Tshikapisk Foundation
Tshikapisk Foundation Background
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Summer camp, Kamestastin Photo: Anthony Jenkinson
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Background
In the early 1990s a group of Innu people who had become increasingly concerned over the direction in which Innu society was heading began to develop a plan to address these issues. As a vehicle for this work, the establishment of a non-profit organization with an educational mission and operating revenue generating activities to both provide employment to Nutshimiu Innut(country Innu) and to pay for the experiential learning programs for Innu youth, seemed to be the appropriate model. Accordingly the Foundation was duly incorporated with a Board which included both Innu members and non-Innu members.

The founding board members were:

Penote Michel, a veteran Innu spokesperson and advocate for Innu rights, George Rich, a Mushuau Innu from Davis Inlet with a long record of commitment to Innu culture and education,Robin Hanbury-Tenison, President of Survival International, a non-governmental organization that campaigns for the rights of threatened indigenous people world-wide, and Sebastian Piwas, a Mushuau Innu hunter.

The Board of Tshikapisk is now enlarged with the addition of four other distinguished individuals. Shuashim Nui grew up in the interior tundra lands of Northern Labrador and Quebec and is a key figure in the efforts to protect and strengthen Innu culture. Ennen Michel Andrew is a resident of Sheshatshit with a longstanding commitment to efforts to uphold and strengthen Innu culture.Tamanen Benuen is an Innu hunter and in 2004 became Vice-President of "Innu Nation." Innu Nation is the regional Innu body which advocates for the rights of the Innu population based in the two Innu villages in the Labrador part of Nitassinan.
 
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Spring camp near Utshimassits. Photo: Candace Cochrane, Quebec Labrador Foundation
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Recent History and Context
Nitassinan, the territory of the Innu, lies at the extreme northeastern part of the continent of North America. Made up of Labrador and Northeastern Quebec, it remains to this day largely untouched by industrial man. Prior to the 1950s Europeans looked upon the territory as wasteland, an immense expanse of lakes, forest, muskeg and tundra inhabited only by caribou and bears and the fabled " Naskapi Indians" the last "primitives" in North America.

Labrador witnessed the earliest visits to North American shores by Europeans but was the last place in North America to be explored by them. The border, imposed by the British in 1927, partitioned the Innu territory between Quebec and Newfoundland, and remains to be surveyed.

Since that time the land of the Innu has been increasingly seen as a treasure trove of minerals, hydroelectric power and pulpwood.The building of a railway into the interior in 1957 and an unpaved road linking Goose Bay with the rest of North America (finished in 1992) have made these hypothetical prospects attainable.

The government sponsored sedentarization of the Innu occurred in the 1950s and 1960s with the last Innu moving from tents into houses at the new settlement of Pukuatshipit in the winter of 1971/1972. This process, of which the most powerful element was the introduction of compulsory schooling on the European model, disrupted the Innu hunting life and abruptly stopped the transmission of Innu knowledge and values to the post settlement generation.

The result was not the complete adoption of European mores envisaged by the social planners but rapid descent into a chaotic society in which all the underpinnings of social order had been removed.
Increasingly the Innu are being pressured into abandoning their hunting life and the land which supports it, and to substitute wage labor in an economy to be based on industries such as mining and pulpwood logging.
Two recent major mineral discoveries (one of Nickel and Copper near the Innu village of Utshimassits and the other of Copper, Northwest of Sept Iles) have increased the pressure on the Innu to abandon their life as hunters.

In spite of difficulties caused by the imposition of government, the building of settlements and compulsory schooling, the Innu retain their hunting and fishing culture to this day.

The relationship the Innu have with the caribou is the principle pillar of Innu culture. It is this animal that has provided food, clothing, shelter (caribou skin tents) and the source of spiritual powers acquired through hunting.
The Labrador Ungava peninsula is today home to the largest caribou herd in the world, the so-called George River Caribou. Other species of wildlife live in what is one of the last great wild places in North America: black bear, moose, wolves, foxes, lynx, marten and abundant waterfowl to name a few. Up to this point the peninsula has been protected by the fact that most of its 150,000 square miles are inaccessible by road or by ship.

Since the efforts of non-Innu agencies and missionaries to sedentarize the Innu and in their words "to civilize them...so that they may take their proper place in our society" (Walter Rockwood, Director of the Division of Northern Labrador Affairs 1957) the once self-reliant and independent Innu have been reduced to humiliating dependency. After a very turbulent and unhappy period following the government’s attempted program of assimilation and sedentarization, the most northerly Innu group, the Mushuau Innu, are today struggling to reestablish their connection to the interior barren lands. They are working hard to reinvigorate a culture almost devastated by the severing of this connection.

There are still Innu alive today who remember growing up in a world where they subsisted entirely by hunting without outside aid of any kind, where money was unknown and where they never saw a European in the interior and only the occasional trader on the coast. Today the reality is that almost all Innu require some sort of monetary income. Virtually the only sources of money income are Canadian government welfare programs of one sort or another or jobs in the administrative structures of the same government, most of which exist locally to administer to the social problems which settlement has produced.

The fact of dependency, financial and otherwise, renders the Innu vulnerable to inducements and pressures. The Innu have, since settlement, been drawn into a cash economy where what were initially only wants have become needs. Yet any indigenous economy capable of meeting these needs is non-existent.

Out of innumerable conversations between concerned Innu a possible way to cut the Gordian knot of dependency and cultural/social collapse was conceived: we began to elaborate a plan for building a self-supporting economy which would be based in the country, Nutshimit, and which would utilize and celebrate Innu knowledge and skills.

