THE WORD "Nitassinan" 'means "our land" in the language of the Innu people. Nitassinan extends over Labrador and northeastern Quebec, and the Innu live there still, much as they have for thousands of years. They hunt and fish for survival and speak Innu-eimun as their first language, and until a few years ago most Canadians were entirely unaware that they existed.
The Innu have been sadly aware of non-Native Canada's existence, however. They have been reminded not only by the teachers and government officials who have tried to make them "assimilate," and by the logging and hydro projects on their territory, but most of all by the low-level military-training flights out of Canadian Forces Goose Bay. As many as 8,000 flights a year scream over Innu territory at barely 100 feet above the ground, burning the tops off trees, scattering caribou, and damaging the ears of children.
In 1988, the Innu began a massive campaign against these flights, which are conducted by the air forces of Britain, Germany, and Holland with the permission of the Canadian government, and found themselves suddenly under the eyes of the non-Native world as hundreds of peacefully protesting women, children, and elders were arrested and jailed.
Now Marie Wadden, a journalist who has lived in the Innu village of Sheshatshit, tells the story of their culture and their fight to preserve it in Nitassinan: The Innu Struggle to Reclaim Their Homeland (Douglas & McIntyre, 256 pages, $26.95 cloth). It is a comprehensive, sympathetically drawn account, and certainly the best resource on the subject to date. Wisely, Wadden has for the most part simply allowed the Inuit to tell their stories, focusing especially on the elder Tshakuesh (Elizabeth) and her son Peter Penashue. The story of one of the few Native cultures we have not - yet - quite succeeded in destroying, Nitassinan is an important book for anyone concerned with peace, environmental, or First Nations issues.