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Mother ans child

The Innu is an indigenous people of the subarctic and boreal regions of Quebec and Labrador. They should not be confused with the Inuit people who live in Far North arctic regions.

The Innu people are divided into two communities: the South Innus, or Montagnais, from the forest parallel to the northern shores of the St. Lawrence Gulf, and the North Innus, or Naskapis, from the Labrador plateau.

Montagnais means “mountain dwellers” in french, and Naskapi is an aboriginal name meaning “rough and uncivilized people”, a reference to their isolated life, alongside the border.

By the end of the 20th century, the two groups jointly adopt the name Innu (“people”)

For the Innu death is not an end because the deceased joins his spiritual brothers and sisters in the eternal world. Death is not an end but a change of state, a phenomenon that illustrates the permanence of life under a different form.

They believe in the soul’s survival, and in the existence of an afterlife where souls find themselves. The soul is a shadow, a spark, or a small flame. When death happens, the soul gets out of the mouth, moves, and leaves through the chimney or the opening at the top of the tent.

Like animals and other animate objects, humans also have a spirit that, when death occurs, goes to the spirits world to pursue a life similar to the one on earth. Everyone and everything have a soul: humans, animals, plants, and objects.

The attention given to the dead, reveals their belief in a strong relationship between the soul and the body, like acting on one means acting on the other. Therefore, the treatment given to the body is also intended for the soul.

Gender, social status, or the way of dying, do not generate a particular burial method, as is the case for most African people, e.g. the Goun and Fon.

Innu people
Innu women

They wrap the adult’s body in a wood bark or blankets and bury the child’s body under the family tent. The deceased is then placed on scaffolding or in trees and left to rot and decompose.

Sometimes for the people who die during the winter period, the body is preserved (kept frozen) and transported to a seaside cemetery in spring.

Thereafter, the body is placed facing the water, in an open area, installed in a place from where « he can watch people pass ».

The dead’s soul is considered a threat to children. Immediately after death, someone of the same gender as the deceased washes and dresses the body in new white cotton clothes.

A blue ribbon is placed on the man’s forehead and a pink one for the woman (it represents the substitution of the facial paintings, which symbolizes the depersonalization of the individual). If the woman dies in childbirth the baby is buried next to her. In case she dies soon after, the baby is sacrificed and buried beside her.

Nowadays, the funeral lasts an entire night or three days and three nights. As a mark of respect for the dead, they never left the body alone.

Women and children
Innu man

Like the Kiowa Apaches, they never take out the corpse through the door of the tent used by the living. They take the body out through the tent’s side to mark a clear separation between the dead and the living. They bury the corpse with a part of his objects and some foodstuff. In the afterlife, beyond the grave, the soul needs only the objects’s essence.

Most of the deceased’s items: clothing, everyday items, weapons, etc. are picked up and burned, except for a few which are offered. To keep the soul at distance, they burn the deceased’s tent.

The separation offerings help the deceased on his journey and avoid his return. They use the request offerings to obtain support from their ancestors.

As a sign of mourning, the family members let grow hair and attach it. The women hide the pearls of their hats with black cloth (a recent habit).

The widowhood lasts three years. During this time, the widow or widower cannot remarry without the deceased’s parent’s agreement.

Innu couple

Sources :

Stephanie Eveno, Nipun et Tshipai : la mort et les rites funéraires chez les Innuat, Réligiologiques, 2002 (https://www.religiologiques)

Innu Peoples, (https://www.britannica.com)

Mort et rites funéraires chez les peuples autochtones d’Amérique,(http://agora.qc.ca)

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Spiritualité Autochtone