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Culture and Faith: Five Generations of Innu Pilgrimage

For the week of Monday, May 22, 2017

On May 28, 1843, thirty-six Innu families gathered at the annual mission at Musquaro, Quebec. Between 1800 and 1946, Innu from throughout eastern Quebec made the pilgrimage to the mission at Musquaro, on the Lower North Shore, to express their faith, and to maintain important familial and cultural bonds.

A group of Innu building canoes at North West River, Labrador, ca.1920. Though not regular attendees, a fourth band, the Sheshashiu of North West River also attended the Musquaro missions on occasion
Fred. C. Sears / Library and Archives Canada / PA-148593

The Innu of eastern Quebec, the Mamit Innuat, belong to the Subarctic Algonquian linguistic family. Traditionally, they lived in dispersed family groups who moved between forested river basins, the interior plateau and the coast as part of an annual cycle.

Plentiful salmon fishing made Musquaro an ideal site for traditional Innu gatherings. In 1710, a trading post was established there and, a century later, Catholic missionaries came to preach and to provide religious instruction to the Innu. Thereafter, for a few days or weeks each summer, Innu gathered in large numbers at Musquaro to meet with missionaries, hold marriages, baptize children, and to participate in other social activities. Until 1946, missionaries provided prayer books written in the Innu language, promoted literacy, supplied information on Euro-Canadian society, and frequently acted as intermediaries in dealings with government and commercial interests. Three Mamit Innuat bands regularly attended the Musquaro missions: the Natashquan, Unamen Shipu, and Pakua Shipi; and Innu from Labrador joined them.

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The Musquaro missions served up to 100 families at different times. Photo of mission attendees ca. 1905-15
Topley Studio / Library and Archives Canada / PA-188982

The Musquaro missions are symbolic of Mamit Innuat identity. The missionary period is remembered as a time of traditional practices, coming together, respect, sharing and helping others. Though missionaries ended Innu shamanic worship, many traditions and rituals were incorporated into Innu Christianity, creating a distinct brand of faith still practised today. Since the 1970s, the Mamit Innuat have been one of the largest groups to attend the yearly pilgrimage to the Christian shrine at Sainte-Anne de Beaupré, Quebec, in July.

The Annual Innu Missions at Musquaro (1800-1946), Quebec, a designated national historic event, were part of a broader missionary effort along the north shore of the Saint Lawrence, which began at Tadoussac, in 1615. To learn more about missionaries in Canada, read Hopedale and Hebron: Missions Accomplished! and Georges–Antoine Belcourt: A Tireless Priest in the This Week in History archives.

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