Arts/Innu country skills
Arts and Innu Country Skills
The Tshikapisk Foundation actively sponsors projects to preserve and promote Innu cultural heritage through the arts. Besides initiating projects with Innu artists and craftspeople, we work in partnership with other organizations to facilitate visits by outside artists to work and teach in Innu communities.
Canoemaking Project
Description to follow.
Labrador Windows and Mirrors Photography Exhibit
In collaboration with the Quebec-Labrador Foundation (QLF) we sponsored two community exhibits at the Innu Nation buildings in Sheshatshit and Natuashish of photographs of Labrador Innu made in 1969 by Wendy Ewald, Candace and young Innu photographers from Sheshatshiu. In addition, there were photographs of people from Utshimassits made in 1985 by Cochrane. The photographs acted as both a window to times past and a mirror for discussion of change amongst the Innu people over the last 30 years.
The 2008 Innu Banner Project
As a follow-up to the Windows and Mirror Project, we are again collaborating with QLF to sponsor artists Wendy Ewald and Eric Gottesman to design a project using photography and other artistic media to explore Innu relationships to the country/Nutshimit and to the newly instrusive Euro-Canadian society.

In 1969 Wendy Ewald spent the summer in Sheshatshit teaching photography to young people in a QLF arts and recreation program.

Her 2007 reunion with some of her students sparked the idea of a new photography project. Although not yet fully developed this might explore the Innu conception of memory and history and the role of dreams in relationship to the interplay between Innu life in the country and Innu life in the government built villages.

In workshops during 2008, Innu young people will make photographs and maps that will be made into large banners to be posted in the community, marking paths that were regularly used by the Innu. The banners will later hang from buildings in Uashat/Sept Iles, St. Johnís, Quebec Cityand form the central focus of a related exhibit in those locations.
Mushuauinnu children at caribou waiting camp, Tshanuautipish, George River 1906. Photo: William Brooks Cabot (courtesy Smithsonian Institution) (larger version)
Ustanitshu - The Film
Tshikapisk is working on developing a film project which will dramatize an old Innu story called Ustanitshu. The story is set in the times before the Europeans came to the land of the Innu and takes place in the Mushuau area, the tundra region. The exercise of producing the film will require that skills that have been in abeyance for many years are practised once again. As the period in which the story is set is before the era of metal tools and other trade goods, all the tools and gear of the Innu camp in the story will have to be made from wood, bone, stone and skins alone.
In the case of some of this inventory, the knowledge of how to make the different items is still there in the memories of living individuals. Certain bone tools are still in general use among the Innu. But other items such as painted caribou skin coats and canoes made with birch bark and sewn with roots have not been made for a long time among the Innu. Tshikapisk is hoping that the preparation for the film will be the catalyst for at least a group of the younger generation acquiring the full suite of skills which the film will require.

See below for the Ustanitshu story upon which the film will be based. It is told by Napes Ashini in an English translation of the story he heard from his grandfather Pien Shushep Shanima.
Shushepis Rich showing how the caribou were drawn to near an Innu camp by a Kamantushit, (Innu hunter with supernatural powers) (larger version)
Ustanitshu - The story

This is a story from long ago which I heard from my grandfather Pienshushep Shanima, an old hunter. He told me his version of what he heard when he was a young boy.

This is a very old story. It happened a long time ago. It has something to do with how the Innu survived before, what the Innu did in order to survive. They always went to places where the fish and animals were prolific; caribou in particular was the main source of food and clothing. Fish and caribou were gathered and preserved to last a long period of time. We had to keep doing this when the animals were there to avoid running out of food. Sometimes we would have to leave the food in a cache, and move somewhere else to hunt and gather fish. Sometimes we would need to go back and retrieve it and sometimes other Innu found it who were less fortunate. Sometimes they replaced it. Thatís how we relied on each other and helped one another to survive, because all the Innu people understood why it was taken, they already knew.

Innu families traveled to Meshikamau and to Mushuaushipu and to Mushuaunipi to wait for the caribou herds in the places through which they normally migrate. They seldom missed the location; sometimes they were early, sometimes they were late but all the families had to get prepared while they were waiting, making corrals at the caribou crossings. It was in those places that the caribou were ambushed and speared. This normally takes place in the fall.

