George Rich’s Struggling with My Soul is a story of growing up caught between two worlds. A Labrador Mushuau Innu, George’s family and people gave up their nomadic way of life to settle in Davis Inlet. But the promise of a better life in a new place quickly turned to alcoholism, despair and tragedy. George goes on to tell the story of the relocation of his people from Davis Inlet Innu to Natuashish. He shares some of his thoughts about critical issues such as child welfare and education, as well as the involvement of the Labrador Innu in resource developments and the land claims process. This is story is one of a people coming apart, but it is also a story of healing— and of the hard work it takes to put one’s life, one’s soul and one’s community back together. A co-publication with MAMU TSHISHKUTAMASHUTAU – INNU EDUCATION INC.
George Rich was born in Nain in 1962. His early childhood was spent in the interior of Labrador, primarily in the area around Border Beacon. As a boy, George travelled with his parents throughout the northern areas of the Innu territories inland from Utshimassit. In 1967, his family were settled in the government village of Davis Inlet, but they maintained their hunting lifestyle, travelling frequently to Natuashish (Sango Pond), where the Mushuau Innu were relocated in 2003, and where he now lives. George was educated in the Canadian school system to high school level. Since then he has become a leader in the community and in the Innu Nation, acting as Chief of Davis Inlet, Vice President of Innu Nation, and for almost 30 years as a negotiator and spokesperson for Innu rights in land claims, health, and relocation. George’s involvement in advancing the rights of the Innu has taken him all over Canada and the world, having attended meetings of the UN in Geneva and with support organisations across Europe. He has visited indigenous communities in Australia and the US. His vast experience has made him an important contact for non-Innu visitors, researchers and supporters. He is an enthusiastic reader of fiction, indigenous human rights and world politics and was a speaker at the ‘Beyond the Borders’ literary Festival at Atlantic College, Wales in 2004. George is married to Penash, and has six adult children as well as an adopted son and foster children.
Good afternoon, I am Peter Penashue, former Grand Chief of the Innu Nation, former cabinet minister with the Canadian government, now lands claim negotiator for the Innu Nation. And I am personally honoured that George has asked me to be here today for the launch of this important book. George and I go a long ways back. We have had different lives, mostly based on our experiences, closeness to cultures like Goose Bay but also similarities in our respect for our Elders and our shared Innu culture. You will know what I’m talking about when you read his book. He is Mushuau Innu, or northern Innu and I am Sheshatshiu Innu, or southern Innu. I was struck in reading George’s book of how much of what he speaks about crosses generational and cultural lines. And illustrates the difference between the Sheshatshiu Innu and the Mushuau Innu experience. Similar – yet different. This book, Struggling With My Soul is a very candid version of George’s own truth. Yet in this he speaks for us all as Innu and the struggle to rise from a past of defeat – whether within ourselves or by those outside who would keep us down, even unknowingly keep us down by providing half of what we need, like breadcrumbs as he said. George tells us of the transition from Old Davis Inlet to new Davis Inlet and from there to Natuashish and of the hope for each move and the good and the bad that went with it. It was a time of collision between the worlds of country and community and as time passes the lines blur and soften. So it is important to hear these stories now. It is rare that an Innu voice tells of personal experience. And there will be recognition by the reader who seeks to understand a story of personal struggle and healing that the voice is sincere and courageous. With this book we are fortunate to get a small look inside George’s life and the lives of many other Mushuau Innu. It is a gift to have that window through the words on pages in front of us. George’s account of growing up with his parents and the closeness of Innu culture and relatives, the promises by government, the struggles in the community – is honest and raw. And I want to not only commend George but thank him for sharing his personal story in such a way that others might learn and not forget. And perhaps even understand that there is thought and wisdom and creativity and energy by Innu that inspires hope for the future. I believe this hope to do better and be better is what has kept George fighting for his people for so many years. As I mentioned earlier – George and I both serve on the Land claims negotiations team. He brings to the federal and provincial government on behalf of Innu, the honesty that you witness in this book. And I can say he is a formidable opponent and a strong ally. I am honoured to work beside him and I hope to continue to do so for many more years to come. Thank you.
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