The Naskapi people have occupied their homelands and presently recognized territory since time immemorial. Travelling within the wide expanse of land now called the Quebec-Labrador peninsula, the Naskapi spent considerable time in the central interior along the waterways draining into Ungava Bay (Speck 1931). While they encountered occasional traders over the years in the 18th Century and earlier, it was not until 1831 that the Hudson Bay Company established a trading post in their territory in Fort Chimo. Perhaps as a portent of things to come in the way of their astute business sense, the Naskapi insisted that the price offered for furs was not enough and by 1835 negotiated a raise. They also resisted trapping small fur-bearing animals since their traditional existence depended on hunting and fishing for food, primarily caribou, geese and ptarmigan, trout, pike and other lake fish. Reports from the fur trading posts at the time note that their needs and wants were few and that they are a proud and independent people. (See Alan Cooke 1976).
Over the years that followed, the Naskapi became more dependent on the trading posts (vanStone 1985) primarily for guns and ammunition which made their hunting much more efficient. However, the whims of the traders, who might reduce the amount of ammunition in their trades in order to pressure the Naskapi into trapping the fur bearing animals the traders sought and spending less time following the caribou, came to mean the difference between survival and starvation for the Naskapi. Between 1842 to 1956, the Naskapi moved from post to post as the Hudson Bay Company attempted to maximize their profits with little regard for the lives of the people involved. Increasingly, the Naskapi came to depend on the resources available to them through the posts.
There are mixed reports on the move the Naskapi made to the Schefferville area in 1956. Some say that they were pressured by the governments (e.g. Cooke 58); others claim they were promised “…a school, housing, and a nursing station” (61) and that they saw work possibilities with the mines opened by the Iron Ore Company of Canada. The historical record remains unclear to this day, but the results of the move are very clear. The first Naskapi arrived in Schefferville, then known as Knob Lake, by canoe following a lengthy overland trip. They had left behind along the way those who had become weak and sick from the long trip. Aircraft rescue brought the rest of the people to Schefferville. The promises never materialized.
1978 was the year that the Naskapi turned around their community. With the signing of Northeastern Quebec Agreement, they finally gained access to compensation for the resources being drawn from their traditional territory. While they gave up rights to certain parts of their land, they gained exclusive rights to the remaining land as well as “…specific social and economic development services to be provided…by the provincial and federal governments.” (Cooke:67) They used these resources to re-locate – one more time – to a site of their choice about ten kilometres away from Schefferville. By the end of 1984, the town was established and 1985 brought the completion of the Jimmy Sandy Memorial School. (http://www.cqsb.qc.ca/jsms/index.htm) accessed.
Cooke, A. (1976). A History of the Naskapis of Schefferville: Preliminary Draft. Naskapi Band Council of Schefferville.
Speck, F. G. (1931). MONTAGNAIS‐NASKAPI BANDS AND EARLY ESKIMO DISTRIBUTION IN THE LABRADOR PENINSULA. American Anthropologist, 33(4), 557-600.
VanStone, J. W. (1985). Material Culture of the Davis Inlet and Barren Ground Naskapi: The William Duncan Strong Collection. Fieldiana. Anthropology, i-136.