Nfld. & Labrador

'This is our land': How a new map is helping Innu children learn more about history

The Innu school board in Labrador has redesigned a map of Nitassinan — the homeland of the Innu — with significant and historic places of their land.

Entire project took 3 years

Kanani Davis, director of education for the Innu school board, says it's important to teach children about the history of their land. (Rebecca Martel/CBC)

The Innu school board in Labrador has redesigned a map of Nitassinan — the homeland of the Innu — with significant and historic places of their land marked with the help from information passed down by elders and community members. 

The three-year project — focused on the idea to teach children about the history of their home — is now complete. 

"This is our land. This is where your people, your ancestors, lived, hunted and where many are buried. A lot of them were born on this land," Kanani Davis, director of education for the Innu school board, told CBC Radio's Labrador Morning

"It's just so important that we continue to teach our children of the importance of the land, because a lot of us now can't get out on the land as our ancestors, as our parents, used to. So bringing it into the school is so important."

The illustrated map has none of the current modern borders. The places on the map are written in Innu-aimun — the Innu language — and reflect elders' views on what's important on the land.

The envisioning of Nitassinan comes without borders between Quebec and Labrador and highlights important places with information passed down by Innu elders. (Rebecca Martel/CBC)

"A lot of the geography, it's all in English, it's all about the rest of Canada," said Davis. "We want to make sure that we teach children and they know that Innu people have lived and travelled along those routes." 

Jolene Ashini handled most of the artwork, but also helped facilitate interviews with elders to ensure names and locations were correct. 

Ashini said pre-colonization there were many places in Canada without borders. One border is now between Quebec and Labrador. 

"They were places that were frequently travelled by the Innu," she said. "We ended up collecting data. We ended up collecting place names and ended up doing a proper place name correction."

Jolene Ashini created all the art work for the map while studying for exams for law school. (Jolene Ashini/Facebook)

Ashini said she was kept busy throughout the project, finishing all of her illustrations during the second semester of her first year of law school while juggling exams. She figures she spent about 40 hours coming up with sketches and putting together the final piece. 

"After those initial sketches, I ended up painting the actual pieces, which I did in watercolour," she said. "You have to let it dry. So a lot of time was spent waiting for layers to dry and then painting other things. At any one point I probably had three paintings going at one time."

Ashini said she's happy with the final outcome. Even though the maps are not yet for sale, the demand is very high. 

"Not only workplaces want them, but people want them in their homes to show their children," she said. 

"This is something that I think is fantastic."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Rebecca Martel

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