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Preserving the past

Innu legend comes to life in Labrador Institute book

By Jeff Green

A new children’s book published by the Labrador Institute (LI) brings a historic Innu legend to a new generation.

The Man Who Married a Beaver was made possible by a donation from the Hibernia Management and Development Company Ltd. (HMDC), originally received during Memorial’s successful Dare Tofundraising campaign. It was officially released during the fall of 2015 at the Sheshatshiu Innu School, where it was read in two languages.

“Outreach and collaboration are part of our mandate,” said Dr. Martha MacDonald, acting director, LI.

She’s one of the book’s editors along with Dr. Marguerite MacKenzie, professor emerita, Department of Linguistics. Jolene Ashini, who is from Sheshatshiu, and Cynthia Colosimo of Forteau, completed illustrations for the book. Dr. Keith Chaulk, former LI director, also contributed to the project.

“I think this book is important to the communities where the stories originate and I think its story will be informative to people outside Labrador,” added Dr. MacDonald.

The book tells the story of a man and the several different animals that approach him for marriage. He agrees to each proposal but every time he finds something wrong with the prospective spouse. Finally he marries the beaver and they go on to have children. Eventually, the man’s family begin to look for him. They destroy the beaver lodge and take the man home with them. In the end he is able to rejoin his beaver family.

The Innu-aimun version of the story came from Jose Mailhot’s transcription of a 1960s recording capturing Ishpastien Nuna’s recounting of the legend.

“We wanted to produce books for children in the Aboriginal languages of Labrador and to use stories from their own communities,” said Dr. MacDonald. The Labrador Institute published a book a couple of years ago based on an Inuit legend, The Polar Bear in the Rock: Two Windows on the World.

“I think it’s important to present two ways of knowing the world and treating science and traditional knowledge as equally important points of view.”

The book’s launch coincided with the Labrador Creative Arts Festival’s 40th-anniversary celebrations. Ms. Ashini first took part in the festival as a student but returned as a visiting artist.

Dr. MacDonald says HMDC’s contribution allowed the LI to produce a high-quality publication while also compensating the illustrators.

“Without that funding, we would not have published the book, or future ones, because the costs are considerable,” she noted. “They have enlarged the possibility for students to read in their own language, which is great, as the spoken language (Innu-aimun) is still strong.”

Copies of The Man Who Married A Beaver can be purchased through LI or local stores.

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