Les Indiens Montagnais (French version)

Native American Indian languages Native Indian cultures First Nations art

  * Find Native American ancestors in your family tree

Innu Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Innus for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to look through our main Innu website for more in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Innu pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.




    Innu Tribe

How are the words 'Montagnais,' 'Naskapi,' and 'Innu' used? What do they mean?
Innu is the word that both Naskapi and Montagnais Indians call themselves. Innu means "the people" in both their languages. Montagnais (pronounced moan-tahn-YAY) was what French explorers called certain Innu bands. Montagnais means "mountain people" in French. Naskapi (pronounced NAS-ka-pee) was a Montagnais word for an Innu band that spoke a slightly different language than the others. Apparently they also dressed differently, because Naskapi means 'they wear crude clothes' in the Montagnais language!

Despite different fashion senses, the Naskapi and Montagnais bands were constant allies and have always considered themselves part of the same Innu people.

'Innu' and 'Inuit' sound a lot alike. Are the Innu related to the Inuit/Eskimos?
No, the similarity is a coincidence. The Innu and Inuit languages are completely different. The Innu are most closely related to the Cree Indians. The Innus and Crees don't have much in common with the Inuit culturally, but they did interact with them sometimes. It was probably Innu or Eastern Cree Indians who gave the Inuit their familiar Algonquian name, Eskimo (people who eat raw meat.)

Where do the Innus live?
The Innu are indigenous people of Canada, particualrly eastern Quebec and Labrador. Most Innu people still live in this traditional territory today, which they call Nitassinan.

How is the Innu Indian nation organized?
Montagnais and Naskapi Indian communities lives on special reserves (called reservations in the United States.) A reserve is land that belongs to the tribe and is under their control. Each Innu community, called a First Nation or band, has its own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country. Some Innu bands have also formed coalitions to address common problems.

Today, each Innu band is led by a chief chosen by the tribal council. In the past, though, there were no Innu chiefs. The Montagnais and Naskapis made political decisions by consensus. That means that no Innu council member was in charge of another one--they just had to keep talking until all the council members could agree. Sometimes this took a long time, but Innu bands were small and the people really valued harmonious behavior, so for them it was a good system.

What language do the Innus speak?
Most Innu people speak one of their two native languages, Montagnais and Naskapi. These languages are very similar to each other and to Cree, but speakers of the three languages have trouble understanding each other. Today, many Innu people also speak French or English.

If you'd like to know a few easy Innu words, kue means "hello" in Montagnais and aiame means "goodbye." You can also see a Montagnais Innu photo glossary here.

What was Innu culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here's a link to the homepage of the Innu Nation. On their site you can find information about the Innu people in the past and today.

How do Innu Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things any children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Innu children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play, just like colonial children. But they did have dolls and toys to play with-- here is a picture of an Innu children's toy. Innu mothers generally carried their babies in moss-bag carriers, though some women adopted Cree-style cradleboards.

What were Innu homes like in the past?
The Innu made large conical wigwams out of wood frames they covered with birchbark and caribou hides. Here are some pictures of Native American wigwams like the ones Innu Indians used. Innu villages also often included a larger, central lodge for tribal gatherings and festivities. Today, Native Americans only build a wigwam or lodge for fun or to connect with their heritage. Most Innus live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Innu clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Innu women wore long dresses with removable sleeves. Innu men wore breechclout and leggings. The Innus also wore moccasin boots and long coats made of white leather. Innu people frequently painted their coats, leggings, and dresses with fancy black and red designs. Some Naskapi Indians also adopted the warmer Eskimo-style parka. Maybe this was why the Montagnais thought the Naskapis were crude dressers, or maybe the Montagnais just didn't like Naskapi painting designs as much as their own. Here is a link to our page on First Nations clothing in general, where you can find photographs and more links about these traditional clothing styles.

The Innus didn't wear headdresses. They usually wore hoods in the winter and went bare-headed in the summer. Innu men and women both wore their hair long, which is still common today. The Innus didn't usually paint their faces, though Innu men did tattoo patterns on their skin sometimes.

Today, some Innu people still wear moccasins or a traditional leather coat... but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths.

What was Innu transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
Yes--the Innu tribe was well-known for their birchbark canoes. Canoeing is still popular within the Innu nation, though few people handcraft their own canoe from birch bark anymore. Here is a website about birch bark canoes. Over land, Innu people used snowshoes and sleds to help them travel. Today, of course, Innu people also use cars and snowmobiles... and non-native people also use canoes and snowshoes.

What was Innu food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Innu were primarily big game hunters. Men hunted moose, caribou, and bears by driving them into deep snow or onto thin ice and shooting them with arrows. Women snared small game like rabbits and collected berries and wild plants. Along the coasts, the Innu also speared fish for their diet. Unlike the Inuit, the Innu always cooked meat before eating it. Here is a website with more information about Native food.

What were Innu weapons and tools like in the past?
Innu hunters and warriors used bows and arrows, spears, and knives. Here is a website with pictures and information about Native American weapons.

What are Innu arts and crafts like?
Innu artists are known for their hide paintings and their beautiful clothing. With red ochre and black paint, Innu men and women decorated their clothing and personal items with intricate patterns. Here is a website with photos of Innu caribou-hide paintings.

What other Native Americans did the Innu tribe interact with?
The most important Innu trading partners were the Cree, Algonquin, and Ojibway tribes. Since they weren't farmers themselves, the Innus liked to trade furs for agricultural products like corn and tobacco. The Innu people were not especially warlike, but they sometimes fought against the Iroquois tribes and the Inuit.

What kinds of stories do the Innus tell?
There are lots of traditional Innu legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Innu Indian culture. Here is a humorous Innu legend about a greedy lynx. Here's a website where you can read more about Innu stories.

What about Innu religion?
Religions are too complicated and culturally sensitive to describe appropriately in only a few simple sentences, and we strongly want to avoid misleading anybody. You can visit this site to learn more about Innu spirituality or this site about Indian religions in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy River Runners, which is an adventure story about two boys befriended by Naskapi youths in the wilderness. If you want to know more about Innu culture and history, you could try It's Like the Legend, a book of interviews with Innu women. Culturally, the Innu are very similar to the Eastern Cree, so you can get a good idea of the Innu lifestyle by reading books about the East Cree people, such as The Eeyou, which shows the culture and history of the James Bay Cree (neighbors and kinfolk of the Innu.) Finally, there's an interesting art book, To Please The Caribou, which shows a collection of traditional Innu and Cree painted caribou coats. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended Indian books in general.

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2013.

Thanks for your interest in the Innu Indian people and their language!

Learn More About The Innus

Innu Indian Tribe
An overview of the Innu people, their languages and history.

Montagnais Language Resources
Montagnais language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Naskapi Language Resources
Naskapi language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Innu Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Innu people past and present.

Innu Words
Innu Indian vocabulary lists.



Return to Native American Websites
Return to our menu of Indian Nations


Native Languages

Indian Painting * Indian Names * Indian Tattoos * Beadwork

Would you like to help support our organization's work with the Naskapi and Montagnais Indian languages?



Native Languages of the Americas website 1998-2014 * Contacts and FAQ page