Johanne Nepton, an Innu in the city

On the edge of a busy road on the outskirts of Quebec, the petrol-blue facade of the imposing building, framed by a banner stamped with aboriginal symbols, fascinates the driver’s eye in a hurry. Slightly smoky orange glasses, purple tunic adorned with traditional patterns, Johanne Nepton, 51, takes “a little glance” Before.

For almost a year, she has been working three days a week as “close worker” at the Native Friendship Center in La Belle Province. “The rest of the time I cross the city with my bag on my back to try to meet the needs of people in our community who live on the streets,” This Innu begins from the Mashteuiatsh reserve, on the shores of Lac Saint-Jean, 250 km north of Quebec City.

A remarkable fact is that this reception structure is reserved for urban natives. “Many have left the forests, the reserves, to follow their children who have found work in the city, or to receive medical care… Some are just passing through, others come for several years or settle permanently. Far from their country they can feel alone, idle, camps the energetic brunette.

Before we go through the whole range of services offered here together with a visit to the premises: nursery for children, food aid, therapy against addiction – of tobacco, alcohol, drugs, while the consumption of amphetamines and morphine is exploding -, organization of communal dinners, cultural or sporting excursions, workshops, assistance for problems with violence in the home and in the family, counseling for the orientation of young people, administrative procedures for seniors, etc.

Consequences between generations

“Being able to help these people, it also allows me to put a bandage on my wounds”, she says modestly at first, as if to justify her philanthropic streak. But as she strolls a little later in the nearby Innu reserve of Wendake at the wheel of her Ford Fiesta, she slowly agrees to awaken the painful family memory.

“My mother was born in the forest, she says. His family hunted, picked berries in the summer… in her early teenage years she was sent to boarding school in Fort George along with my uncles, aunts and other children (ruled by Oblate missionaries from 1930 to 1980 in the Cree territory of northern Quebec, ed.). She stayed there for almost five years. There, far from his family, far from his country, he was forbidden to speak his language. »

Johanne stops in a car park, switches off the engine, takes out her phone and scrolls through some pictures. “There they also forced her to cut her long hair. We tried to take away his identity, his culture,’ she rejects and zooms in on the mother’s face frozen in an old scanned black-and-white class photo.

Before the presentation of the newer of a grave pierced with a large white cross. “My grandparents died without a little sister of mother ever returning to their house. After Fort George she was found ten or fifteen years ago in Montreal, and then she died and was buried at Kahnawake, a Mohawk reservation in the south Quebec. It was hard for my family…”

The original case

And the ghosts of the past have left many other gaps between the generations. “After all these stories, it was often difficult to talk to my mother. She regularly went back to the forest. Me, I was born on the reservation and I was raised there a lot by my grandfather who had developed a moccasin craft shop.” she says again.

Years later, her school career took her to Montreal, where she began studying cinema before leaving to work in Quebec. Guide in the forest for the Society of Outdoor Establishments of Quebec (Sepaq), residency at Radio Canada, production of a documentary on the Innu communities… His eclectic career is linked to one common thread: the defense of Aboriginal rights, for which she regularly demonstrates .

On Wednesday, July 27, she will also be on the Plain of Abraham with other officials from the Native Friendship Center to listen to Pope Francis’ message. Heir of an animist family – “religion of the creator” –she is not catholic.

“Without making a long speech, I hope François will sincerely apologize for everything that happened. So the elders can be at peace…” Because despite the gaping wounds, Johanne Nepton believes in the path of reconciliation. More than ten years ago, she already tackled this difficult issue in her eldest daughter’s elementary school: “I explained to the children that there were not white cowboys on one side and Indians on the other. So that history is no longer distorted. »

Leave a Comment