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The Naskapi are the indigenous Innu inhabitants of an area they refer to as Nitassinan, which comprises most of what other Canadians refer to as eastern Quebec and Labrador, Canada.

Innu people are frequently divided into two groups, the Montagnais who live along the north shore of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, in Quebec, and the less numerous Naskapi who live farther north. The Innu themselves recognize several distinctions (e.g. Mushuau Innuat, Maskuanu Innut, Uashau Innuat) based on different regional affiliations and various dialects of the Innu language.

The word "Naskapi" (meaning "people beyond the horizon") first made an appearance in the 17th century and was subsequently applied to Innu groups beyond the reach of missionary influence, most notably those living in the lands which bordered Ungava Bay and the northern Labrador coast, near the Inuit communities of northern Quebec and northern Labrador. The Naskapi are traditionally nomadic peoples, in contrast with the territorial Montagnais. Mushuau Innuat (plural), while related to the Naskapi, split off from the tribe in the 20th century and were subject to a government relocation program at Davis Inlet. The Naskapi language and culture is quite different from the Montagnais, in which the dialect changes from y to n as in "Iiyuu" versus "Innu"[1]. Some of the families of the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach have close relatives in the Cree village of Whapmagoostui, on the eastern shore of Hudson Bay.



Post-European Contact

The earliest written reference to Naskapis appears around 1643, when the Jesuit André Richard referred to the "Ounackkapiouek", but little is known about the group to which Richard was referring, other than that they were one of many "small nations" situated somewhere north of Tadoussac. The word "Naskapi" appeared for the first time in 1733, at which time the group so described was said to number approximately forty families and to have an important camp at Lake Achouanipi. At approximately the same time, in 1740, Joseph Isbister, the manager of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s post at Eastmain, reported being told that there were Indians, whom he called "Annes-carps" to the northeast of Richmond Gulf. In later years those Indians came to be called variously "Nascopie" and "Nascappe". Not many years later, in 1790, the Periodical Accounts of the Moravian Missionaries described a group of Indians living west of Okak as "Nascopies". The Naskapis came under the influence of Protestant missionaries, and remain Protestant to this day. In addition to their native tongue, they speak English, in contrast to their Montagnais cousins who are for the most part Roman Catholic, speaking the native language and French. It should be noted that the Montagnais are far more numerous than the Naskapis.

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