Published on January 21, 2013 by Carol
Asmall nomadic tribe of 1,500 Indians, the Naskapis lived south of Ungava Bay, between the Labrador coast and Hudson Bay until the 17th century. Since agriculture was impractical in thes northern lands, the Naskapis lived by trapping, hunting caribou, seal, migrating birds and fishing.
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They hunted mainly caribou, and they followed the migration of the game. Hunting required families to split up during the winter when game was scarce and to regroup in the spring to hunt the herds of caribou returning from the south. These reunions were a cause for celebration and prayer. The women prepared the pelts used to make clothes, bags, tents, and strips for the snowshoes and drums.
The Naskapis have a culture and a language of their own; distinct from the language and traditions of all the other Native nations in Quebec. They preserved this way of life since the beginning ot the 20th century because they were in contact occasionally with Europeans, and with Quebecers after 1821.
When a fur post opened in the Schefferville region at Fort Nascopie in 1838, however, it disrupted the Naskapi way of life. Because the trading post was close to their encampment, they were encouraged to abandon the caribou hunt to trap small animals whose pelts fetched a good price.
The Naskapis quickly became dependant on the trading posts. This dependance cut ties among families frequenting different posts. The lack of communication meant the hunters did not know what path the herds of caribou were taking, and a lack of caribou meat caused a famine among the Naskapis that threatened the community’s existence. In 1949, the federal government had to send to Fort Chimo food rations and provided health care to the population.
In 1956, the federal government decided to move the Naskapi community to Schefferville. Over the course of twenty-five years, the Naskapis established good relations with the neighbouring Montagnais in the village of Matimekosh.
The signing of the Northeastern Quebec Agreement, in January 1978, marked a new turning point in the life of the Naskapis. In compensation for the loss of their lands and ancestral rights, they receive 9 million dollars. The Naskapis are also given a 41.1 km2 of (1A-N) land by the federal government for their exclusive use and a 284.9 km2 of (1B-N) land. They also have exclusive hunting and fishing rights on 4,144 km2. In the fall of 1984, they move into their new village, Kawawachikamach, 20km north of Schefferville. Today, over 540 Naskapis are living permanently in Kawawachikamach.
The Naskapis (in collaboration with the Montagnais) are responsible for some of the maintenance of the Schefferville airport and have recently offered to acquire the Iron Ore Company’s dam. Their economy is developped into the tourism sector ; they own the world-renowned Tuktu hunting and fishing camp, a northern travel agency, the Naskapi Adventure Club, and other tourism facilities in their region.