Art For Indigenous Survival

Innu of Davis Inlet, Labrador, Canada 1995

May 2: A day of flying - US Air to Boston, Air Canada to Halifax, Deer Lake and Goose Bay (the Capital of Labrador with its 8000 people). Labrador is the eastern-most province of Canada and is located in the sub-artic circle. The western boundary borders Quebec, the north is the entrance to Hudson's Bay, the south to the St. Lawrence Seaway and the east faces the oft-frozen Davis Strait and Greenland. From the haunting Torngat Mountains in the north to the boggy fields of the south, Labrador is constantly buffeted by the cold artic winds and frozen over for 8 months of the year. Survival is never taken for granted.

May 3: Caught Air Labrador to Davis Inlet, the 5th stop up the frozen coast where we were met by Susie on an ATV who took us into Davis. In 1968 the Innu people left their nomadic life of the past 4000 years following the Caribou. The Catholic Church and the Canadian government settled them at Davis, an island with limited good drinking water and no sewage system. They had a hard time adjusting and the years at Davis have been very painful. They are still active hunters (one of the last 4 tribes in North America) and have been petitioning the Canadian Govt. to move them to Sango Bay on the mainland with good water and plans for a workable sewage system. We stayed with Mary Jane Andrew and her children. Many people spend spring and fall in the country in tents so children will know the old ways.

May 4: Breakfast spent watching a herd of Caribou migrate across the ice. Took a tour of the village - Tribal Office, Women's Center, Store, Community Health, the clinic (staffed by two Grenville Nurses - doctor comes in once a month), the school and church on one side of the big rock and the Innu villagers in houses and tents on the other side - all facing the frozen strait.

May 5: Started working in the Women's and Children's Center on Labradorian wildflowers - Bunchberries, Beach Peas, Blue Flags, and Fireweed - making a large wall hanging for a public place and many small hangings for women to take home. Wanted to start on the Caribou heads but stuffing hasn't come UPS yet. Irma Stein (my companion and president of AIS) started on a quilt.

May 8: Finished the day with 6 Bunchberries, one Beach Pea and one Blue Flag, Mary Jane's Mother, Agatha Piawas is delightful but speaks very little English (many of the older women refuse to speak English) but is helping us teach the others - we had 3 elderly ladies and 6 young women working with us (there are only 500 people in Davis and a quarter were in the country). Watched Mary Jane's father and brother pack up the skiddoos and kamatucks (wooden box on sleighs pulled by skiddoo), with rifles on their backs heading out to hunt geese.

May 11: Called UPS to trace the 3 bags of stuffing - no word so far.

May 17: Spent the morning working on the Caribou head and looking for plastic bags, fabric scraps and old clothes to cut up for stuffing. The women have decided to hang the flowers in the church and the Caribou is to go into the chief's office. The quilt will be donated to the school for their fall auction. UPS promises to get the stuffing to us soon but only 8 days to go. Irma and I were on the local TV station - the Tribal Council has brought in satellite dishes and wired up each house - they get Ottawa, Toronto, Detroit, Chicago, Manitoba (more stations than I get in North Carolina), etc.

May 25: Hung the first Caribou in Chief Katie Rich's office, second in the Women's Center. Gave the quilt to Sister Joan for the school auction. Hung the flowers in the Church. The stuffing arrived so taught everyone to make pillows using the quilting pattern. Stuffed butterflies for everyone to take home. It's cold and snowing outside and we leave tomorrow. Found certain continuities in first 3 trips: women keep people going, trying hard to merge old and new ways, alcohol (younger people working hard on changing things), meaningful roles for men, and fry bread.