Home Quebec music At a gathering in Natuashish, a chance to reconnect with old friends and old habits

At a gathering in Natuashish, a chance to reconnect with old friends and old habits


Delphina Rich crouched on the dirt floor of the large community tent, entwining the spruce branches that would serve as a cushion for the elders to soon enjoy a traditional feast.

She learned to pick up branches and lay them down from childhood. Rich and a few other women spent most of the day there.

It is meticulous and meditative work. She hadn’t since her father died 15 years ago.

“I never forget what my father showed me in cultural work. Our culture,” she said.

“He would be proud of me, the way I’m working right now. He’d probably be watching over me right now.”

Innu flags flutter next to tents, gathered at a gathering of elders in Natuashish, in August 2022. (John Gaudi/CBC)

The 2022 Gathering of Elders saw hundreds of Innu from Labrador and Quebec descend on Natuashish for a week of cultural celebrations in the territory.

Nearly a hundred tents dotted the landscape just outside the Mushuau Innu First Nation. The Innu communities of the region welcome each other in turn. This gathering, at the end of August, was the first since 2019, thanks to COVID-19.

An Innu sings into a microphone while playing a traditional drum.
Innu elder Joachim Nui sings at a gathering of elders in Natuashish, August 2022. (John Gaudi/CBC)

Joachim Nui, eighty-eight, was born in the countryside at Lake Kamestastin in Labrador and is the last traditional Natuashish drummer.

He said the gathering is modeled on similar gatherings that took place around the country before colonization and before communities were settled.

“The locals sometimes met in the same place. They were all walking. They were meeting and pitching tents, Nui said in Innu-aimun, through interpreter Philip Pinette.

“There were meals, a party together, because they met. They had fun. There were drums and there were dances, traditional dances.”

Innu women are seated in a circle and play the boilerplate game.
Innu elders play a boilerplate game at a gathering in Natuashish in August 2022. (John Gaudi/CBC)

Nui would tell stories and drum for a crowd, while family members danced in the traditional style, marching in time in a large circle in the community tent.

In the past, says Nui, these kinds of gatherings happened spontaneously. These days, younger generations are planning far ahead.

Along with storytelling, drumming and dancing, the gathering features modern entertainment: a named king and queen in each community, games like the Master Key, and music from contemporary artists like Natuashish The Gregoire Boys.

The Innu elders sit on chairs in a circle and play the boilerplate game.
A group of Innu elders play a game of boilerplate at a gathering in Natuashish in August 2022. (John Gaudi/CBC)

There were also solemn events, such as guided discussions on the impact of alcohol on Innu communities and a visit to the abandoned community of Davis Inlet.

And in between, plenty of downtime to visit from tent to tent, play cards, and reconnect with old friends and distant cousins ​​after years away.

“Things like that make life better. I just see good positivity around me. I just see a lot of good people having fun and being happy,” said 13-year-old Roman Lee Penashue.

Roman said he loves being on land and connecting with nature.

“Being around elders can really help you too, they can teach you a lot of things.”

A young Innu wearing a red plaid hoodie and baseball cap smiles and gives a double thumbs up in front of an Innu tent.
Roman Lee Penashue, 13, says you can learn a lot by being on the ground with elders. (John Gaudi/CBC)

That kind of cross-generational exchange isn’t as easy as it used to be, Nui said.

Her parents taught her the traditional ways of the countryside, but as the Innu moved into the communities and started attending school, those skills began to fade.

“It’s not the same,” Nui said through her interpreter.

For kids like Roman, a gathering of elders is too rare a glimpse into how things used to be. A chance to learn the old ways – tinged with the new.

The highlight for him: watching his father play with the Gregorie Boys. Roman is learning to play the guitar and hopes to one day pursue a career in music.

“My dream is to be like my father,” he said.

Next year, the Gathering of Elders will be held in Unamen-Shipu (also known as La Romaine) in Quebec.

A large group of Innu elders stand in a group, posing for a photo on a wharf.
Innu elders pose on a wharf during a visit to the former community of Davis Inlet. (John Gaudi/CBC)

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