Nitassinan: The Innu Struggle to Reclaim Their Homeland


218 pages
Contains Photos, Maps, Index
ISBN 1-55054-001-7
DDC 346.71804'32'089973





Reviewed by William A. Waiser

William A. Waiser is an associate professor of history at the University
of Saskatchewan.


“Nitassinan” is the Innu name for their traditional territory in
Labrador and eastern Quebec. In this book about the region and its
people, Newfoundland-born journalist Marie Wadden seeks to explain the
recent attempts by the Innu to preserve their culture, lifestyle, and
identity in the face of continuing outside threats, in particular
low-level NATO training flights over their traditional hunting areas.

Wadden provides several different perspectives on Innu life and their
struggles. In the first half of the book, she recounts her visit to an
Innu bush camp (“Nutshimit”) and describes how the tranquility of
the scene was violently disrupted by the deafening sound of jets
traveling 900 kilometres per hour some 30 metres above the ground. This
kind of assault was nothing new, according to Wadden, for Innu interests
have been continually ignored or sacrificed over the past few centuries;
the construction of the Churchill Falls hydroelectric project and the
flooding of a traditional burial ground is a case in point. Nor are the
problems limited to the bush; Wadden also documents the terrible toll
urban life and its restrictions have had on the Innu in Sheshatshit, an
aboriginal community just north of Goose Bay, Labrador.

The best part of Nitassinan is Wadden’s account of how the Innu
attempted to prevent the expansion of NATO training activities in the
area by setting up a camp on one of the runways at CFB Goose Bay. In the
second half of the book, she describes how the Innu practiced peaceful
civil disobedience from 1988 to 1989; how the Canadian Security
Intelligence Service feared that the Innu were being directed by
Communist subversives; and how the Innu won a historic judgment, only to
have the matter overturned on appeal. Ironically, it was not the Innu
tactics and the accompanying publicity but rather the end of the Cold
War that eventually decided the issue.

As Wadden concludes, however, the Innu struggle for Nitassinan is far
from over. Its success will depend largely on changed attitudes. In the
meantime, the problems grow only worse, as evidenced by the recent news
reports about widespread solvent abuse by Innu children in Utshimassit
(Davis Inlet).


Wadden, Marie., “Nitassinan: The Innu Struggle to Reclaim Their Homeland,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 24, 2024,