Anthropologist chronicles struggles of Innu, Inuit against oppression

Barb Sweet
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Governments forced the Innu and Inuit of Labrador into “concentration villages” and even the most recently constructed of the communities failed their needs, concludes a New York-based researcher in a new book.

Gerald Sider, a New York anthropologist, has written a new book about the struggles of the Innu and Inuit in Labrador.<br />— Submitted photo

In a phone interview from New York, Gerald Sider, an anthropology professor emeritus at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, describes Natuashish — built  a dozen years ago to replace the rundown community of Davis Inlet — as more a benefit to its developers than the Innu.

“Government is just damn useless. There is no thinking at the government level,” Sider said. There  apparently was no thought to planning and installing recreational and social facilties that would appeal to all in the community.

He spent more than 10 years on the research, compiling “Skin for Skin, Death and Life for Inuit and Innu,”  and delves into the historical challenges, as well as the modern social devastations of addiction, suicide, gas sniffing and domestic violence.

Sider faults the Canadian and Newfoundland governments, corporations, and historically, the Hudson’s Bay Co. and the Moravian mission for the troubles. The title is a reference to the historical fur and sealskin trade.


Accusations of lies

He accuses governments and companies of lying over and over again to the Innu and Inuit.

“All this has put native leaders in a position that it is immensely difficult to serve their own people’s needs,” he said.

“Over and over and over again the government and corporate policies have caused chaos in the lives of the native people.”

The legacy of historic brutalities and more recent wrongs — such as flooding hunting grounds for hydroelectric power in the 1960s or low-level miliary flight training in the 1990s —  is that aboriginal people remain at a disadvantage in trying to negotiate their rights, he said.

Government is just damn useless. There is no thinking at the government level. Anthropology professor and author Gerald Sider

 Sider advises the Innu and Inuit to become activists.

“It is reasonably clear here that the native people are being bullied and native lives diminished to serve what the Newfoundland government regards as a higher purpose — the unfettered development of Labrador for Newfoundland’s own purposes,” Sider writes in one chapter.


Lived in Dunville

He developed an interest in Newfoundland and Labrador research while living in Dunville in the early 1970s.

Sider said he drove to Newfoundland in a Renault with bald tires, seeking to escape the intensity of his work in the civil rights movement in the southern United States.

Off and on, he spent summers and research stints in the province and has previously written about rural Newfoundland.

Sider said he expects some controversy over his work, but he isn’t sure what the overall reaction will be.

“My job is to do the best to tell the truth,” he said.

“It will be a controversial book about painful subjects.”

The book is published by Duke University Press. Sider can be contacted at by anyone who wants to discuss his conclusions.



Organizations: Graduate Center, City University of New York, Duke University Press

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, New York, Davis Inlet Dunville

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Recent comments

  • Sniffproof Solvents?
    April 21, 2014 - 06:42

    This guy was advocating for low buzz gasoline as a deterrent to solvent abuse. Think he is a corporate shill jumping on the bandwagon. We can find much more thoughtful interpreters of our history. If he writes in to advocate sniff able gasoline again, he better have his facts on hand from down under, cuz I do. Some bullied him off to Dunville years ago, is my conjecture, and he never got over it. I might just drive my bald-tired chevette down to NY and write flippantly the various nations who were victimized. Innu and Inuit have been bought, and their community leaders are just as NISH today as the degENerates (Caucasian) of Hyberbole & Hyperborea, God & State.They allDeserve each other. Misel Joe for Premier, he is our best Newfoundlander able to perform as a statesman. Something about Sider just raises my hackles since his solvents letter. The only solution to Bullying is self esteem. It is not the same as self-importance. All the anthropologists in universe can't save these Indians. What they have to overcome is themselves, their fear. After that battle is won, and owned, a 6 year old could march on Ottawa and get results. Idle or not makes not difference if he are not in gear!

    • Gerald Sider
      April 21, 2014 - 12:14

      I don't understand the commentator's remarks, and wish s/he wd amplify them. Australia has developed a specially formulated gasoline from which one can not get high by sniffing it. I did advocate for that. Everyone knows that removing one addictive substance does not slove the problems that lead to addiction, and that with one substance gone another will soon take its place. But gasoline does severe neurological damage after a year or three of serious inhalation and so it is a particularly deadly addiction -- much worse than, for example, marijuana. For the sake of the children, relatively helpless and vulnerable to the suffering imposed upon them, we might at least discuss the gains and losses of changing the gasoline and legalizing pot, to give native peoples more possibility for dealing with the issues that create addiction

    • Sniffproof Solvents Again?
      April 21, 2014 - 23:59

      BP OIL Sir, not 'Australia' has developed this fuel, which is less odourous, but still toxic enough to kids, and easier to start off on. More expensive. Cue Bono? BP making money off of Australia's half-hearted, fundamentally flawed fix does not address the roots of addiction found in the work of Bruce K. Alexander, to name one Canadian Authority of Addictions Knowledge. Native people? All people have to deal with this issue. Native people did not create the issues that lead to addiction, the blending of cultures did. Profiteers will not solve this by making more expensive gasoline. BP Oil, INDEED? Tell us about the good work they do. Don't legalize weed, just decriminalize it. Big difference. You don't have to be a Trailer Park Boy to see through this liberal farce. You speak of Gas and Weed. You may have the best of intentions, for all I know. Regardless, I find it dubious. Weed may be the cure-all of humanity, for all I know. I know the combination of weed and crack has done wonders to solve problems of dislocation in the USA among Blacks, by pacifying them. What has BP/Austrailian Gov't cracked up for their dark forey into community-pacifying. I can't see the altruism for the profit Mr. Sider - help me understand, I will read anything you believe advances your position on this, or your understanding of Labrador issues.