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The land: a source of healing for Innu youth

The difficulties experienced by some Indigenous youth differ from those of other teens because of the identity crisis they face. Nevertheless, when it comes to youth protection, Canada’s Indigenous peoples are subject to the same rules as the rest of the Canadian population.

The land is firmly anchored at the heart of the Innu identity.

However, these systems give little consideration to Indigenous culture. Non- Indigenous social workers are unaware of the cultural practices of these Nations in managing social problems, particularly with respect to the role of the land.

Christiane Guay, a social work researcher at Université du Québec en Outaouais, conducted a study that sought to describe Innu cultural practices associated with therapeutic stays on the land offered to young people struggling with personal issues. Her research was based on the accounts of some 40 people – elders, adults and former land stay participants. She found that the land is firmly anchored at the heart of the Innu identity.

For example, during one such stay, two Innu elders (a man and a woman) hosted six Innu youths on their land for three months. The participants learned, among other things, hunting techniques, knowledge and skills needed for survival on the land, and the stories and legends that form part of the elders’ cultural knowledge.

For the Innu, and especially for young people who do not have the chance to regularly spend time on the land, these stays mean getting back to their roots, associating with their elders and renewing their relationship with the world of the Innu, which contributes, in various ways, to the personal transformation of both young and old alike.

The findings provide important data that the Innu will be able to use to develop their own youth protection system and to negotiate self-government agreements with the Québec government. This information could also help in the development of more appropriate interventions.