Special to The Labradorian
Central to Innu culture lies the experience of spending extended periods of time in the country. Central to the Innu educational experience is a synthesis, or combination, of Innu cultural values and a standard provincial curriculum. From March 5th to 10th, 2012, this educational synthesis was actualized as 14 students and 2 staff members from
Sheshatshiu Innu School joined Elizabeth Penashue on her annual walk up the Mealy Mountains.
The six-day journey began in the cafeteria of the school as students and staff carefully packed the walkerstoboggans with the supplies they would need for the duration of the trip. Each student understood the importance of their supplies and individuals assumed complete responsibility for their own toboggans. With their snowshoes strapped on and toboggans in tow, the students joined Elizabeth on the beach road in Sheshatshiu to say farewell to a crowd that formed to see them off.
From Sheshatshiu, the walkers headed to their ﬁrst destination at Northwest Point.
Although some had experienced such a walk before, others were beginning to understand the many difﬁcult mental and physical battles that ensued shortly after leaving Sheshatshiu. With toboggans weighing in at anywhere between 40 to 120 pounds coupled with an intense sun reﬂecting off the barren ice, students soon learned that keeping in stride with the elements was essential to a successful walk. Sweating too much before the sun went down could prove costly, especially when the projected forecast for the ﬁrst evening of the walk was a low of -41c.
As students began arriving at Northwest Point, many assisted Elizabeth’s helpers in setting up two Innu tents that would be home for the next week. Students collected wood, boughs, and performed other tasks as their elders requested. As soon as the tents were set and the stoves providing warmth, the walkers, exhausted from their initial leg of the journey, slept soundly through the frigid night.
From Northwest Point, the walkers went across to Kenamu, spent two days, and then continued to their ﬁnal camping spot at the mouth of the Kenamu River. From here, some students remained with Elizabeth for the remainder of her walk into the mountains, but the majority travelled back to Sheshatshiu.
Throughout the week, the students not only walked great distances, but also assisted in helping Elizabeth and Francis Penashue with a wide array of cultural activities. These included; preparing traditional foods such as partridge and porcupine, ﬁshing, setting up Innu tents and campsites and collecting as well as splitting wood for the stoves.
Although the student walkers endured extremely cold temperatures, extremely mild temperatures, rain, sleet, slush, snow, high winds and sore feet, the cultural and educational experience gained from such an excursion was of immense value and is something that cannot be achieved in a classroom setting. Just as it has done in the past, is doing in the present and will do in the future, Sheshatshiu Innu School is continuously working to develop an educational philosophy that is relevant to both provincial curriculum standards as well as Innu tradition.
Adam Thrasher is a Grade 8 teacher at Sheshatshiu Innu School