Nfld. & Labrador

The Gathering at Gull Island: Labrador's Innu return to the land to reclaim traditions

Every fall, Innu of Sheshatshiu come together to spend time on the land. The CBC's Alyson Samson joined them.

Disconnecting from technology, reconnecting with family and friends

Tenesh Nuna and Randy Jarvis are happy to be surrounded in nearby tents by more than 30 members of their family. (Alyson Samson/CBC)

Every year, the Sheshatshiu Innu Nation hosts a celebration that's about disconnecting from technology and the distractions of life, and returning to the land that once supported its members' ancestors for generations. 

The Gathering at Gull Island is also about breaking down walls and rebuilding community. 

This year, people had their own reason for attending, and for re-connecting with loved ones. 

"I'm happy but emotional — I'm still coping,"  said Tenesh Nuna, who lost both of her parents in a four-month span earlier this year. 

In the community, she said, "it's really closed. I don't see my nephews a lot when I'm in Sheshatshiu but when we're here, they're always here. I'm right next door, and they can call out to me and I can call out to them."

Traditional tents are set up with stoves and fresh-cut boughs for flooring. (Alyson Samson/CBC)

Tents are set up at the edge of the forest surrounding the open land where the main tent is located. 

Gabriel Rich is happy to be out on the land, spending time with his family at The Gathering. (Alyson Samson/CBC)

"It takes a whole community to raise a child, and if you can do that, a child will have a better future and a better outlook," said Gabriel Rich. 

Alcohol and drug abuse are critical issues for Rich, who has been alcohol-free for about 18 months.

"I've been struggling with that — relapsed, recovered, but you know, it's all part of a journey," he said.

Music, games, meals

The large tent in the centre hosts events for everyone to participate in during the Gathering. (Alyson Samson/CBC)

The main tent hosts events that range from music to bingo, movies to meals.

It's a place where everyone comes together.

There is plenty of space for children to roam and explore. (Alyson Samson/CBC)

Everyone also looks after one another at the Gathering. Kids are free-range but looked after by all. 

"Sheshatshiu is now evolving into a community where we were raised in a white society, and where we have to learn and live like a white society, so we're not doing what we used to do," said Gavin Nuna. 

"We're getting back into our roots, I guess you would say," he said.

Gavin Nuna stands outside his family's tent at the Gathering. (Alyson Samson/CBC)

While there are organized games and activities for the kids, the Gathering is a chance for them to use their imagination, unplugged as they are power, phones and the internet.

"They don't know the Innu on the island, they may have heard about the Beothuk and the Conne River band but they don't really associate with us all that much because the community is so far away," said Greg Nuna.

"Education will open up a whole new avenue of communication with the communities."

There are no devices at the Gathering, but children are free to find their own fun all around them. (Alyson Samson/CBC)

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Alyson Samson is a journalist working with the CBC in Newfoundland and Labrador.