This book is about the social and political processes involved in the extinguishment of a unique way of life of the Innu people of Nitassinan, the Labrador-Quebec peninsula. In the 1950s and 60s, the Innu were prompted by Canadian authorities to abandon permanent nomadic hunting, the way of life that had made them independent and self-reliant occupants of the Subarctic. These people, who had occupied a territory the size of France, and for whom the land, waterways and animals provided physical, moral and spiritual sustenance, were settled in government-built villages in Northern Quebec and Labrador. Sustained efforts to impose Euro-Canadian authority upon the Innu have had the effect of seriously eroding not only a distinct way of life, but a unique view of the self, society, and the cosmos. Such efforts have also resulted in rates of suicide, alcoholism, and other forms of self-destructive abuse that are among the highest in the world. By observing interactions between the Innu and the Euro-Canadian institutions imposed upon them, Samson examines how the attempt to destroy the Innu way of life has actually operated. The book looks in detail at Innu relations with the Canadian state, developers, explorers, missionaries, educators, health-care professionals, and the justice system.
This book is well written, and frequently fascinating. As a detailed ethnography of an individual people’s experiences, it makes an important contribution to the broader corpus of North American Aboriginal studies. It also provides a useful corrective for those otherwise convinced of Canada’s essential goodness.