A life in Labrador

Tshaukuesh Elizabeth Pe­nashue pre­par­ing to pub­lish her story of fam­ily, ac­tivism and con­nec­tion to the land

The Western Star - - LIFE - BY DANETTE DOO­LEY SPE­CIAL TO SALTWIRE NET­WORK [email protected]

It’s taken many years to come to fruition, but re­spected Innu el­der and en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist Tshaukuesh Elizabeth Pe­nashue is just months away from pub­lish­ing her book “Nitinkikiau In­nusi: I Keep the Land Alive.”

Co-edited and co­trans­lated by Pe­nashue and Elizabeth Yeo­man of Me­mo­rial Univer­sity’s fac­ulty of ed­u­ca­tion, the book is sched­uled for re­lease by the Univer­sity of Man­i­toba Press in April 2019.

Speak­ing by phone from her home in She­shat­shiu, Pe­nashue said she is very happy her book is go­ing to be pub­lished.

“We talk about so many things (in the book) — go­ing in the bush when I was young, in with my par­ents … when I stayed in the bush in the coun­try with my fam­ily, then when I mar­ried, go­ing in the bush with my chil­dren and my grand­chil­dren. A lot of sto­ries,” she said.

Pe­nashue was a leader in the Innu cam­paign against NATO low-level fly­ing on Innu land dur­ing the 1980s and ’90s.

“Innu women never used to go out to meet­ings, but it was time to wake up and do some­thing to stop the de­struc­tion caused by low-level fly­ing and weapons test­ing,” Pe­nashue writes in the Pro­logue to her book. “We started the spring walk and the sum­mer ca­noe trip to teach peo­ple about our land and about the Mish­ta­shipu, the hy­dro projects.”

The 74-year-old also wrote, “When I first spoke pub­licly at Pat­shishet­sua­nau, a lot of peo­ple came to hear what I had to say. … I went to the bomb­ing range with other ac­tivists. We put tents on the base to protest. We were jailed many times, in Goose Bay and Stephenville. We walked from Toronto to Ot­tawa and they put us in jail there, too. … I went to Europe twice to speak.”

Pe­nashue has devoted her life to teach­ing peo­ple about Innu cul­ture by shar­ing her story and knowl­edge of the land.

“Ev­ery­thing we do is to show the gov­ern­ment that our cul­ture and way of life are cru­cial for our sur­vival,” she wrote. “We can’t go back to the old ways com­pletely, but we must pass the knowl­edge and skills on to our chil­dren and grand­chil­dren.”

In her in­tro­duc­tion to the book, Yeo­man writes about walk­ing in the coun­try with Pe­nashue (who she refers to as Tshaukuesh).

Her de­scrip­tive writ­ing style takes the reader along on the jour­ney.

She wrote, “I could never have imag­ined how cozy it would be in­side a tent in the wilder­ness at –30 C or how happy we would be: in­su­lated by fir boughs and cari­bou skins, lis­ten­ing to the crack­ling of the fire in the rusty stove, breath­ing the scent of resin and wood smoke, il­lu­mi­nated by the flame of a sin­gle can­dle, the sto­ries and laugh­ter grad­u­ally sub­sid­ing as peo­ple drifted off to sleep; and then in the morn­ing, wak­ing up to the soft mur­mur of voices, the hiss of the ket­tle, the com­fort­ing smells of fry­ing fish and ban­nock.

“Nor could I have known,” Yeo­man writes, “what it would be like to travel with a small band of peo­ple pulling all my be­long­ings on a tobog­gan over frozen marshes and lakes, along for­est trails and up into the moun­tains, un­der bril­liant sun­shine and through snow­storms; hunt­ing and fish­ing for food, chop­ping chunks of ice from the river to melt for tea; the de­li­cious warmth and com­fort of it af­ter a long day of walk­ing on snow­shoes.”

Yeo­man writes about how Pe­nashue’s out­rage at the dis­rup­tion of peace­ful Innu life dur­ing the NATO oc­cu­pa­tion of Innu land in the 1980s and ’90s led to her keep­ing a di­ary in Innu-aimun as a way of pre­par­ing her­self for speeches, court ap­pear­ances and in­ter­views with re­porters.

“The longer Tshaukuesh wrote, the more she knew she had to pub­lish her di­ary as a book, a record of Innu his­tory by an Innu woman who had lived through per­haps the most tu­mul­tuous and chal­leng­ing times her peo­ple had ever known,” Yeo­man wrote.

“Nitinkikiau In­nusi: I Keep the Land Alive” is an edited trans­la­tion of Pe­nashue’s di­ary and is il­lus­trated with pho­tos from pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phers and jour­nal­ists as well as archival im­ages from Pe­nashue’s own col­lec­tion.

Pe­nashue is the re­cip­i­ent of a Na­tional Abo­rig­i­nal Achieve­ment Award and an hon­orary doc­tor­ate from Me­mo­rial Univer­sity. She has also been fea­tured in documentary films, in books, and in nu­mer­ous ar­ti­cles.

It felt good to work on the book, she tells her read­ers. It’s her legacy to her peo­ple.

“So many women have helped and sup­ported me; they were so kind and wel­com­ing; they re­spected me and they helped me get the word out,” she wrote. “Women from many back­grounds and places, in many parts of North Amer­ica and Europe, and in Labrador — when I’m at the bank or shop­ping, they come up to me to tell me they sup­port my work. They give me courage to con­tinue. Thank you to all of them.”

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

Innu el­der Elizabeth Pe­nashue is re­leas­ing a book about her life.

Pe­nashue

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