This article has been archived from the now-defunct MSU E-Museum (http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/)
for educational purposes. Please visit our Article Archive Index for
further information. If the author of this article would like to make changes to it, or if you are the author of another article you would
like us to add to our archives, please contact us.
The Montagnais lived originally in Labrador, Canada. The word Montagnais is French, meaning "mountaineers". There are many ways to spell their name, including Montagnar, Moatagne, Montagnie, and Montainier. Labrador is located in the northeastern part of North America. Most of the Montagnais groups were located along the Gulf of the St. Lawrence. This accounts for why the French gave them the name Montagnais, due in large part to the ruggedness of the land along the St. Lawrence.
In recent times, the Montagnais and the Naskapi joined to create the Innu. Currently there are about 12,000 Innu living on reservations throughout Quebec.
The Naskapi are closely related to the Montagnais. Because of this, information about these people is grouped together. Both groups speak almost identical Algonquian dialects.
The Montagnais and Naskapi have similar cultures. Both the Montagnais and the Naskapi live in shelters called wigwams. A wigwam is a shelter made out of reeds, mats, or hides from animals. The shape is similar to a teepee but is larger. This form of shelter is usually used for large groups of people or single families. The wigwams used by the Montagnais are covered by birch-bark. The Naskapi lived farther north where birch trees were very scarce. Instead of using bark for their wigwams, they used caribou hides.
The Montagnais hunted eel, seal, caribou and moose. One of the delicacies of the Montagnais was the porcupine. Some people actually called the Montagnais the "Porcupine Indians" because they enjoyed the animals so much. In addition to hunting animals for food, they also used the hides of seal, moose and caribou for clothing. Their basic clothes consisted of a robe, breechcloth, leggings, and moccasins. The Montagnais traveled from summer and winter camps using canoes in the summer and snowshoes in the winter. They recently borrowed the use of dogsleds from the Inuit.
The organization of the Montagnais was based on small bands. Most members of these bands were closely related family members. The composition of the bands changed from time to time with the rise and fall of successful leaders. Southern bands were imposed by the European fur trade to create fur-trapping and hunting territories. With the interaction of the Europeans, the Montagnais were exposed to many new items, including items made of metal. Anything that was made of metal had great value. Many furs could be traded for one gun, a pot or a pan, or other metal objects. The Europeans not only introduced new things that the Montagnais could use, they also introduced disease and over hunting of the animals that the Montagnais use for food.