Sheshatshiu-atanukana mak tipatshimuna
Labrador Innu Myths and Legends
n.b. All of the storytellers from whom these stories were collected are now deceased.
A considerable number of the approximately 125 stories recorded in Sheshatshiu in 1967 were told by Etuat Rich, the father of the late Matiu Rich, who worked as assistant, interpreter, and translator for the two researchers. 55 years old at the time of the recordings, Etuat Rich was born in Davis Inlet, in north-eastern Labrador, where the Innu lived in close proximity with the Inuit. In his youth, he lived with an Inuit family from Hopedale and later travelled the peninsula between Davis Inlet and Uashat, on the coast of the St. Lawrence, where he met his wife. A few years after they were married, the couple moved from Davis Inlet and settled in Sheshatshiu.
From 1948 to 1973, Etuat Rich worked as a care-taker at the military base in Goose Bay, which explains why he was one of the few Innu of his generation to speak English. During these years, he and his family lived in Happy Valley, on the Churchill River. In the summer of 1967, however, he visited Sheshatshiu. It is there that his son Matiu introduced him to his friends from Montreal and that the recording sessions took place. Despite the fact that he was no longer living the nomadic life of the Innu, Etuat Rich had a vast repertoire of traditional stories, which he enjoyed telling with the talent of a true performer.
Ishpashtien Nuna, who was 58 years old in 1967, had spent most of his life travelling the Moisie River between the highlands around Schefferville and the trading post at Uashat. He was known in that area as Sébastien Laurent.
In the spring of 1940, he came to the trading post at Sheshatshiu and did not return. He was then married with two children. At the time when he recounted the dozen or so stories to the two French students, Ishpashtien Nuna had retained the French he had learned in the Gulf of St. Lawrence region, even though he had been living in Labrador for almost 30 years.
45 years old in 1967, Tanien Pone spent all his life in Sheshatshiu but had many ties to the Uashat region. His mother came from the Moisie River area, and he married a woman from the André family (Andrew in Labrador) who for a long time had travelled back and forth between the trading posts of Uashat and Sheshatshiu.
His eldest daughter, the late Shutit Pone, became interested in her father’s stories in 1963, when she was only 15 years old. In the summer of 1967, she translated many of the stories collected from her father into English.
Shushep Ashini came from a renowned family with a long history of ties to Sheshatshiu. His paternal grandfather, Tuma Ashini, was chief of the Lake Melville Innu in the 1860’s, and one of his elder brothers, Atuan, was also chief for many years.
At the age of 67 in 1967, Shushep Ashini was greatly respected not only for his age and family roots, but also for marrying a widow belonging to the large McKenzie family, who was known among the Innu by the name Kauapishtikuanet-Mani. She was also, it so happens, the mother of storyteller Tanien Pone.
Shimun Grégoire, who was 61 years of age in 1967, was closely associated with the Menihek Lakes area of Western Labrador. Born in Quebec, he had spent his life travelling to the highlands of the interior by the Moisie River from the trading post at Uashat. He had come to live in the Sheshatshiu territory with his wife and children only in 1949. This explains his French family name.
Shanut Rich, born Shanut Apinam, is the only woman to have participated in the recording of stories in Sheshatshiu in 1967. She was an exception, since it is traditional among the Innu for storytellers to be men. Even though she was only 35, she showed the talent of the great storytellers.
Originally from northern Labrador, her family belonged to the George River band who travelled back and forth between the Fort Chimo and Davis Inlet trading posts. Shanut moved to Lake Melville with her family when she was a little girl. Later, in Sheshatshiu, she married a man from the Rich family, who had also immigrated from Davis Inlet.
Almost half of the stories collected under the direction of Matiu Rich in Sheshatshiu were told by his father’s older cousin, Shushep Rich, also known by the names Joe Rich or Shushepish. Born in the Davis Inlet area, where he had always lived, Shushep Rich spent the summer of 1967 in Sheshatshiu where he stayed in a tent with his wife Akat. Renowned as a great storyteller and expert in Innu culture, he seemed to have an unlimited repertoire of legends and stories, which he never tired of sharing with the two students from Montreal.
Biographies compiled by José Mailhot