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Legends Project

Legends Project: Legends of the Ilnu of Mashteuiatsh of Quebec

Monday, Apr 6, 2009 | 10:14 PM

Production March 2008 139.jpg

Legends of the Ilnu of Mashteuiatsh of Quebec was originally broadcast on Ideas on CBC Radio One. The CD is available for purchase at CBC Shop Online.

From the shores of Lac St Jean, these traditional legends of the Pekuakamiulnuatsh - the Montagnais of Lac Saint-Jean - reflect a journey back in time when humans and animals spoke the same language. They share the lessons taught by an ancient culture and tap into our basic need for myth, crossing the boundaries of age, gender, ethnicity, and time. These lessons are as powerful now as they were 10 thousand years ago. Here are four stories retold in French, Nehluen, and English.

The Pekuakamiulnuatsh is the ancestral name of the Montagnais of Lac Saint-Jean, a member of the Innu Nation whose traditional territory spreads from the south-west of Quebec, to the north-eastern coast of Labrador. Around 6000 BC, the glacial cover retreated sufficiently to allow the Saguenay-Lac Saint-Jean region to become habitable. With the melting of the glaciers, Lac Saint-Jean covered the whole of the lowlands and reached as far as the foothills of the surrounding mountains.

The predominant activity of the Sub-Arctic groups was hunting and gathering. Hunting techniques changed over time reflecting much of the cultural identity of hunters, but did not become necessarily more complex. And for generations the caribou was instrumental to the survival of the Pekuakamiulnuatsh, providing them with practical as well as spiritual sustenance. Much of the Pekuakamiulnuatsh modern history is irrevocably tied to the influence of the fur trade. Trading posts operated in this region more or less continuously since the late 17th century, and the fur traders introduced a new economy. But hunting and fishing remained a mainstay of Ilnu life.

Today the Pekuakamiulnuatsh way of life is still deeply connected to the land on which they live and to the rhythms of the seasons, even though the advent of technology has modified the time spent in traditional pursuits. The Ilnu live mostly in nine communities. Seven are located along a 900-kilometre stretch bordering the St. Lawrence River, from Tadoussac to the Labrador border. The other two communities live on the edge of Lac Saint-Jean and in the heart of the northern region of Qu├ębec.

The legends included in this collection were gathered in the community of Mashteuiatsh, the most populated community with more than 4,600 residents. Their home is on the shores of Pekuakami - Lac Saint-Jean, and surrounded by the City of Roberval and the Municipality of Saint-Prime.

LISTEN to Legends of the Ilnu of Mashteuiatsh (runs 53:56)

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