Innu Project

In collaboration with the Addison Gallery of American Art, Wendy Ewald AA ’69 and Eric Gottesman ’93 have captured Andover’s attention with their cultural photography project, “Pekupatikut Innuat Akunikana: Pictures Woke the People Up.”

Through historic photographs, videos, written pieces and outdoor banners, “Pekupatikut Innuat Akunikana” aims to capture and revitalize Innu culture, documenting a progression of 40 years.

Gottesman, Ewald and Innu community member and project participants, Zak Hajjaoui and Dakotah Snow, visited campus this week and engaged in discussions on the project with the Andover community.

There will be a celebration and reception for the exhibition “Pekupatikut Innuat Akunikana: Pictures Woke the People Up” open to the public tomorrow from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. The exhibition, including the banners, will be on display in the Addison and around campus through January 13, 2013.

Origin and Impact

Ewald began to work on the project in 1969 after she accepted a summer job in the new Native Canadian reserve of Sheshatshiu, an Innu area in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, according to a press release by the Addison. While in Sheshatshiu, she received a grant to purchase Polaroid cameras and films, according to Ewald.

The Canadian government had just relocated the Innu community to industrialized reservations, forcing them to give up their nomadic lifestyle, according to Ewald.

Combining her passion for photography and community work, Ewald lent the cameras to students in Sheshatshiu so they could capture moments of their lives from their very own perspectives, as their community adapted to the challenges brought by this lifestyle change.

Thirty-eight years after her trip to Sheshatshiu, Ewald said that the Innu community invited her back to share the pictures she and the students had taken during her first visit.

In recent years, the Innu community has been struggling with problems stemming from drug and alcohol abuse. The community elders hoped that by showing the Innu people the photographs from 1969, they would remember a time when they were free from substance-related desires, according to Hajjaoui, an Innu member involved in the project, and an article in “The New York Times.”

When Ewald returned in 2007, she and Gottesman decided to launch a project similar to her 1969 project. Sheshatshiu high school students Hajjaoui, Snow and Philip Nuna volunteered to take photos of their community through their eyes, according to Ewald and Gottesman.

“There was a big difference in how the Innu people have been portrayed in the media between the time when [Ewald] was in Sheshatshiu in 1969 and when we went back in 2007… When looking at the 2007 photos, people were remembering the past and what happened in the meantime,” said Gottesman.

In the past decade, the Innu community has been portrayed as harboring a broken culture that struggles with finding a balance between maintaining tradition and accepting change. Ewald, Gottesman and Innu community members hoped that the photos collected from both phases of the Innu Project would revive their community pride, according to Hajjaoui and an article in “The New York Times.”

“This project has done great things to the Innu community. For the longest time, my people were ashamed of themselves. We weren’t allowed to do what we wanted to do. We had a sense of freedom that was taken away from us. The photos made us proud again and has led to different awareness movements,” said Hajjaoui.

Ewald and Gottesman believed the photos would have a greater impact if they included written messages and were printed as large banners to be hung in public spaces. Community members were encouraged to vote for their favorite photos to be enlarged into banners and to decide where in Sheshatshiu to display them, according to Ewald and Gottesman.

Hajjaoui, Snow and Nuna wrote short phrases that accompanied the banners, drawing from their personal experiences and conversations with community elders, according to Hajjaoui and Nuna.

Ewald said, “The photos have been a bridge that connect the people to past generations. It lets them reconnect with the past and that’s very important because they’re trying to hold onto their history. By creating these banners, we wanted to raise awareness about such issues about the Innu people and become conversation starters about the meaning of change.”

Ewald and Gottesman said that the banners, plastered on water towers and various buildings in Sheshatshiu, were enthusiastically received by the local people.

Wanting to extend the impact of the project and to raise further awareness about the Innu community, Ewald and Gottesman decided to bring the banners and project to a place very familiar to them: the Andover campus.

“We decided to choose Andover not only because we went to high school here, but also because this place has so much history. We’ve been talking about what kind of history existed here before this seemingly old institution came to be. The [Robert S.] Peabody Museum [of Archaeology] also has some Innu pieces that can be connected to the project,” said Gottesman.

The Andover Banners

Using campus as its canvas, the banner portion of the Innu Project juxtaposes large-scale photos of Innu life with Andover’s Georgian red-brick architecture.

The Andover community has found it hard not to notice the ten 20-by-30-foot banners that are plastered to various building facades around campus.

Last spring, the Innu Project team led by Ewald, Gottesman and Innu community members, and the Addison staff began planning for the project’s arrival on campus. The team held workshops for Andover students interested in being involved with the project, during which the students and the project team decided where the banners would be hung on campus, according to Kaplowitz.

Hajjaoui and Snow, who are visiting campus this week, will be participating in museum discussions and campus tours of the banner locations and following the exhibit’s official reception at the Addison on October 13.

One of Hajjaoui’s photographic banners, installed by the Gelb Lawn and depicting a trail in the middle of the forest, will be described in detail during the walking tours. Hajjaoui said that the meaning behind the words “they used to walk here, not anymore” written on the path of the walking trail in the photo, can be interpreted in many ways, perhaps referring to the destruction of the nomadic Innu community or the animals killed by the human intervention.

“I really enjoyed looking at the banner in front of the Peabody. Since most of the banners have peoples’ faces on them, this one was unique because it represented the people through symbolism. The quote [‘when you put ice in water, it’s not going to last very long,’] definitely captures the dilution of spiritual and cultural [life] of the Innu,” said Sierra Jamir ’14.

Several Instructors in English, History and Art have implemented the exhibition and its affiliated discussions and readings into their curricula.

“I think the work that the Innu activists are doing to reclaim what has been stolen from [the people] and to preserve their culture and society is an inspiration for anyone who is concerned with social justice and human rights. All over the world, including the United States, indigenous people are engaged in similar struggles. I`1t was a great privilege for our class to see their exhibit and to meet them. They are modern day heroes,” said Lou Bernieri, Instructor in English.

Reading by Michel “Giant” Andrew

To accompany the banner project, Ewald and Gottesman asked Michel “Giant” Andrews, a native of Sheshatshiu and an Innu activist, to share his story of his hundred-mile walks in a reading in the Addison’s Museum Learning Center on Tuesday night. Andrews walked to raise awareness for the Innu community, specifically in combating and preventing diabetes among community members.

Through a reading of “Giant’s Dream: A Healing Journey Through Nitassinan,” a book documenting Andrews’ walks and activism written by Andrews’ uncle, Nikashant Antane, the audience learned about how walks in the harsh Canadian winters inspired the Innu to begin different awareness movements.