Nitshissituten : mémoire et continuité culturelle des Pessamiulnuat en territoires inondés

Authors: Gagnon, Justine
Advisor: Desbiens, Caroline
Abstract: Beginning in the 1950s, the Innu community of Pessamit saw its ancestral land radically transformed by the intrusion of the hydroelectric industry on several of its major rivers. Culminating with the erection of the well-known Manic-5 dam on the Manicouagan River in the late 1960s, this flourishing period for Québec's economy and its political affirmation contributed to the highly symbolic character to these infrastructures. However, for the Pessamiulnuat (the Innus of Pessamit), this industrial endeavor has first and foremost brought about the end of a way of life relying largely on navigation, along with the disappearance of vast hunting grounds, cultural sites, portage trails, etc. In the absence of any archaeological surveys preceding the floods, what remains of this geocultural heritage are the memories of those who navigated the rivers before their transformation. This research project explores the now intangible nature of this flooded heritage, as well as the ways to preserve and enhance it, a posteriori. Drawing on the singular relationship linking memory to places and trajectories, it seems relevant to question the various paths memory – and the remembering process – take when those geographical bearings disappear or become inaccessible. In other words, how can the awakening of memories deeply intertwined with places and landscapes take place when these geographical features no longer exist in their tangible form? Furthermore, is there something that can be transmitted beyond historical and cultural disruptions, so that the memory of a place can be maintained, without necessarily having lived or been there? Is it even relevant to ensure a form of continuity for these past geographies? Based on participatory action research principles, this project relied on a variety of tools that promoted a deep collaboration with the Innu Council of Pessamit, while providing tangible benefits to the community members. In addition to semi-directed interviews that have been conducted with the Pessamiulnuat, participatory mapping activities were used, whereas the creation of an exhibition at the Ka Mamuitunanut Community Center served as a strategy for disseminating and validating preliminary results. Following the trails of memories shared by those who navigated the rivers before they were harnessed, this dissertation highlights the specificities of a « daily practice » heritage, deeply rooted in a navigational culture. It demonstrates that the remembering process, as part of geographical knowledge acquisition, renders its components alive and sustainable, even long after the places they refer to have disappeared. This dissertation also addresses the scope and opportunities recent advances in cultural and critical cartography may offer to support the remembering process, as well as to represent its visual components. Furthermore, it focuses on commemorative strategies that can reveal the spirit of places which have been drastically transformed. In fact, the research outcomes served as a starting point for very concrete knowledge mobilization initiatives and heritage preservation activities, aiming to provide this intangible patrimony a spatial inscription, guaranteeing greater visibility. The design of an informative platform (belvedere) allowed us to question the categories and assumptions promoted by heritage management institutions, revealing the need for the Pessamiulnuat to turn this largely transformed heritage into a living, inhabited and used space in the present time. These observations lay the foundations for a critical reflection on the role of memory in the construction and documentation of the past, along with cultural continuity, which are at the foundation of Aboriginal rights recognition in Canada. This dissertation thus provides analytical keys that are often overlooked in order to grasp the tensions underlying this recognition, be it the reductive opposition between tangible and intangible heritage, or the persistent tension between writing and oral traditions. Since proof of land use and Indigenous cultural affirmation strategies are at the heart of the negotiations and land claims led by the Innu communities of Quebec, the enhancement of such an invisibilized geocultural heritage is key. For memory work is ultimately a question of justice. Keywords: Flooded landscapes; intangible heritage; Indigenous lands; Innus of Pessamit; hydroelectric development; place of memory; cultural continuity; spatial justice; mapping.
Document Type: Thèse de doctorat
Issue Date: 2019
Open Access Date: 13 March 2019
Grantor: Université Laval
Collection:Thèses et mémoires

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