Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
February 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Montagnais Indians - Innu Indians


Montagnais, a group of closely related Algonkian tribes in Quebec, extending from the St. Lawrence river to the watershed of Hudson bay and from the St. Maurice river to Seven Islands on the Côte du Nord. Their name is French for "mountaineers", and has reference to the mountainous character of the country which they have occupied since the coming of the white man. The tribes of the group speak several well-defined dialects, but these are closely related to that of the Naskapi, and more remotely to the Cree of the Athabaska district in the Canadian North West. Though one of the earliest of the Indian groups to come into contact with the white man, they remain among the most primitive of all the Indian tribes. They are still essentially nomadic, do not practice agriculture, and live by hunting and fishing. Christian missionaries have been active among them since 1615 ; but the missionaries have not succeeded in persuading them greatly to change their mode of life. They customarily spend the winter months in the interior, hunting the moose and various fur-bearing animals; and they come down to the St. Lawrence only in the summer, partly to trade, and partly to fish and hunt seals. They have never had any true tribal organization, but have always been broken up into small bands interrelated by marriage, but politically distinct, and in possession of separate hunting grounds. Their chiefs exercise little authority; and in warfare they have generally lacked leadership. Though they formerly waged war against the Iroquois and the Micmac, they have been on the whole a timid people, and not warlike; yet they have succeeded in retaining control of their territory from the dawn of historic times. Various factors, however, have brought about a sharp decline in their numbers. In early days, the Iroquois wrought havoc among them, and decimated or exterminated a number of bands; later, the exhaustion of the animal life in their territory made the struggle for existence more severe and starvation not unknown; more recently, the diseases of the white man, such as measles and tuberculosis, have taken their toll. At one time they were able to muster 1,000 warriors at the mouth of the Saguenay alone; but now their total numbers are scarcely greater than this, and the majority of them are half-breeds. See D. Jenness, The Indians of Canada (Ottawa, 1932).

Source  : W. Stewart WALLACE, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. IV, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 400p., p. 321.


© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College