On one occasion the caribou did not arrive at all. The Innu people ran out of food while they were waiting. They were relying on fish, Kukumes (Lake Trout) and Brook Trout and eventually they did not get any fish at all. Thatís what itís like when Innu run out of food: itís like thereís no fish there but everyone knows thereís fish in the lake. This means they will have hardships. Although the women were setting their hooks in the lake they didnít get anything and they soon ran out of bait. At the same time the men were making long journeys for hunting but they came back with nothing. They continued doing this for several days; they donít give up easily.

Some hunters were too weak to go hunting and so were the women. The children were crying in hunger. The old hunters were very strong and they asked the younger men to make a kushapatshikan (shaking tent) to check what had happened to the caribou.
They did this and when the Kamutankatshiut came out of the shaking tent, he told the hunters that someone was trying to kill them all; that he was blocking the caribou from going through. The person who was preventing the caribou from reaching them was a very powerful Kamutankatshiut who was abusing his powers. ďThereís nothing we can do except to move to another location.Ē One of the young hunters told him ďEveryone is too weak to walk. We might as well die here. What can we do?Ē. One old hunter told the others that they would go hunting early in the morning to check for any tracks. ďHopefully we will meet the caribou when they come.Ē

Six hunters went for two days hunting. They didnít get anything. It was in the evening when they arrived. The children, boys and girls, were there to greet them. But they were disappointed when they heard the news.

In the night time the children could be heard crying in hunger until they cried themselves to sleep. Innu people got used to this because it happened in life sometimes. They knew that eventually they would get something. They didnít give up easily.

In the morning the sky was dark. It looked as if there was a big storm coming. All the hunters found it unusual: it looked as if it was going to rain or snow but it wasnít cold. They went hunting again and some went fishing. They only got one big skinny Kukumes. That was the ďsign of starvationĒ among them and they all knew that but didnít give up yet.

The children were very weak now and some were crying. Some were told to play outside in spite of the dark sky. But there was no wind.

In the afternoon the hunters came back with nothing even though they were very experienced hunters. Thatís what itís like sometimes when it seems as if there is nothing in this land. Thatís what itís like when animals donít want to be killed. Sometimes thatís what Kamutankutshiut do to Innu people. He is so powerful, he can make these things happen. But no-one knows why. He may be 300 miles away while he is doing this.

Hearing the commotion, some kind of excitement from the children one young hunter came out of his caribou skin shaputuan (large multifamily tent). He was a little over 40 years old. Someone was cooking something and the children were standing around waiting for the skinny fish to be boiled. The tears came to his eyes; he couldnít help it when he saw their excitement; some of the children were crying. But when they took out the fish the children could only drink the broth. There was no meat in it. The children were crying. Some did not have enough; some did not get anything.

The young man decided to walk to the point to look at the evening sky. He looked to the west and could see that it was clearing up. He could see the rays of the setting sun and the gleam off the pile of caribou antlers which had been stacked up by the Innu in past years after successful hunts. He looked to the other side of the lake and towards the barren hills on the horizon. He stood there thinking and decided to go back into the camp.

When he got there he spoke to the other hunters. He wanted to take a walk with the children who were not too weak; he wanted to walk to the biggest hill to the north west. It was a gradually sloping hill, less than a mile away. He went back to his tent and came out covering himself with a caribou skin and the children with him. He didnít want any adults with him, only the children, the young boys and girls. They all followed him to the barren hill. When they got there, the others could see him and the children standing on top of the hill and they stood there for a while and then they came down. When they returned to camp everyone was wondering what he was doing. When they were back he turned to the children and told them to look back. They turned and saw the pile of bleached caribou antlers gleaming in the evening sun and then as they looked at the hill from where they had just come they saw the dust rising up and the sun shining through it. It was the dust kicked up as the big caribou herd came over the hill in large numbers.

Everyone, including the children, was so excited they forgot their hunger. They knew they would live.

Napes Ashini
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