Published on January 20, 2013 by Carol
The Montagnais form the most populous Indian nation in Quebec. Before colonization, they occupied a vast area along the North Shore and in the Saguenay region and inland as far as Schefferville. According to oral tradition, the Montagnais lived side by side with the Inuit in relatively harmonious manner until the Inuit moved farther north in 1760.
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In the 15th century, the Montagnais established the first contacts with French whalers and cod fishermen. They quickly developed relations with the Europeans based on the fur trade. The Montagnais abandoned a number of traditional practices to devote themselves almost exclusively to trapping fur-bearing animals.
Montagnais oral tradition preserves many details about the impact of the Europeans’arrival. It is said that the Montagnais and the French concluded an agreement to allow the French to occupy certain areas in exchange for flour to protect the Montagnais against the periodic famines. The tales thus refer frequently to the “pre-flour era”.
In the “pre-flour” era, the Montagnais lived primarily on the plentiful faunistic ressources of their territory. They used pelts and bones to make clothes and weapons. In the “post-flour” era, they traded their furs for lard, tea, butter, cloth and weapons. The cleargy quickly established themselves near the trading posts in order to increase the size of the Christian family. As early as 1632, the Jesuits opened their first mission among the Montagnais. At the end of the 18th century, the Hudson’s Bay Company was operating several trading posts on Montagnais territory.
During the 19th century, forestry operations replaced the fur trade. This new activity, combined with the movement of people into the Saint-Lawrence valley, deprived the Montagnais of many hunting grounds. They thus moved farther north, but in vain, because colonization soon reached as far as the Lake Saint-Jean region. It was at this time that the Canadian government created the first villages: Mashteuiatsh, Les Escoumins and Betsiamites. In the early part of this century, mining operations and the construction of hydro-electric dams further transformed the rest of the Montagnais’s traditional territory. Private clubs occupied the best sites for hunting and fishing on the salmon rivers, with the result that the Montagnais had trouble gaining access to the resources that had previously provided their livelihood.
Around the 1950s, the federal government created new reserves: Uashat and Maliotenam, Natashquan, La Romaine, Matimekosh and Mingan. The Montagnais also settled in Pakua Shipi, although the area does not have the “Indian Reserve” status.
In recent decades, the Montagnais have recovered some of the outfitting operations that had belonged to big companies. The economy of the communities of Mingan, La Romaine and Natashquan is closely linked to the salmon fishery. The Montagnais are aware of the economic potential of the tourism industry on their land. To get the most out of it, the Atikamekw and the Montagnais are negociating with the federal and the provincial governments for an equitable share of the ressources they used to have and for a new division of powers on their ancestral land.