Dances Today

Starting around the 1980s, Innu began to hold celebrations and dances when people returned from alcohol treatment. Drumming and dancing are not as common as they used to be, and today, most drummers ask to be paid when they drum:

In the old days, people volunteered to play the drum, because it’s their way of helping and supporting one another and celebrating good life. But now we don’t have that good life. So people have to be asked to play, and we have to pay them.

Drumming can also be used to show support. One elder invited a drummer to play before she left with a group to walk on the land. He came to their tent and she and her sisters danced. It was a way of wishing them good luck on their journey. He sang, saying “I will take care of you, I will look after you on the walk.” The people in the group felt very honored and special that an elder had come to drum for them. On another occasion, a drummer played at a community meeting:

When we had a healing circle a couple of months ago, we talked about suicide that day – we had a meal and an elder was asked to play the drum, and he was paid. People felt good about themselves, after the two-day meeting about suicide and other things in our community. There was a dance that evening.

Some Innu women said that men do not dance much anymore. When people dance, it is mostly women, even though the circle is supposed to alternate woman in front, and man behind.

In the country, our parents would go out, dress up, and go to another camp to dance. I didn’t understand why they wanted to go out and dance. Our grandfather would tell us stories about how people danced in the old days – they danced until morning. No one was drinking; they were just enjoying it. That is almost all gone. In the circle, you would have a man right behind the woman. Now the men don’t get up when the women dance. They also used to wave their hands in the air; they don’t do that now.

When Innu dance today, they often wear their everyday clothes. Women, who used to wear skirts all the time, now usually wear jeans.  [Insert link to pine.innu.mokushan.3.mov]

Perhaps part of the reason that the Innu are losing some of the dance tradition is because of the Catholic Church. The priests who came to Sheshashiu, one of the Innu communities in Nitassinan (Labrador), beginning in 1950, disliked dancing. They thought it was connected to shamanism, which they felt was opposed to the church. Elders said the priest wanted to teach them about God, and he did not want them to dance or drum. The priest particularly disliked dancing at night. People feared the priest, and so they stopped doing this type of dance and drumming.

Although there are still elders (tshishennuat) who remember life in nutshimit, the younger generations are growing up in the communities and going to schools that do not teach them about their own culture.  Some go to nutshimit with their parents or grandparents for a few weeks, but they now fly in by plane through a special program called the Outpost Programme that the government provides.  There is much concern that this ancient connection to their ancestral lands is being lost, along with the language, songs, dances, the drumming tradition that tell of their lands, the animals, and the happiness of the people.  To read about how some men think about drumming today read these interviews. [pine.innu.interview.francis; pine.innu.interview.charles; pine.innu.interview.george]

Many tshishsennuat feel shame at the lack of respect they see toward the drum today, or how sweat lodges are being conducted by all sorts of people. They also feel sadness when they see their youth struggle with school systems that are foreign to their whole way of life, and are not taught in their own language.  Many of these youth are suffering, and have turned to drugs and alcohol—and many are killing themselves.

Many efforts are being made to not lose these practices and cultural beliefs through educational programs and land based learning.   Education for many tshishennuat is the key, but this education includes being out on the land experiencing the environment as they once did.

[Insert photos of Sheshashiu Innu Etiun Summer Festival 2006: pine.innu.festival.1.jpg  to : pine.innu.festival.6.jpg ]

A message to Innu students from Elizabeth Penashue [insert photo: pine.innu.elizabeth.jpg]

Education is very important. But culture is very important. They need to learn about their own culture. They have to learn the white man’s way, but also to live in their own culture. Don’t ever think that if you are going to school in a white man’s world, that you are a white man. You are an Innu person. You have to hold onto your culture and who you are. We still have our language and other things that are learned. Someday they will have their own children, and they have to pass on these traditions so that there will be more Innu.

 

References

Diamond, Beverley, Sam M. Cronk, and Franziska von Rosen. 1994.  Visions of Sound:

Musical instruments of First Nations communities in Northeastern America. Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfred Laurier Press.

Webber, Alika Podolinsky. 1997. Dream Paths: An Account of the Naskapi Indians

among whom Hunting was a Holy Occupation and Painting a Sacred Art. Author.

 

Special thanks to the following people for allowing us to interview them, and whose knowledge and information is the main source of information for this website essay.

Charles Bellefleur (drummer and chanter)

Marie Bellefleur

Rose Gregoire

Michel Jack

Philamena Jack

Annette Nuna

Kathleen Nuna

George Nuna

Mary Madeline Nuna

Elizabeth Penashue

Francis Penashue

Pien Penashue

Lizette Penashue

Sebastian Penunsi

Philomena Pokue

Dominic Pokue

Simeo Rich

Margaret Rich

 

Special Thanks to the following people for allowing us to film them dancing and for the valuable and unique contribution that provided for this web site.

 

Charles Bellefleur (drummer and chanter)

Marie Bellefleur

Rose Gregoire

Apenam Pone

Kathleen Nuna

George Nuna

Elizabeth Penashue

Francis Penashue

Andrew Michelin

Philomena Pokue

Dominic Pokue

Agnes Michelin

Mary Mae Rich

Sylvester Rich

 

Special thanks to Pien Penashue for allowing us to film and interview him in his home as he drummed

This project was made possible with the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage through Canadian Culture Online
Native Dance