In between basketball games at the Central Quebec School Board tournament this weekend, Christian Thibault and his teammates were introduced to traditions that have served the Naskapi for generations.
The tournament, the first of its kind ever held in the northern Quebec First Nations community, aimed to knit together two worlds through sport and tradition.
High school students from across central Quebec took part in workshops that included caribou skinning and butchering, ptarmigan plucking and ice fishing.
“I’m taking full of advantage since I’ve never done this and I’ll probably never do it again,” Thibault, a Secondary 4 student, said while plucking snow-white ptarmigan with two Naskapi women.
The tournament was held at the board’s northernmost school, Jimmy Sandy Memorial School, in the Naskapi community of Kawawachikamach, located near the Labrador border, about 15 kilometres from Schefferville.
Students said they left Schefferville with a better understanding of First Nations communities and the Naskapi culture after the “once-in-a-lifetime” experience.
Some admitted they arrived in the community with cliché ideas about aboriginal people.
“[I had heard] that people are lazy. And they are not. I just saw firsthand at the game they all try really hard,” 16-year-old Cédrick Perreault said.
He plans to return to Kawawchikamach next summer with two classmates to learn more about the Naskapi ways.
Hoop dream to reality
Hosting the tournament in Kawawchikamach was the brainchild of the former principal of Jimmy Sandy Memorial, Curtis Tootoosis. He had been dreaming about it for a decade but only managed to sell the school board on the idea last year.
It cost about $190,000 to host the tournament. The money came from school surpluses, Ministry of Education grants for cultural exchanges, a gift from the Naskpi Band Council and donations.
Much of the organization fell into the hands of the former vice-principal, Joanne Strasser, who took over Tootoosis position as principal in January.
“I think they finally see us more than the school from the north with the First Nations kids,” she said.
“They see us as everyday kids but they have a better perspective of where we are coming from and the difficulties and the lifestyle that we lead.”
Students from Jimmy Sandy Memorial have always had to travel outside of the community to participate in tournaments, so their parents and friends never have the opportunity to see them play.
During local games at this weekend’s tournament, the spectator side of the gym was so full, some fans’ feet were on the court.
Naomi Einish took the day off work to watch her daughter play for the Jimmy Sandy Memorial Hawks.
“I’m proud of her, win or lose she’s a winner to me,” she said.
Her daughter, Secondary 1 student Ruby-Jade Jake, said being able to play in front of friends and family made her “feel proud. For once.”
That comment brought tears to the eyes of several teachers and staff members.
The tournament may have been driven by competition, but being able to play in front of loved ones was definitely exciting for the young players, said coach Cory Meehan.
“That’s the cherry on top of this whole basketball cake,” she said.
‘Everyone is ecstatic’
The boys’ team from Jimmy Sandy Memorial won a banner in the B-division of the tournament.
“I think you can tell on everybody’s faces in the crowd or on my team that everyone is ecstatic,” said coach Kyle Schroeder.
Shane Peastitute,15, was all smiles as he carried his seven-month-old daughter on the court after the game.
“I feel great! I’m happy she’s here to watch me play,” he said.
Peastitute won the most valuable player award on his team.
Strasser said all the planning and preparation paid off and the weekend was a great success.
The principal said she hopes the tournament comes back to her community one day.
“But not next year,” she added.
A couple months ago, the National Archives of Canada, who were hosting the Naskapi Lexicon, made a bunch of changes to their servers and were no longer able to support the Lexicon.
The Naskapi Lexicon is an online version of the Naskapi Dictionary that Marguerite McKenzie and Bill Jancewicz put together, so to have it go offline is a big deal, because this is where most Naskapi look up spelling and pronunciation of words.
Fortunately, Carleton University (who also host the Cree and Innu Lexicons) agreed to do a Naskapi version as well. The new Lexicon has much better search functions. It is still in Beta (which means they’re still working on it) but you can try it out. It is being worked on by Bill Jancewicz, as a member of the “Algonquian Dictionaries Working Group”.
You can find it by clicking on this link: http://naskapi.atlas-ling.ca/
In the future, it will also include an option to submit new words as well!
NATUASHISH, N.L. – A body recovered on sea ice along Labrador’s remote northern coast is that of James Poker, a teenaged boy reported missing 10 days ago, an Innu leader confirmed Thursday.
