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Innu investigation

The British Academy has given the University of Essex's Dr Colin Samson £7,000 for a project on the indigenous people of Northern Labrador.

Dr Samson, from the Department of Sociology, will look at a clandestine operation 60 years ago when 100 Innu were transported to an Inuit settlement, Nutak, 400km north of their lands. However, after two winters and the death of several of their number, those surviving walked back to their homeland.

Dr Samson explains: ‘The project is a collaborative social documentary between a sociologist, a film-maker and the Innu community. We will use social documentary and visual ethnographical methods to record a boat journey to Nutak, the establishment of a camp (which will double as a research field site), and subsidiary activities, such as travelling to locations for procuring firewood, hunting and fishing. Techniques of participant observation will be used to describe the setting, the people involved, and the events themselves.’

Dr Samson will work with German photographer/film maker Sarah Sandring, director and cinematographer of the short documentary Burmese Nights. He added: ‘We anticipate a number of outcomes, including a short film co-edited by researchers and a youth film crew, and articles on the relocation using Innu testimony. This would examine the main themes as presented by the elders, and, building on separate research, identify mechanisms by which the relationship to land influences the wellbeing of indigenous peoples. There are no publicly available sources about Nutak, and few existing works have attempted to understand similar relocations from the perspectives of survivors.’

Until now, what happened and who was responsible for this Innu eviction has remained an enigma but Dr Samson’s work will allow the elderly survivors to communicate and record their ordeal before it is too late.

Victoria Bartholomew | alfa
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