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Bathtubs But No Water: A Tribute to the Mishua Innu

Bathtubs But No Water: A Tribute to the Mishua Innu

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Published by Fernwood Publishing
“The Mushuau Innu, and indeed the people of Canada, would now be better off had the federal government in 1992 opted for an acceptable partnership with us to regain control of our lives.”
— Chief Katie Rich

In 1967, the Mushuau Innu — the Aboriginal people of Labrador — were resettled on Davis Inlet by the Canadian government. Originally a land-based people, this move to the coast created cultural, economic and spiritual upheaval, and Davis Inlet became synonymous with shocking substance abuse and suicide rates. In Bathtubs but No Water, Gerry Steele offers the reader a participant observer’s perspective on Davis Inlet. An employee of the federal government working with the Mushuau Innu since 1993, Steele explores their oral history of the resettlement process, substance abuse and deaths, and argues that these problems are a direct result of the government’s lack of respect for Aboriginal peoples. In 1992, the Innu tried to regain responsibility for their future, focusing on the traditions and strengths of their own community, but government bureaucracy would not support this partnership. Steele urges the government to engage in respectful partnerships with Aboriginal communities in order to achieve positive change.
“The Mushuau Innu, and indeed the people of Canada, would now be better off had the federal government in 1992 opted for an acceptable partnership with us to regain control of our lives.”
— Chief Katie Rich

In 1967, the Mushuau Innu — the Aboriginal people of Labrador — were resettled on Davis Inlet by the Canadian government. Originally a land-based people, this move to the coast created cultural, economic and spiritual upheaval, and Davis Inlet became synonymous with shocking substance abuse and suicide rates. In Bathtubs but No Water, Gerry Steele offers the reader a participant observer’s perspective on Davis Inlet. An employee of the federal government working with the Mushuau Innu since 1993, Steele explores their oral history of the resettlement process, substance abuse and deaths, and argues that these problems are a direct result of the government’s lack of respect for Aboriginal peoples. In 1992, the Innu tried to regain responsibility for their future, focusing on the traditions and strengths of their own community, but government bureaucracy would not support this partnership. Steele urges the government to engage in respectful partnerships with Aboriginal communities in order to achieve positive change.

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Published by: Fernwood Publishing on Mar 08, 2011
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04/27/2011

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7
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e Mushuau Innu, and indeed the people of Canada, would now bebetter o
 
had the federal government in 1992 opted for an acceptablepartnership with us to regain control of our lives. We, the people of the Barrens, showed the way by listening to our elders, resulting inthe visionary document
Gathering Voices: Finding Strength to HelpOur Children
.
We know our story. We have documented for ourselves, forgovernments, for the Canadian Human Rights Commission and forthe Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the events leadingto the ravages in our families and community, a
 
ecting everyoneespecially our children. In 1992, we invited governments, which havebeen party to our downward spiral, to support our e
 
orts to regainresponsibility for our own future. We focused on our families andour Innu strengths tested over centuries. We have been only partially successful in our e
 
orts.I appreciate the informed tribute of Gerry Steele who re
ects onhis involvement with the Mushuau Innu since 1993. He describeshimself as a participant observer. He draws extensively on his ownrecords in an e
 
ort to promote understanding between the Innuand Canadians represented by the various levels of government.In spite of his expressions of disappointment, I
nd his messageto be positive and constructive. Recognizing the di
culty in recon-ciling the unavoidable constraints of the federal government withthe developmental needs of the Innu people, he makes the case for adi
 
erent and more acceptable partnership. We Innu have consistently argued for this.I welcome the contribution of Gerry Steele to our un
nishedtask of having the strengths of the Innu people accepted as a meansto overcome the limitations of big government in our partnership.For the sake of the Innu and the Aboriginal communities acrossCanada, I hope that the message gets the attention it deserves.— Chief Katie Rich
 
8
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e privilege of having been close to the Mushuau Innu, the peopleknown to many in Canada and the world by their association withDavis Inlet, motivates me to record the part of their story with whichI have been associated since 1993.Unless I had reasonable expectation that my e
 
ort to contributeto a better understanding of these people would, like the preceptin the Hippocratic Oath, do no harm, my respect for them wouldoutweigh my sense of obligation to speak out as a well-intentionedparticipant observer. 
e indigenous residents of the interior of Labrador seethemselves as the People of the Barrens.
at association with landcaptures their soul and de
nes their self-image.
e lessening of theirrelationship with their land of history and their identi
cation withDavis Inlet (and before that with the Old Davis Inlet) re
ect not theirsoul but their dilemma. Out of courtesy to outsiders, they acceptedidenti
cation with Davis Inlet, but among themselves their reality was better captured in the name Utshimassit or the Bosses’ Place,meaning a settlement chosen by those in authority on the outside.
e protest designation Utshimassit is insightful, as it represents theplace where the Mushuau Innu lost control of their lives. 
e decision by the government and the church, which causedthis land-based people to occupy a sedentary community on theLabrador coast as a better way to serve their health, educational,spiritual and nutritional needs, has proven to be, in many respects,a bad decision. 
e sad plight of the Mushuau Innu illustrates, somewhatredundantly, that an intervention in the cultural, economic, spiritualand familial life of a people, no matter how elevated the purpose, isan extremely complicated business. 
e lack of understanding of this complexity by people who actas social engineers or as agents of change may lessen their culpability as outsiders, but it does not and cannot prevent the unanticipated

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