Meet George Gregoire, an Innu man who was born in the Labrador bush in the middle of the last century, yet mustered enough education to write his memoirs. In the authentic voice of a storyteller George invites the reader to see Innu society and culture from the inside. He shares stories from his earliest childhood memories and the wondrous life of a hunter. George also became a husband and father and the story of his adult life is a mirror through which the images of a once independent people, under siege from the encroachment of a powerful and indifferent Canadian society, are tragically reflected. This is also a story of resistance and resilience, of a personal life and death struggle with alcoholism, as well as the desperate, brazen and occasionally triumphant struggles of a people to reclaim their culture and regain control over their lives and their homeland.
Walk With My Shadow
George Gregoire (Shuash Kanikuen) was born in 1946 in the Meshikamau area of Nitassinan, the Innu homeland that covers much of the Quebec/Labrador peninsula. He was raised mostly in the country with occasional stints to Sheshatshiu where he attended school a few months every year until his final year in grade 10. He has always been very interested in reading any kind of book or magazine. In the meantime he was well educated in the knowledge and the ways of the Innu and became a hunter. He has served as addictions program director, Band Manager, Band Councilor, land rights negotiator, interpreter, actor and now works for the Healing lodge in Natuashish, organizing sweats and providing support for inmates at the Correctional Centre in Happy Valley, Labrador. He is married to Charlotte (Shanut) Gregoire and has 7 children and 17 grandchildren.
"Reading this book is the literary equivalent to spending many evenings by the fire listening to the words of a man passing on his wisdom to the next generation." (Denise Flint, Downhome Magazine)
Myname is George Gregoire. My people call me Shuash. I remember as a small boy when we lived in nutshimit, we didn't ever really run out of food. We ate fish, partridge and other small game. One time when we were camping right close by a lake, my father must have chopped a hole through the ice and left his hooks under water. I didn't know anything about this. My mother asked me if I would fetch some water. I took the bucket and headed to where we hauled the water. I noticed many holes through the ice with hooks in each of them. I pulled on one of them and felt something heavy moving at the end of the line. I knew it was a fish. I was very excited and pulled in the line. As the fish came out through the hole, it wiggled and jumped back into the water. So I filled my bucket with water and ran home, still very excited. What was I going to say when I got there?“The head of the fish for you came out, but it's gone back in the water,” I said to my sister Tshaukuesh as I got inside the tent.I thought my father and mother would be really proud of me, but my father was very angry.“You shouldn't have touched that hook,” Nutaui shouted at me.I didn't know I wasn't allowed to touch the hooks, although I guess Nikaui had told me to mind myself and not touch them. I guess I was just too excited. When I felt the fish caught on the hook, I wanted to try and pull it out. Those fish were lake trout and we were somewhere in the Lake Meshikamau area.Another time Nutaui left and I was told he was gone to Sept Isles in Quebec to get some grub. He was gone a little over one month. While he was away, Nikaui alone had to check the fish net every morning. We ate only fish and partridge while he was away. I didn't find it hard, but my mother must have found it difficult to work alone so hard to keep all of us children alive. We wouldn't have noticed the difference because we were only young.My two sisters Tshestu and Eshkuess were old enough to help Nikaui when Nutaui was away. They were good hunters for partridges and porcupines. They could check my father's traps and it was easy for them to check the fishing net in the winter when it was not cold. But when it was cold, it was very hard on their hands because they couldn’t wear mitts to pull the net out. That doesn't mean they were not allowed to wear mitts. They could, but the mitts would be soaking wet in a matter of seconds.The hardest part of winter fishing was setting the net under the ice. The ice could be as much as four feet thick. I watched my father chop holes in the ice many times with a long pole and ice chisel on one end. It could take him a couple days to make two holes, a week to chop more holes, depending on how long his net was. The first and last hole had to be large enough for the net to pass through. One person could not put a net under the ice by himself. It took two people. After the four holes were made, Nutaui would then cut a long dry pole that could easily be seen underwater. I remember wondering as a small boy how he would get that net under water. He tied a rope at one end of the pole and pushed it underwater directly towards the second hole, where Nikaui would stand. Once the pole touched Nikaui’s stick at the second hole, she would call out to my father. He would move to the second hole, and push the pole to the third hole. The two would repeat this until the pole reached the final hole. My father would then pull the pole out, untie the rope, and hand it to Nikaui. He would walk back to the first hole, tie the rope to the net and call Nikaui to pull on it. If the net got tangled up, he would call to her to stop and straighten it out.This is how the Innu still put the net under the ice during the winter. They have to make sure the net doesn't touch the ice, because if it does it will freeze and stick to the ice. It’s hard work but the Innu don't mind. It is one way we support our children. In those days it was the only way.When my father came back, he chartered an aircraft. The plane couldn't land where we were camping because the ice was too rough. It did finally land on the same lake, but away from our camp. All of us children were very happy.When I tell this story I can hardly remember because I was so small. In those days, I spent a lot of my time in nutshimit with my parents and sisters. These were the good times for us. Now I always wish we could start all over again.