CANADA-UNITED STATESA journey to the ancestral territory of the Innus
Nigerian Oblate Fr. Cornelius ALI NNAEMEKA is currently doing parish ministry in the Northern Coast of Canada.
The first year of my missionary experience among the Innu consists in learning their language and culture. With the help of a language teacher, last May, I started my apprenticeship in this rich and beautiful language which became for me a very significant and pedagogical experience. I was offered an experience in the ancestral hunting territory of the Innu; an experience that, at the beginning, left me wondering and with many questions.
During the spring break, I accompanied a family to their ancestral hunting territory. We left on March 2 by train for this territory rich in culture. As we travelled to our destination, I was filled with anticipation, wondering what I would discover. The picturesque landscape of the Northern Coast of Canada filled my eyes and my imagination as each instant of the journey became etched in my mind. It was like a journey to a supernatural museum.
On arrival, I began to understand little by little what the life of the Innus was like in the olden days. I first had to learn how to walk on snow. As I have a very significant weight, I had no choice but to harness snowshoes. Having never used them, I had to immediately begin my apprenticeship. With a few initial difficulties, I soon learnt the trade and it became fun. Hunting was also new to me. So I had to practically learn everything from the scratch: how to start a fire and keep it going for heat; how to dig a hole in a frozen lake to get drinking water; how to drive a snowmobile; wake up in the middle of the night to ensure that the fire won’t go out; learn to follow the trail so as not to fall into a snow-covered hole… In brief, I had to learn to live like the Innus lived in the olden days (except the snowmobile would have been replaced by dog-teams – which would be another experience). Each experience was like a journey into the cultural world of the Innus.
As much as all this activity was most interesting and exciting, an experience in the hunting territory of the Innus is not just learning about hunting but also of feasting, as each day was characterized by the variety and taste of different foods: one day we relished a meal prepared with bush fowl; the next day we enjoyed a stew made from wild hare, followed by caribou meat…all delicious to the taste.
And so with Mr. Zachariah and Mrs. Céline Bellefleur, two persons well-versed in the Innu language and culture, I started my cultural journey in the ancestral land of my Mission community.