This Letter to the Editor was published in the June 8, 2009 issue of "The Labradorian."
I am still very concerned about Mista Shipu (Churchill River) and what may happen with the dam—I cannot forget! Even thought I haven’t written lately I am still working to protect the land. The old people are very concerned about these things. I know the young people are thinking about money, are worried about money, but money is not going to last. The land and rivers will be there all your life, but money won’t be. I know that my people want to work and make a living—to buy food, clothes, pay the light bill, telephone, everything. People want to work to make a living, but too often these jobs cause too much damage—the dams, the mines, the pollution, the mercury, the big trucks and machines. When we go hunting, we are always very careful not to make a mess, cause damage or kill everything. When we stay on the land we cut trees for the tent and for fire wood, but we don’t damage more than necessary. We just take enough for what we need. If people want to work on the land, it’s okay, but don’t destroy too much. Be careful with the land. Just like white people want to protect their farms—with their animals (chickens, cows, pigs) and vegetables for food—I want to protect the land which provides my food. The Innu don’t have farms, but we must protect the land where caribou, beaver, porcupine, otter, rabbit, goose, partridge and all kinds of fish live. Please slow down and be careful!
Everybody is trying to make a living, but the government is overdoing it and damaging the land. The Lower Churchill, for example, won’t come back to life again once it’s destroyed. We need to create jobs that don’t damage the environment, such as using windmills for electricity. Twenty or thirty years ago when the government was clear cutting, they said they would replant and not damage the land, but they didn’t plant the same trees that were there before and now it’s not grown back in the same way. We don’t know how this will affect the animals and other plants in this area because these new trees are not native to Labrador.
I never thought that there would be so much change in my lifetime—or that it could be changed so fast! I know we are not going to go way back, but I don’t want to let everything go or become lost for the young children. Our life is very important. I remember that everybody was healthy, strong and very happy in the country. Their minds were very clear and they made good decisions. I remember in the fall, the old people would sit together in the tent and say, “It’s time to go into the country again to look for food.” People were eating fresh food everyday and they were healthy. Even when the women were pregnant they would go in the country. When people were in the country and needed medicine, they knew what to do—they would get it from the plants growing around them. In everything, they knew what they were going to do.
My parents didn’t write down anything. They showed us what to do—how to make a shelter, build a fire or make a canoe. Now the young people are using a pencil and paper in school. It is good to go to school, but when they get to be 30 or 40 years old, will they have problems being on the land? Will they get lost or have accidents because they never learned from their parents? Both are important—being in school and being on the land. Also there is so much alcohol and drug use; the young people have lost their lives so fast. People are confused. I never thought I would need to ask the government for money to go in the bush. Before, we were very self-reliant, motivated and determined. We never complained, “Where am I going to get money? What am I going to do today?” We were always busy in the country. Innu people didn’t need to “make a living,” they picked up everything on their own.
Long ago the people across the river in Northwest were good friends of the Innu even though we had no common language and we didn’t speak English. We used short words. I remember, when I was young my father and a man from Northwest River would use short words to try to say, “Are you going hunting? Do you need traps?” Some of the older people from Northwest spoke a little Innu-aimun. Sometimes the Innu would cross the river to Northwest and the people would know he needed sealskin boots and would give him an old pair. Sometimes my father would come back from Northwest with some seal fat/grease in a small bottle and he was very happy because it is good medicine in the country. The two communities shared many things and would help each other with whatever they needed. They were good friends of the Innu and we respected each other. I explained this many times to my grandchildren and children.
The land is so important for all communities in Labrador—everybody uses the land, everyone is hunting, fishing and gathering wood. We all need to protect it. Please slow down and be careful with the land!
~Elizabeth Penashue, Sheshatshiu, NL