Sheshatshiu is a First Nation community adjacent to North West River, in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The next nearest town and airport is 32 Kilometres south in Happy Valley, Goose Bay, Labrador.

Sheshatshiu is a federal reserve that occupies the lands bordering on the North West River that narrowly divides Grand Lake (Kakatshuuthsishtun) and Lake Melville (Atatshuninipeku). On the opposite side of the river sits the town of North West River.

Labrador as part of the province of Newfoundland Labrador

SIFN is formally represented by the Innu Nation that comprises over 3,200 people, most of whom live in the two Innu communities of Sheshatshiu and Natuashish, a slightly smaller Innu community further north along the coast of Labrador. In total there are over 16,000 Innu who live in eleven communities in northeastern Quebec and the two in eastern Labrador.

The beautiful riverside community of Shehsatshiu

The word “Innu” means “human being” and the Innu language is known as “Innu aimum” an Algonquian language that is a member of the Cree – Montagnais – Naskapi dialect. It is unrelated to the neighbouring Inuit languages.

The Innu in traditional costume.

For thousands of years, the Innu were hunter gatherers, following their prey with portable tents made from the skins of the game they hunted: caribou, moose and deer. This all changed with the Indian Act, that caused the Innu to forfeit their nomadic lifestyle for stationary dwellings and along with them, a sedentary subsistence. The residential schools exacerbated their challenges as the Innu were forced to adapt to influences that were foreign and toxic to their culture. Nutshamut – a return to the country – is an important component of their modern existence enabling the Innu to hold on to a thread of their former culture living out their traditional ways on ancestral lands.

Local hero, Michel “Giant” Andrew leads a march across Labrador and parts of Quebec to raise awareness of diabetes and multiple health issues affecting the Innu community.

Today, Sheshatshiu has a population of about 1950 people and the nation is governed by Chief Eugene Hart and six Counsellors; three male and three female.

The arrival of European missionaries in the 18th century had a profound influence on Innu spiritual and cultural life. Today the religion is predominantly Roman Catholic but traditional beliefs based on the natural world continue to this day.

In a beautiful natural setting this is a community that supports their youth, who comprise over 50% of the population. The modern public school in the heart of the community employs cultural sensitivity to the Innu traditions and language.

The Innu has great respect for its elders who share their wisdom and traditional practices with their youth.

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