Innus

Our history

In our language, “Innu” means “human being.” This is the name our people gave themselves hundreds of years ago, long before the European colonists arrived. But the word “Innu” wasn’t officially adopted until 1990, replacing the name “Montagnais” given to us by the Europeans when they first arrived in North America.

A distant past

Our Innu ancestors arrived on this land over 10,000 years ago. Artifacts found in archeological sites, in the area where Croisières Essipit now launches cruises, reveal that they had an economy based on comprehensive use of their environment’s resources through hunting, fishing and gathering. Their essentially nomadic lifestyle was closely tied to the seasons.

From nomadic to sedentary

As nomads, our ancestors were constantly moving in search of the food they needed to survive. The arrival of the first European settlers, in the 18th century, had a considerable impact on all Aboriginal peoples.

Gradually a trading economy developed. Innu people traded meat and oil for everyday items provided by the Europeans (mirrors, knives, pots, axes, etc.). At the same time, the moose population fell into decline, so much so that our ancestors began hunting seals to replace the moose. All these factors helped transform the lifestyle of the Innu, who became increasingly sedentary.

Creation of the essipit innu reserve

In 1892, the Government of Canada officially created the “Essipiunnuat” reserve, a name that means “the Innu of the river of shells.” The limits of the reserve were redefined, cutting it off from the natural corridors of water transportation due to development of the forestry industry. Lumber camps and sawmills were installed along the major rivers used to drive timber down to the St. Lawrence.

To make extra money, the Innu began marketing their handicrafts to vacationers visiting Tadoussac.

Development of tourism

Taking inspiration from its traditional values, our community completely renewed itself in 1978. We created Entreprises Essipit and began developing a recreational tourism offering. Our land, which has served as a choice location for summer holidays since the mid-nineteenth century, became a destination for authentic vacations in Quebec’s Côte-Nord region.

For the last 35 years, Entreprises Essipit has been offering vacations focused on experiencing nature in the heart of Innu lands. The organization manages all activities and facilities on our lands. Entreprises Essipit is owned by the members of our community, who value a cooperative community system and have a deep, abiding respect for natural resources.

Entreprises Essipit allows tourists from Quebec, Canada and the rest of the world to discover the Côte-Nord region in all its charms as well as our indigenous reality.

Aboriginal culture has much to offer

MAP OF THE COMMUNITY

Aboriginal culture

For centuries, Aboriginal culture has defined our people’s identity, in peace and in friendship. The Innu nation, to which we belong, differs from other Aboriginal cultures in Quebec through its customs and lifestyle. We are proud of our cultural heritage, which can be seen in the actions we take every day to maintain a contemporary lifestyle and a vibrant identity.

A people-centered language

Even though most members of our community now speak French, we remain deeply attached to Innu-aimun (or Montagnais), our mother tongue. Some of the sites of our accommodations bear Innu names in memory of past members of the community. It’s just our way of preserving this language alive and teaching it to our children.

Innu is much more than a language: it is a singular way of seeing the world. The words we speak create real images and form a world of their own. These word-images are formed by juxtaposing two words. For example, the word “Ishkuteutapan” (train) was by combining the words “Ishkuteu” (fire) with “Utapan” (carriage).

Innu culture is usually shared by speaking, so there are very few books or public documents written in our language. Happily, the Internet and other new technologies are raising awareness of it. We encourage you to visit one of our traditional sites and learn more about this language, which is so full of meaning.

Fantastic stories and legends

Our culture would not be the same without the fantastic stories and legends that shaped it centuries ago. Most of the stories passed down to us involve animals talking to people. Our ancestors jad the highest regard for nature and animals. For them, people and animals shared the earth, and humans were just another link in the chain of life.

One of the most popular legends concerns summer birds explaining to the Innu how to live in harmony with the environment. Parents told these ancient stories to their children to pass along Innu values to the next generation.

The rich diversity of Innu art

Craftsmanship was deeply engrained in the lives of our ancestors, and they expressed their creativity in many different ways. Some painted patterns on caribou hides that were used to make clothing or drum heads. Others were musicians or singers at sacred traditional ceremonies. And still other produced impressive sculptures, mostly of the animals they saw in nature. Innu culture was freely and peacefully expressed, and always with only the greatest respect for the environment.

