Four years after coming to London to launch Survival International's report 'Canada's Tibet: the killing of the Innu', Jean-Pierre Ashini has returned to publicise a new initiative which seeks to reconnect young Innu with their land.
In 1999 one of the principal themes of the Survival report – the astonishing rate of suicide amongst the Innu since their settlement in fixed communities – was tragically highlighted when Jean-Pierre's son Andrew committed suicide the night before the report's launch.
The Tshikapisk Foundation is working to equip young Innu adults with knowledge of Innu history, and the skills and learning intrinsic to Innu hunting culture. The Foundation is building an Innu Cultural Center at Kamestastin Lake, a spectacular water-filled meteorite crater in the heart of Innu territory.
The Center will earn its income from visitors attracted by the magnificent hiking, wildlife and fly-fishing of the area, and channel the income into educational programs which equip young Innu with a grasp of country skills and a knowledge of all aspects of Innu culture. Jean-Pierre said today, 'In the last four years since my son killed himself a large number of Innu have committed suicide. Nowadays these pass unnoticed by the Canadian media, but the problems are as bad as ever, because the young Innu people are totally disconnected from their identity as Innu. All the institutions of Canadian society are forcing our young people away from their own culture, and into a crisis of identity: the epidemic of gas-sniffing, alcoholism and suicide in our communities is the result. Tshikapisk is trying to address some of these problems.'
Another concern addressed by Ashini is the unilateral hunting ban on woodland caribou imposed by the Newfoundland and Labrador government. For Ashini, all Innu communities must be full and equal participants in any conservation measures that affect the woodland caribou. 'Canada has divided the Innu between two provinces, but we are not Quebec Innu and Labrador Innu, we are all one people, with the same rights to our unique way of life under Article 1 of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The right to self-determination for indigenous peoples requires that all peoples must be able to freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources and may not be deprived of their own means of subsistence. Canada has persistently refused to meet its international obligations towards the Innu; now we have informed Survival International about these unilateral measures taken by the Newfoundland and Labrador Government, and they are closely monitoring the situation.'
'The Tshikapisk Foundation is preparing to allow all Innu hunting families to exercise self-determination by raising money to enable them to practise the way of life that will give them renewed spirit.'
For more information contact Miriam Ross on 020 7687 8734 or Jean-Pierre Ashini on 011 44 783 776 7510. Pour informations en français: Chief Jean-Charles Pietacho – 418 538 6301 or Chief Rosario Pinette 418 968 2266