It’s Like the Legend

This week’s pick is It’s Like the Legend: Innu Women’s Voices, edited by Nympha Byrne and Camille Fouillard.

Cover of It's Like the Legend (2000)

It’s Like the Legend was a ground-breaking book when it was published in 2000, and it remains singular today.  As an anthology of Innu women’s voices, It’s Like the Legend shares a rare and extraordinary set of perspectives on twentieth-century Innu community history.  As co-editors Nympha Byrne and Camille Fouillard explain in the introduction, the book’s central message is that “Innu storytelling is rich and creative” and that Innu women in particular have powerful stories to tell.  It’s a message that comes through loud and clear, all throughout the volume.

“As the readers travel through these stories, they will sit close with Innu women. Perhaps they can imagine themselves perched comfortably on a bed of aromatic fir boughs, with a fire crackling from a small sheet-metal stove as soft moonlight shines through the canvas of the Innu tent.”

from the Introduction to It’s Like the Legend

The anthology’s unity of community spirit is all the more remarkable for the diversity of its contents.  Byrne and Fouillard note having “wanted to be as inclusive as possible,” and the richness and variety of their contributors’ pieces make that intention impossible to miss.  For example, here are just five of the anthologized pieces, which together illustrate the range of form and content embraced by the editors’ unrestricted understanding of “story”:

  • an account of the kushapatshikan, the shaking tent ceremony, by Mary Madeline Nuna in “Shaking Tents and Anik-napeu, The Toadman”;
  • stories of nutshimit in Mary Jane Nui’s “The Country is a Healing Place”;
  • a diary of “Fifty-seven Days in Jail,” by Mary Martha Hurley;
  • a poem entitled “My Dad’s Moccasin,” by Rose Gregoire;
  • a retelling of the legend “The Trickster and the Ant,” by Nympha Byrne.

From ancient Innu traditions and legends to modern customs and social change, It’s Like the Legend covers an extensive range in both time periods and topics.  One major, recurring theme, reflecting the time and context of the book’s production, is that of Indigenous resistance and social activism.  Several stories recount confrontations with the legal system or with militarization, either at the air base in Goose Bay or on the bombing range that extended over huge swathes of Innu land.  The book’s stories are open and honest, not only about dramatic contemporary events and community responses to them, but also about personal growth, struggles, and transformations.

It’s Like the Legend is the first book I point to when readers come into the Labrador Institute Library looking for Innu stories, and I can only imagine the pride of place it must enjoy on shelves across Nitassinan.

The anthology is also a treasure trove of human interest stories in general.  It’s as easy to read as it is moving, especially since most of the individual pieces are very short.  It’s certainly can’t-miss material for anyone wanting to learn more about storytelling in Labrador.

There’s an e-book version available through Memorial Libraries, and hard copies can be found either online or, once we reopen, at the Labrador Institute and through the provincial public library system.


Student Cheat Sheet

It’s Like the Legend, edited by Nympha Byrne and Camille Fouillard (2000)

Editors. Nympha Byrne is a widely respected leader in community health, education, and activism in Sheshatshiu, Natuashish, and Happy Valley-Goose Bay.  Camille Fouillard is a writer and consultant who has worked with Labrador Innu since the 1980s.  She lives in St. John’s.
Summary. It’s Like the Legend is an anthology of Innu women’s stories in different forms, including poems, essays, legends, reminiscences, and others.  The stories’ topics include traditional and modern life, personal and community healing, and activism in the face of oppressive external forces.
Origin. In the mid-1990s,Byrne wanted to continue harnessing the power of people’s stories, as had been done during  the 1992 People’s Inquiry in Utshimassits.  Since existing books on the Innu often ignored women’s perspectives, Byrne decided to bring Innu women’s voices together in a dedicated anthology, and invited Fouillard to be her co-editor.  The book’s contents were written by contributors, collected from existing sources, or recorded orally in Innu-Aimun and transcribed in English translations.  In 2000, the book was finally published by the Women’s Press in Toronto.
Legacy. It’s Like the Legend is one of the most significant records of Innu women’s perspectives ever published.  It also remains a key reference on the twentieth-century history of Labrador Innu.  The book certainly achieved and surpassed the two main goals identified in its introduction: “to give a voice to Innu women” (page 13) and “to honour and build on the Innu storytelling tradition” (15).

Working on a book report for school?  Here’s how to cite this article:

Mills, Morgon. “Book of the Week: It’s Like the Legend.” LILA Online. Labrador Institute, 22 May 2020, lilaonline.ca/2020/05/22/its-like-the-legend/. Accessed [today’s date].

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