The Tshikapisk Foundation was established to serve as the vessel through which the plan would be realized and through which the experiential educational initiatives and the revenue and employment generating ones would be set up to compliment each other.

With experiential learning and the creation of an independent indigenous country based economy to pay for it, Tshikapisk seeks to reconnect young Innu to the flow of Innu knowledge
 
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In the newly built Innu village of Natuashish, emblems of two very different worlds adorn the outside of a house. Photo by Dominick Tyler
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Effects on Innu society and culture
Tragically non-Innu have been increasingly successful in their efforts to get Innu, and particularly Innu children, to absorb negative messages about Innu culture and history. It is self-evident that our "successful" absorption of these concepts requires that we be conditioned to accept a version of reality which is fundamentally at odds with our own and which relegates our culture language, religion and social values to a "quaint but redundant" category. It demands the rejection and denial of all that makes us who we are and who our parents and grandparents were. Because we are conditioned to believe that all that goes to make our Innu selves is nothing by comparison with the values and achievements of the European, this version of reality invites us to comprehensive self-contempt.

The founders of Tshikapisk recognized that the program visited upon our people had resulted in an implosion of collective self-esteem and the creation of a sense and condition of powerlessness which lies at the root of much of the social dysfunction proliferating amongst the Innu. They also saw that the evisceration of our cultural and social self-confidence created the conditions where, convinced of our weakness and inadequacy, we became vulnerable to emotional, physical and sexual abuse. The abuses were perpetrated first by those others whom we had begun to think of as too powerful to resist; and then by certain Innu who had themselves suffered abuse, the consequences of which are now reverberating through subsequent generations in our own families.
 
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Newly scraped caribou skin hanging out to dry on a fall evening at Kamestastin. Photo: Susan Connell, SECA Travel
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Towards mutual respect: stopping the cultural aggression
We believe that for authentic healing to occur amongst the Innu, the process which has grievously injured our society and wounded so many individuals and families must first be tackled and halted. Otherwise we risk putting ourselves in the position of simply bandaging the wounded while the war continues apace. We are recognizing that physical, emotional and sexual abuse does not usually originate in the individual but in the social context in which that individual is formed. Put another way, by reacting to the results as if they were just the product of individual human wickedness while ignoring the larger forces and factors that provoked the dysfunctional behaviors, may mean that we deal only with the symptoms and leave the origins and root causes of the social ill-health unaddressed.

The present proposal grew out of many years of thought, discussion and experience by a group of concerned Innu. We had watched impotently as Innu society and values began to crumble under the government and missionary effort to sedentarize nomadic Innu families in villages, where in the words of government officials, we could be "civilized". We became alarmed at the direction in which we were drifting.
We perceived a connection between the growing financial, psychological and social dependence on non-Innu (which in a few short years had displaced the self-reliance which was the rock on which our culture built its self-respect and collective pride) and the silent holocaust of suicides and self-destructive behavior which was engulfing our youth.

And we began to realize that the abrupt, and in some cases, near complete separation of our people from the source which had nourished our culture, fed us and kept our values and society vibrant and strong, the ‘country’, the interior lands of Northeast Quebec/Labrador, lay at the root of most of the unhappiness and aberrant behavior we were witnessing.
 
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The village of Natuashish built by the government of Canada to house the Mushuauinnu families relocated from Utshimassits
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From self-reliance to dependency
In the few short years since the building of the settlements our society was becoming transformed and disfigured. From amongst the most self-reliant peoples on earth we had become a kept population.

The psychological effect upon us has been devastating, sapping initiative, devaluing the moral code that gave order and meaning to our lives, and creating a crisis of collective self-confidence: the sum effect has been to produce desperation and a conviction that in order to "succeed" we must jettison everything that makes us Innu, and become "like them".

The school system, which was imposed on us in the 1960s, was and still remains the most important tool in inculcating our children with the messages of cultural inferiority which undermine our collective self-respect and self-confidence. It is no coincidence that it has also been the setting for our initiation in much of the sexual and physical abuse that has further traumatized our society.
 
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Nutshimiu Atusseun Program: students salmon spearing at Tshenuamiu River 1995. Photo: Anthony Jenkinson
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Nutshimiu Atusseun: prototype for a different way
Eight years ago, we began an initiative in the only forum available at the time, The Labrador College, for a program in Innu history, geography, religion and hunting knowledge. The Labrador College program led three years later to the creation of Nutshimiu Atusseun. Nutshimiu Atusseun was established independently of the college as a program of Innu Nation and was funded by the regional board of the Pathways program of Human Resources Development Canada.
Nutshimiu Atusseun set out unabashedly to equip young Innu adults with knowledge of Innu history, hunting culture and nutshimiu skills and learning, subjects which were, and still remain, entirely absent from the Newfoundland and Quebec curriculums taught in the schools.

In spite of the vastly more supportive environment Nutshimiu Atusseun remained dependent on Canadian government HRDC money. This vulnerability became accentuated with the end of the Pathways program. Nutshimiu Atusseun then found itself isolated in an environment in which industrial training was being aggressively promoted and demanding available training dollars. Furthermore, in a situation where Innu families now required a certain minimum cash income to survive, the young adults who completed the Nutshimiu Atusseun program, although equipped with a new and robust cultural self-confidence, found that in the village there were no opportunities to apply their newly acquired skills and knowledge.

Out of this history grew the conviction that we must work towards the establishment of a self-sustaining system for the transmission of our culture, knowledge, values and skills. This system had to incorporate a range of revenue-generating activities which would both provide a context for the practice of this knowledge and which would also generate paid employment for Innu with this kind of education. In addition it would have to generate enough funds to pay for the educational programs which would provide authentic Innu learning by Innu youth.

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