Which Canadian city has the fewest Indians?

Uashat Indian reservation in QuebecLife like in a Gallic village

The multicultural life of Canada is palpable on Rue Sainte-Cathérine in Montréal. The colonial history and also the traditionally liberal immigration policy shape the megacity.

In addition to the descendants of the colonizers, people from all parts of the world have their home here today. There are also three specially protected minority groups: the Inuit from the arctic regions, the Metis, descendants of the French fur traders and the nomadic indigenous people called "First Nations". 140,000 members of the First Nations tribes live in Québec today, most of them on reservations away from the cities.

The history of the First Nations, popularly known as "Indians", remains an unsolved chapter to this day, despite many political efforts. When the French arrived, the nomadic tribes adapted to the new circumstances. While the natives led the colonizers through the inhospitable expanses of Canadian nature, they were rewarded with modern tools and weapons in return. The loss of their traditional way of life has consequences up to the present day: Québec's ten tribal communities still have to struggle with major social and economic problems, especially in the 30 or so reservations.

The cult singer and activist Alanis Obomsawis ​​fought in the 1960s for the recognition of displaced tribal cultures and against the industrial exploitation of their traditional habitats.

An Innu talks about her time in the residential school

In the 19th century, the First Nations had reservations assigned, where they kept their traditions of community life badly than right. Up until the end of the 20th century, 80,000 children were snatched from their Indian families and taken to state "residential schools" for forced assimilation. The poet Josephine Bacon is one of those who experienced the residential schools. We meet the sprightly old lady from the "Innu" people in a small café in Montreal.

"I spent 14 years in a residential school. When I was born in 1947, my parents were still living as nomads. They were from the Innu people. In 1952 I was forced to go to one of these boarding schools. We were supposed to read and write learn, but above all it was about destroying the Innu community so that big industry could exploit the tribal area undisturbed. Iron mines, forests for wood production and rivers for energy production - everything was in our ancestral areas! deserves, "explains Josephine Bacon resolutely but without resentment. For over 40 years she has been teaching young people on her reservation in the north in the traditional language of Innu-Aimun.

The reserve, these are their roots. For many, life in the city is an illusion, a mirage. Life on the reserve is certainly not perfect. But certainly even less in the city where they get lonely.

Life in the Uashat Reserve

The reservations in the north have a bad reputation among white Quebecers. In fact, unemployment is high, life expectancy is low, the level of education is low, the crime rate is above average, and diseases, drugs, alcohol and the suicide rate are real problems. To get an impression for ourselves, we make our way to the Uashat reservation, around 1000 kilometers north of Montreal, where the St. Lawrence River flows into the Atlantic.

When the small, wobbly propeller plane drops us off at the airport in Sept-Iles, it quickly becomes clear that life works differently up here. The airport is a dilapidated concrete building, so you have to take care of your own transport to the city.

We have an appointment with Naomi Fontaine, an award-winning author and native of Innu. Naomi spends her life as a writer in Québec City and as a teacher on the Uashat reservation. To get there, we cross the small town of Sept-Iles on foot: large off-road vehicles are parked in front of simple wooden bungalows, no pedestrians far and wide. Before we know it, we stand in front of Naomi's little wooden house on the edge of the bay of the Uashat reserve.

Naomi - dark, sparkling eyes and colorful feather earrings - gives us a cool, wordless welcome. People are not used to visiting the Uashat reserve. At the table in the kitchen-cum-living-room, the ice gradually breaks.

"We live here a bit like in a Gallic village, we have to be immune to being captured. History has taught us that our culture is not worth protecting, that the world does not want us. That is why we do not open ourselves to strangers like that simple. Since the formation of the reservations and the boarding schools, strangers have always been a threat to us. But that is slowly changing. We are much more committed to our culture than before. We maintain our language and our traditions, "explains Naomi and charges take a spin through the reserve.

Insight into a shamanic world

Determined, she jumps into the driver's seat of her SUV, turns on the radio and lights the next cigarette. The first thing to do is to go to the old campsite at the bay. We approach a dome-shaped wooden skeleton with a fireplace in the middle.

"Look here, this is a" matutishan ", a sweat tent. During a session, it is covered so that the heat can develop. The whole thing gets very hot and is used to cleanse the soul, spirit and body. The traditionalists use it to heal physical and physical mental illnesses, they come into contact with our spirits ... you see, like a sauna - hot stones are piled up here in the middle ... "

During the ceremony in the sweat tent, a tambourine is beaten, which must be made from the skin of the spiritually revered reindeer, a specialty of Naomi's uncle Ovila. He has a lot to report, but prefers not to speak into the microphone. The gentle man in his fifties regularly drives reindeer hunting a few hundred kilometers further north, providing his family and tribe with food supplies, just as tradition would have it. Ovila is also familiar with the so-called "trembling tent" that is pitched in the forest. Through the power of the tambourine rhythm, a shaman makes the tent vibrate, comes into contact with the afterlife and drives away bad thoughts or ensures a successful hunt. Naomi's family is committed to creating a place in Uashat Bay where traditional autochthonous life can take place.

"My uncle proposed the project to the clan council. The council is the government of our reservation, it administers all social and health facilities, as well as all administrative matters, development plans, up to our three schools. The council receives funds from the Canadian central government and is then more or less free to do what he wants with it. The council is elected in rotation and then functions like a small, autonomous monarchy. "

The old transfer station for beaver falls has also been preserved and is now used as an excursion destination and as a social meeting point between the white Quebecers and the Innu people.

The Innu think differently

"The social separation between the whites and us Innu actually only began with the reservations. Before that we were dependent on each other. My grandfather still traded in beaver furs. Later came the timber trade and then the iron mines. The Innu have lost their dignity in the reservations. And finally the fur trade also came down. "

Despite the social and economic difficulties in the Uashat reserve, a new sense of solidarity has been growing between the 1500 residents for several years, a self-confident return to common traditions, explains Naomi. The government of Québec also supports the Innu with special funding programs. In the evening, her uncle Ovila actually invites us to a sumptuous dinner, of course with self-killed reindeer in the traditional way. The ambivalent relationship to the whites, and also the difficulties of the Innu to find their place between tradition and the modern competitive society, Naomi explains at the end like this:

"What makes Innu special is that we are very close to our emotions. The Innu word for" to think "literally means" to think with the heart ". We are not very rational, which sometimes makes life easier and sometimes difficult."



The trip to Uashat was supported by the Toledo Program of the German Translation Fund and the Representation of the Government of Québec Berlin Office.