Canada. I am looking forward to writing my thesis.