Innu Culture

Innu culture is virtually intact in Unamen Shipu. Even today, elders don’t speak other languages, neither French nor English. Coming to visit us is a total immersion in another culture: the spoken language, the ways of living and thinking, the rich traditional crafts and ways of doing things in everyday life.

In Quebec, there are eleven first nations, which are divided into fifty-five communities ranging in size from a few hundred to several thousand people. The Innu are the indigenous people with the oldest proven historical presence in Quebec, which dates back about 10,000 years. This fact is remarkable because after the last glacial period, the first migrants from Asia arrived in North America from the West 12,000 years ago. . .

The Innu were nomads whose livelihood was based on hunting, fishing and gathering. Their ancestral territory covered the entire region between Quebec City and Labrador and extended north of Schefferville. At the end of the 19th century, colonization and the forest industry led to the progressive settlement of the Innu living in the South. Further north, the process did not truly begin until the 20th century and even, in some cases, after 1950. Today, the Innu actively participate in developing tourism and managing their territory’s natural resources, including some of the most beautiful salmon rivers in the world. In Innu communities, hunting and trapping animals remain important activities for both food and pelts. On the political front, two organizations now represent the Innu: Mamu Pakatatau Mamit and Mamuitun in addition to band councils for each of the communities.

The name “Romaine” is derived from the Innu word “olomane” or “oromane,” meaning “red ochre”, which alludes to the reddish colour of the spring runoff.

In the book Occupation du territoire par les Montagnais de La Romaine, there is a great deal of information relevant to travellers to the area. Here are a few excerpts.

Musquaro. Source : Parks Canada.

Varying with different authors and periods, Unamen Shipu is sometimes called Olomanshibo, Olomanshipou, Romaine River, Grande Romaine or Olomane. The period of permanent French occupation began in 1661 with the establishment of a limited time concession (unlike a seigniory) with cod fishing, seal hunting and trading with the Indigenous peoples. Under the British regime (1760), the rights and fishing sites were sold to English claim holders, including the Labrador New Concern in 1808. In 1821, with the merger of the North West Company with Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), the government gave the latter exclusive fishing and fur-trading rights between Tadoussac and Unamen Shipu. To the East of Unamen Shipu, the Labrador New Concern had exclusive fishing rights. After the demise of the monopolies in the 19th century, the first to establish an independent fishing site were Michel Blais, from Berthier, and a Mr. Hamel in the 1820s in Etamamiu. By 1831, the HBC operated four intensive salmon fishing sites at the mouth of the Kegashka, Musquaro, Washicoutai and Uanamen rivers. In 1846 the Etamamiu and Coucoutchou rivers were added.

Jesuit missionaries (Father Labrosse in 1769) were present among the “Montagnais” as far as Musquaro (Mahkuanut) on the Lower North Shore. The oblates settled in Unamen Shipu in 1844 and visited the chapels erected next to the HBC trading posts, including Musquaro, where every summer the Montagnais (Innu) families lived. In 1844, Oblate Father Fisette met twenty Montagnais families in Musquaro, which were composed of 46 adults and 37 children. In 1853, this chapel was moved from Musquaro to the Etamamiu site to accommodate both Montagnais and Canadians (French speakers). In 1859, the HBC abandoned its Musquaro site. A new chapel was built in the 1870s in Musquaro with an increasing number of Montagnais families present in the summer (e.g., 100 families in 1906). A Catholic mission remained there until 1946. The French had established a fortified trading post in 1710. The Catholic mission was officially founded in 1800 and the first chapel, in 1805. The Canadian government recently designated the annual missions of the Innu to Musquaro as an event of national significance as part of the 150th anniversary of Canadian confederation.

The Innu arrived in late spring along the coast at the Unamen Shipu trading post, went to Musquaro for the religious mission, joining the Innu of Nastashkuan, Pukuashipu and Kuekuantshit, and then returned to the forest, mainly by the Coucoutchou River, which was an easy way of penetrating into the interior. . .

The increased presence of white fishermen after the end of the monopolies and the leasing of the salmon rivers to wealthy foreigners by the Quebec and Ottawa governments put a legal end to the Montagnais’ traditional salmon fishing activities by the end of the 1850s.

This history primarily discusses the coast because the “Canadian” knowledge of the new residents, traders and missionaries mainly concerned the coastline and not inland. Yet the Innu primarily lived deep in the forest throughout the territory that includes areas other than Unamen Shipu, such as Pukuashipu (Saint-Augustin) and Nataskuanshipu. The notion of borders is therefore a recent one imposed by Europeans and new Canadians.

The La Romaine reserve was officially created in 1956 following a complaint from a resident of La Romaine (P. A. Guillemette), who objected that in the summer Indigenous people’s dogs were destroying his gardens and their tents were encroaching on his land. During these years, the settling process began with the concentration of different families in Unamen Shipu, including the Marks from Coucoutchou. It also marked the permanent arrival of Oblate Father Joveneau and the Indian Residential School of Sept-Îles for the community’s youth. Living in houses and not tents was a difficult transition. The creation of beaver reserves by the federal government fragmented the forest territory by imposing a territory manager (tallyman), which limited access to the resource.