Mushuau Innu First Nation

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The Mushuau Innu First Nation is located in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.[1] This First Nations band government has one reserve which has been located near the community of Natuashish since 2002 when it moved from Davis Inlet. The reserve has an area of roughly 43 square kilometres.

The Mushuau Innu and the Naskapi tribe were once the same people, speaking the same dialect and writing in syllabics, but split off and headed to Eastern Labrador, probably for sustainability reasons. Very few (if any) Mushuau Innu are able to write in syllabics any more. The majority of the tribe is Catholic and use the Montagnais Bible which does not use syllabics.

The chief of this First Nation is John Nui.[2] As of March 2013, the First Nation has a registered population of 897 people, of whom 832 live on-reserve.[3]


The Naskapi traditionally lived in the interior of Labrador and Quebec. In 1830, the Hudson's Bay Company established a trading post at Fort Chimo, Rupert's Land and in 1831 they established one at Davis Inlet, Labrador.[4] The HBC traded ammunition, tobacco and alcohol to the Naskapi in exchange for fur. It is likely that the substance abuse problems that exist among the Mushuau Innu started when the HBC arrived.

The traditional way of life of the Naskapi was threatened in 1916 when caribou herd were too small to sustain the Naskapi.[5] The same year, a Naskapi settlement was recorded at "Old Davis Inlet" (located on mainland Labrador near the modern settlement). In 1942, the Commission of Government took control of the trading post at Davis Inlet. In 1945, a Catholic missionary (from Montreal according to the Innu) set up a church in the community. The missionary attempted to control alcohol abuse in the community around this time and allowed non-drinking Innu to have bigger punts. The 1945 census showed that a large Innu community existed at Davis Inlet and a few residents used the surname "Rich" however most residents did not use a surname. A small Innu population also existed in Nain.[6]

In 1948, the Commission moved 74 Innu from Davis Inlet to Nutak (a now-resettled Inuit community in the north. The Innu were not consulted about the move and after a year they returned on-foot to Davis Inlet. It is unclear why the resettlement took place at all. After the province joined Canada in 1949, the Indian Act was not applied to the Innu since (according to the Commission) status Indians at the time did not have the right to vote while indigenous peoples of Labrador had the right to vote before confederation. The Innu were mostly unaware of the act and its benefits to First Nations in other provinces until the "white paper controversy" in 1969. Many Innu felt like the federal and provincial governments had ignored them.[7] In 1967, "Old Davis Inlet" was abandoned and the Innu were moved to the modern settlement of Davis Inlet on Iluikoyak Island. The province hoped to improve the economic situation for the Innu by getting them more involved in the saltwater fishery while the province also provided ferry service to Davis Inlet connecting it to the rest of Labrador and to Newfoundland. The Innu were promised modern housing in the new settlement however the houses were poorly constructed and lacked running water during winter while other houses lacked running water at all. The tough land prevented the houses from having basements and prevented the community from having a sewage system. Suicide and substance abuse were commonplace among the Mushuau Innu.

In 1992, six unattended children were killed in a house fire and in 1993, a video of young children huffing gasoline and shouting that they wanted to die gained national attention.[8] The Innu hoped to relocate to the mainland so they could have better housing and hopefully fix some social issues however premier Brian Tobin hoped for them to move to an existing community like Nain while the Innu wanted a new community built. After Tobin left office in 2000 the province agreed to build a new community at Sango Pond called "Natuashish". In the provincial election in 1999, the Progressive Conservative Party's candidate for the Torngat Mountains was Simeon Tshakapesh, the only Innu to ever contest in a province-wide election. He was defeated by incumbent MHA Wally Andersen.

Current situation[edit]

The Mushuau Innu gained recognition under the Indian Act in 2002 and Natuashish became a reserve. The new community has better housing that the settlement at Davis Inlet and it is now easier for the Innu to reach their traditional hunting lands. The MV Northern Ranger (a ferry service operated by Nunatsiavut Marine Inc.) goes on a route from Happy Valley-Goose Bay to Black Tickle, Cartwright, Rigolet, Makkovik, Hopedale, Natuashish and Nain every summer. Natuashish can also be reached via the Natuashish Airport.

While substance abuse and suicide is still a major problem for the Mushuau Innu, rates have gone down since the move to Natuashish in 2002.