Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
September 2004

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


Montagnais [Innu] Indians



[This text was originally published in 1907 by the Bureau of American Ethnology as part of its Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. It was later reproduced, in 1913, by the Geographic Board of Canada. The work done by the American Bureau was monumental, well informed and incorporated the most advanced scholarship available at the time. In many respects, the information is still useful today, although prudence should be exercised and the reader should consult some of the contemporary texts on the history and the anthropology of the North American Indians suggested in the bibliographic introduction to this section. The articles were not completely devoid of the paternalism and the prejudices prevalent at the time. While some of the terminology used would not pass the test of our "politically correct" era, most terms have been left unchanged by the editor. If a change in the original text has been effected it will be found between brackets [.] The original work contained long bibliographies that have not been reproduced for this web edition. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]


[The Montagnais are today better known as the Innu nation. Information about their language may be found at the Native Languages of the Americas' site; several texts are posted at the Innu nation site on the subjects of Innu history and culture; other information is found in the Canadian Encyclopedia, at the Encyclopedia of North American Indians, and at the archaeology site]



Montagnais (French 'mountaineers,' from the mountainous character of their country). A group of closely related Algonquian tribes in Quebec, extending from about St. Maurice r. almost to the Atlantic, and from the St. Lawrence to the watershed of Hudson bay. The tribes of the group speak several well-marked dialects. They are the Astouregamigoukh, Attikiriniouetch, Bersiamite, Chisedec, Escoumains, Espamichkon, Kakouchaki, Mauthaepi, Miskouaha, Mouchaouaouastiirinock, Naskapi, Nekoubaniste, Otaguottouemin, Oukesestigouek, Oumamiwek, Papinachois, Tadoussac and Weperigweia. Their linguistic relation appears to be closer with the Cree of Athabaska lake, or Ayabaskawininiwug, than with any other branch of the Algonquian family. Champlain met them at the mouth of the Saguenay in 1603, where they and other Indians were celebrating with bloody rites the capture of Iroquois prisoners. Six years later he united with them the Hurons and Algonkin in an expedition against the Iroquois. In the first Jesuit Relation, written by Biard (1611-16) they are spoken of as friends of the French. From that time their name has a place in Canadian history, though they exerted no decided influence on the settlement and growth of the colony. The first missionary work among them was begun in 1615, and missions were subsequently established on the upper Saguenay and at lake St. John. These were continued, though with occasional and long interruptions, until 1776. The Montagnais fought the Micmac, and often the [Inuit], but their chief and inveterate foes were the Iroquois, who drove them for a time from the banks of the St. Lawrence and from their strongholds about the upper Saguenay , compelling them to seek safety at more distant points. After peace was established between the French and the Iroquois they returned to their usual haunts. Lack of proper food, epidemics, and contact with civilization are reducing their numbers. Turner (11th Rep. B. A. E., 1894) says they roam over the areas S. of Hamilton inlet as far as the gulf of St. Lawrence. Their western limits are imperfectly known. They trade at all the stations along the accessible coast, many of them at Rigolet and Northwest River. Sagard, in 1632, described them as Indians of the lowest type in Canada. Though they have occasionally fought with bravery, they are comparatively timid. They have always been more or less nomadic, and, although accepting the teachings of the missionaries, seem incapable of resigning the freedom of the forest for life in villages, nor can they be induced to cultivate the soil as a means of support. Mr. Chisholm describes them as honest, hospitable, and benevolent, but very superstitious. Those who were induced to settle on the lower St. Lawrence appear to be subject to sickness, which is thinning their numbers. All who have not been brought directly under religious influence are licentious. Conjuring was much practised by their medicine-men. Some of the early missionaries speak highly of their religious susceptibility. They bury their dead in the earth, digging a hole 3 ft. deep and occasionally lining it with wood. The corpse is usually laid on its side, though it is sometimes placed in a sitting position. Above the grave is built a little birch-bark hut and through a window the relatives thrust bits of tobacco, venison and other morsels. No reliable estimate can be given of their former numbers, but it is known that they have greatly decreased from sickness and starvation consequent on the destruction of game. In 1812 they were supposed to number about 1,500; in 1857 they were estimated at 1,100, and in 1884 they were officially reported at 1,395, living at Betsiamits (Bersimis), Escoumains, Godbout, Grand Romaine, Lake St. John, and Mingan, in Quebec. In 1911 they, together with the Naskapi, numbered, according to the Canadian official report, 2,302, distributed as follows: Bersimis. 550; Escoumains, 54; Natashkwan, 73; Grand Romaine, 259; Lake St. John, 583; Mingan, 198; St. Augustine, 183; Seven Islands and Moisie, 402.


Consult Chamberlain in Ann. Archaeol. Rep. Ontario 1905, 122, 1906.


The bands and villages of the Montagnais are: Appeelatat, Ashuapmuchuan, Attikameg, Bonne Espérance, Chicoutimi, Eskimo Point, Godbout, Ile Percée (mission), Itamamiu (mission), Ilets de Jeremie (mission), Kapiminakouetiik, Mauthaepi, Mingan, Moisie, Mushkoniatawee, Muskwaro, Nabisipi, Natashkwan, Pashashibu, Piekouagami, Romaine, and St. Augustine.


Source: James WHITE, ed., Handbook of Indians of Canada, Published as an Appendix to the Tenth Report of the Geographic Board of Canada, Ottawa, 1913, 632p., pp. 312-313.



© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College