Innu elders testify at inquiry about loss of culture ‘when the priests came’

Penote Antuan, an Innu elder from Sheshatshiu in Labrador told an inquiry looking into the child welfare system that he was sent to an orphanage 1,700 south in St. John’s because he spoke his language.

“The punishment, we would have would lay on a table, we had five or six straps on each hand,” he said. “That’s what I call cruel. You don’t see a person doing that because they are different brothers.

“The first thing I knew I they were Irish brothers from Ireland.”

The former Mount Cashel orphanage was notorious for abuse suffered by boys who went there. When news broke about the abuse, a public inquiry was called and lawsuits against the province and brothers commenced.

Antuan testified Wednesday about promises of housing and running water in his community.

“Neither one of them had running water, neither one of them had a bathroom,” he said.

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Mushuau Innu Ellder Joachim Nui testified in Innu.

He said traditions were lost, such as the shaking tent, a sacred ceremony to honour animals before a hunt.

“There’s no one here that is still practicing shaking tent,” he said. “I think shaking tent died off when priest came to the community. Priest said what you’re doing is devil’s work. Elders lost interest because of what was told by priest.”

Nui testified how five children put in his care faired much better than in the provincial child welfare system.

“Those kids that were under my care… they never lost their identity their language their way of being,” he said.

Anastasia Qupee, the only Innu commissioner on the inquiry, said it’s important to hear from the elders.

“What elder Joachim said was that people were happy, and people looked after their children, people provided for their children, and that’s really important information and for this week,” she said. “This is the information we are looking for.”

The inquiry is expected to end in the summer of 2024.

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