The territory as a link between nations
An article by Valérie Levée, science journalist
Relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are not only about tension and conflict. Harmony can also exist. This is demonstrated by the project Territoire Mamuapuat (which, in the Innu language, means living together) proposed by Nathalie Lapierre, a committed citizen of Natashquan, and developed in partnership with Laurie Guimond, professor in the Department of Geography of UQAM.
This project was conceived by Nathalie Lapierre who has been working in close collaboration with the neighbouring Innu community of Nutashkuan for several years. She solicited Innu partners as well as professor Guimond for its realisation. "It is the example of a project originating in the community that has transited through UQAM," says Laurie Guimond, who herself has worked for twenty years in Minganie on the North Shore. Nathalie Lapierre deplored the fact that there was a lot of talk about the tensions between the communities and wanted to highlight the positive relationships that were also being established. The project was developed in collaboration with Yvonne Mesténapéo and Vicky Bellefleur of Nutashkuan, as well as Caroline Einish of the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach and other partners, with the objective of better understanding the dynamics of inter-community cohabitation and identifying the synergy factors. To disseminate the research results, the project also included the production of short films. "The entire process was carried out according to the ethical principles of respect, transparency, dialogue and honesty, strongly inspired by The First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Research Protocol," says Laurie Guimond. As a geographer, she is interested in intercultural cohabitation in the North, both in communities and in ancestral territories. But here again, Nathalie Lapierre inspired this questioning. "She said that in the community, there are tensions and people don't get along, whereas in the territories, people are closer to each other", reports Laurie Guimond, "we want to know why the relations are better in ancestral territories than in the communities where the relations are more pragmatic.
Three case studies illustrated in short films
A foray on the Chemin du 5è, an old forestry road frequented by the non-Indigenous inhabitants of Natashquan and the Innu of Nutashkuan, provides a better understanding of the intercultural dynamics through hunting, fishing, berry picking and other resourcing activities.
In Unamen Shipu and La Romaine, the buying back of fishing quotas from non-native fishermen by the governments and their resale to the Innu community for its economic and social development had created tensions. The Innu of Unamen Shipu hired fishermen from La Romaine to train them and they now work together. Here again, it is the access to the territory's resources and the fishing activity that have brought the communities together.
The case of the Tricomm ecocenter is an example of the coming together of the Naskapi of Kawawachikamach, the non-Indigenous population of Schefferville and the Innu of Matimekush-Lac John. The three communities have mobilized and overcome their differences to seek subsidies, create the Tricomm ecocenter and export hazardous residual materials such as batteries, paints and computer equipment. Previously, these hazardous materials were burned in the landfill. Now, they are loaded on the train and sent south to be disposed of in an eco-responsible manner," describes Laurie Guimond.
Searching for an intercultural bond
To conduct a survey of the communities, master's students from the Department of Geography and Innu researchers went into the field to meet with local key players and citizens. They conducted individual interviews, participated in focus groups or took part in participant observations. "Observations allow us to put into context what the people we interviewed said and to witness the relational dynamics between communities," explains Laurie Guimond.
The result is that "it is the ancestral territory that is at the heart of the relationships. In the North, the territory is occupied and exploited a comparable way whether one is non-Indigenous or Indigenous. The same activities such as hunting, fishing and gathering are practiced and this becomes a link between the nations", comments Laurie Guimond. It is not in the communities themselves that these connections occur, but in the traditional territories. Even in the case of the Tricomm Ecocentre, the territory is at the origin of the reconciliation, because it is the desire to have a healthy territory, to reduce the sources of pollution, that brought the three communities together.
The research also provided a better understanding of the tension that persist between the communities, particularly those generated by the uses of ancestral territory. It provides a new perspective on inter-community relations. "Relationships of everyday life are not well documented in the traditional territories," she notes. She adds that on a day-to-day basis, non-Indigenous and Indigenous North Shore residents share services and must build bridges even though different governance systems separate them.
Coming soon to the screen
These three examples of cohabitation are put into images by Les Productions perceptions 3i, always in partnership with the communities. Mamuku Meshkanat, Ensemble sur le Chemin, which tells the story of the Chemin du 5è, was previewed in the communities in the fall of 2022, and then on February 12 at the Ciné Sept Festival du Film in Sept-Îles. The other two short films are being finalized. The screening of these three films could counter the often-negative image of relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
To go further
Guimond, L., Lapierre, N., Mesténapéo, Y., Couture-Cossette, M. and Bellehumeur, C. (sous presse). Mamuapuat cohabiter au bout de la route : entre communautés et territoire. Cahiers de géographie du Québec.
Guimond, L. and Desmeules, A. (2019). Des ponts interculturels à la rivière Romaine ? Développement nordique et territorialités innues. Québec, Presses de l’Université du Québec, Collection Géographie contemporaine.
Wooltorton, S., Guimond, L., Poelina, A., Reason, P. and Horwitz, P. (2022). Voicing Rivers. Special issue. River Research and Applications, 38(3).
The instigators of the research project: Yvonne Mesténapéo, Nathalie Lapierre, Vicky Bellefleur and Laurie Guimond (photo credit Tania Lara Casaubon)
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