Message given the Queen on her 1997 visit to Newfoundland

SHESHATSHIU, CANADA: As Queen Elizabeth II’s motorcade drives by, an Innu woman holds up a sign protesting Canada’s claim to their lands in Sheshatshiu, Newfoundland during the Queen’s 26 June 1997 visit. AFP PHOTO/CARLO ALLEGRI

As is well known, in Newfoundland the genocide of the Beothuk Indigenous people occurred due to the slave trade and brutal treatment carried out by colonial powers of which the English set the pattern, something the Indigenous peoples have repeatedly raised. 

Queen Elizabeth II visited Labrador in June, 1997 to mark the quincentennial anniversary of the “discovery” of Newfoundland by the Venetian John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto), who was commissioned by Henry VII of England.

Sheshatshiu is an Innu village on a narrow inlet on Grand Lake, on the north central coast of Labrador. It is about 20 kilometres north of Goose Bay, site of the Canadian Forces Base, where NATO training flights were based. Three major river systems come together in the region where the Innu people have lived for generations. Sheshatshiu, which means “narrow place in the river,” was a traditional summer gathering place for the Innu who followed the caribou herds, their main source of food and clothing | CBC

In Sheshatshiu, on June 26, 1997, Innu community leaders presented her with a dignified letter that read in part:

“The history of colonization here has been lamentable and has severely demoralized our People. They turn now to drink and self-destruction. We have the highest rate of suicide in North America. Children as young as 12 have taken their own life recently. We feel powerless to prevent the massive mining projects now planned and many of us are driven into discussing mere financial compensation, even though we know that the mines and hydroelectric dams will destroy our land and our culture and that money will not save us.

“The Labrador part of Nitassinan was claimed as British soil until very recently (1949), when without consulting us, your government ceded it to Canada. We have never, however, signed any treaty with either Great Britain or Canada. Nor have we ever given up our right to self-determination.

“The fact that we have become financially dependent on the state which violates our rights is a reflection of our desperate circumstances. It does not mean that we acquiesce in those violations.

“We have been treated as non-People, with no more rights than the caribou on which we depend and which are now themselves being threatened by NATO war exercises and other so-called development. In spite of this, we remain a People in the fullest sense of the word. We have not given up, and we are now looking to rebuild our pride and self esteem.”

Innu women demonstrate in the mid-1980s against NATO overflights and for self-determination for their homeland which they call Nitassinan.


The ‘New Found Land’ and Heroic Resistance of the Mi’kmaq and Beothuk

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