Family members identified the 17-year-old as his body was recovered Wednesday about 30 kilometres from Natuashish, the community formerly known as Davis Inlet, Chief Gregory Rich said in an interview.
Rich said residents are mourning the death of a sweet, kind young man.
“If you met him on the road, he would give you a thumb’s up and wave at you. Usually he called me Mr. Chief,” Rich said. “‘How are you, Mr. Chief?’ he says to me, with a big smile on his face.”
RCMP Cpl. Rick Mills said the body was being flown to St. John’s for an autopsy as early as Friday morning.
The crew of an aircraft flying near Davis Inlet on Wednesday spotted what appeared to be a body on the ice and notified police.
Poker was reported missing from Natuashish on Feb. 16. Searchers scoured the region by air and on the ground for any sign of him, with no luck.
Rich said Poker was on foot and it’s not known why he wound up so far from the community.
The boy’s father, Thomas Poker, said in an interview that his son went to live with relatives as a baby after he and the child’s mother broke up.
He said James later spent six years in foster care in Ontario until he was 16.
Thomas Poker said he tried to welcome James but his son didn’t feel at home after so many years away. He often preferred to stay at the local youth shelter.
He said his son had recently struggled with undiagnosed mental health issues and was hearing voices, but there are few support services nearby.
He said James twice visited Hopedale, about 80 kilometres south down the coast from Natuashish, by boat in September and November.
His son’s friends have mentioned that he talked of walking to the community, that maybe he wanted to see someone there and tried to make it on foot.
Chief Rich said Poker would drop by his office sometimes to chat.
“Our main talk was to further his education and find something to do after he graduated,” Rich recalled. “He visited a lot of people in the community and that’s how people got to love him.”
He said Poker loved hanging out with friends, joking around and listening to music. He’d often see him at the recreation centre in the small community of about 900 people.
Ruby Rich said her young cousin will always be in her heart. James would often drop by her house for a laugh and a meal, she said from Natuashish.
She said he’d always tell her: “I’ll see you later, okay?”
Chief Rich said he’s satisfied the search for the boy, though at times hampered by winter weather, was thorough.
Only 20 are currently estimated to be present in the herd located in central Labrador to the north of the Churchill River. It is the area known as the Red Wine subpopulation. The reduction in the numbers of the animals has been recorded from 97 identified in a 2001 survey of an area north and south of the river to mere 20 now.
Innu from Quebec and Labrador drew flak for hunting five and six years ago as it covered areas known to be occupied by caribou from the Red Wine herd.
The larger George River herd was the actual target of the hunt, but officials strongly believed that it also resulted into killings of Red Wine caribou.
Crummell said hunting seems to be one of the primary factors for the population decline. He added that hunting of the animal is currently banned and efforts are being continuously made to ensure prevention of the herd from extinction.
Crummell said that they are optimistic with regards to comeback of the herd to a sustainable level. “We have notified Nalcor Energy to revise their activities in this area to minimize all disturbances to the remaining animals, including avoiding and limiting project activities during sensitive time periods and more monitoring will be conducted”, said Crummell.
Caribou numbers are declining all around the world and the Red Wine herd is one of 57 in Canada designated as threatened. Besides hunting, other reasons like predation, range deterioration and low survival rates, were also blamed by Crummell for the decline in the population of the animal.
The Supreme Court of Canada will not hear a Quebec native group’s appeal against the Lower Churchill hydro project in Labrador.
The Conseil des Innus de Ekuanitshit oppose a plan by Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, now Nalcor Energy, to build two power plants on the Churchill River at Gull Island and Muskrat Falls.
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The Innu of Ekuanitshit, who live at the mouth of the La Romaine River in Quebec, hunt for caribou in the area where the power plants will be.
The project was approved after a provincial and a federal environmental assessment by a joint review panel, which also recommended a series of mitigation measures.
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The panel said the impact on Quebec aboriginal land and resource uses after the mitigation efforts would be adverse, but not significant and that the benefits would outweigh the environmental and economic impacts.
The federal cabinet approved the project in 2012, again stipulating certain environmental mitigation measures, and the Innu sued, losing at both the Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal.
As usual, the Supreme Court gave no reasons for refusing to hear the case.