Our people are proud of their culture, and today we have many committed artists who spread awareness of the Innu across Quebec and Canada. Our artists are known for their singing and poetry as well as in the visual arts. Even if each has his or her own personality, they all share a sincere desire to share traditional Innu culture.

Innu values

Entreprises Essipit and our community are united around the importance of maintaining Innu values. The three pillars of our cultural identity are to share Innu culture, respect the environment and the development of natural resources.

Share Innu culture

Even today, our community ensures that we continue to honour our ancestors’ concept of sharing. We generously share the customs and practices handed down to us over the generations with tourists, just as we share wealth within our own community.

Indeed, a cooperative community system is the bedrock of our socio-economic development. Entreprises Essipit belongs to all of us, and it serves as the community’s main source of income. Sharing has been an integral part of our lifestyle for centuries, and we proudly maintain this long tradition.

Respect for the environment

Our community’s ancestors had great respect for their environment. They relied on hunting, fishing and gathering activities for their nourishment. Human beings shared the earth in perfect harmony with the flora and fauna.

Today we continue the work of our ancestors by wisely managing our land. We firmly believe that it is possible to maintain an attractive tourism offering while preserving environmental quality for future generations.

Development of natural resources

The socio-economic structure of our community is based on development of the natural resources that have played such an important role in our history. Our plan is to promote the many streams and rivers, the fertile soil and green landscapes of our land. The tourism offering of Entreprises Essipit is essentially based on a unique resort experience and energizing outdoor activities.

Traditional cuisine

We owe our traditional cuisine to the nomadic lifestyle adopted by our ancestors when they arrived in North America. Hunting, fishing and gathering allowed them to make harmonious use of the wealth of this land for the community’s survival. Even today, Innu culinary traditions follow ancestral customs.

Environmentally friendly consumption

Convinced of the importance of preserving their environment, our ancestors adapted their ways to the resources at hand. They had a highly varied diet, which included eating meat and animal fat to face the rigours of a difficult climate.

The Innu had a use for every part of the animals they caught. While the animal simmered in its broth, they collected the grease with a large spoon, filling a pot that was then passed around to everyone. In this way, our ancestors’ respect for nature and its animals allowed them to survive through the cycle of seasons.

Food preservation methods

To any avoid waste or loss of meat, our ancestors developed their own methods of food preservation. They smoked and dried meat to make provisions.

Wood supports, in the form of a grid, were set up in their shelters. Strips of meat and fish, slashed and pierced in several places, were attached to the supports for more effective drying over the smoke. The meat and fish would be smoked for three or four hours, depending on its thickness. Once it was dry, the families would eat this meat over the next few days.

Extra dried meat could also be reduced to powder and stored in containers to be used later as “Pammican.” Pammican was easy to carry, so it was greatly appreciated by the nomadic people. The Innu added grease or oil to enhance their energy intake, particularly when on the hunt.

Bartering and trading

Well before the first Europeans arrived, the Innu had developed relationships with other nearby Aboriginal peoples. For example, they were bartering with the Hurons to acquire flour and corn.

Once they came in contact with Europeans, our ancestors gradually began introducing new foods into their cuisine such as tea, molasses, peas and bread. This is when the Innu began making more use of flour, including in bannock, the Innu’s traditional bread.

Traditional foods

Traditional Innu cuisine is colourful and flavourful. There are many typical Innu foods still enjoyed by both Aboriginals and tourists alike.

One of the most popular of these foods is bannock, the traditional bread, also known as “Puesheken.” The kneaded dough was placed directly on sand that was preheated by a wood fire. It could bake for up to two hours, depending on how damp the sand was. Once baked, the extra sand was scraped off the bread with a knife and the bannock was served. Today, bannock is usually baked in a pan or an oven.

Making bannock

Caribou meat is a staple in traditional Innu cuisine, and various recipes used today recall a time when our ancestors had to hunt in order to survive. Caribou was eaten cooked, smoked or even raw. Today chefs take inspiration from Innu culinary traditions to invent new dishes of contemporary gastronomy. This includes fried caribou and caribou tartare.

Preparing tartare