Don's diary

January 21, 2000

Sunday

I am awakened at 9am by a telephone call from my friend Basil in the Innu community of Sheshatshiu, Labrador. He tells me that the 15-year-old son of Napes Ashini has just shot himself. Napes is one of three Innu arriving at Heathrow this morning for the launch of the human rights report, Canada's Tibet: The Killing of the Innu. I co-authored the report for the campaign on indigenous rights in Canada run by Survival, an international organisation supporting tribal people. What a horrifying irony that Napes was coming over to address this very issue.

By the time I arrive in London, Napes has already called home. He shows a strength of spirit that I have never witnessed in my own culture. He is interviewed many times. In the evening we go to Bush House, where he talks movingly of why so many Innu youngsters are killing themselves.

Monday

Up early to do an interview for the BBC World Service. I am nervous, but manage to get over the many points of our report, which castigates Canadian aboriginal policy. The press conference at Survival was hurriedly moved forward so the Innu can catch the noon flight back to St John's. Due to the time switch, the turnout is low. Napes talks quietly of his own tragedy and that of his people, who relatively recently were forced to abandon nomadic hunting and live in government settlements. I rush Napes and the two other Innu, Shapatesh and Katnin, to make the flight home for the funeral.

Tuesday

Back to Essex to give my 9am lecture. Iona at Survival rings to say there are more interviews lined up with CBC and that co-author James Wilson and I will have to do them. Afterwards we go for a drink and reflect on it all. How is Napes getting on? Why does the Canadian press ignore the larger issues of the report that connects collective trauma with Canadian government policy? Why will they not touch the land-claims issue?

Wednesday

The word is Canada's Tibet has been the biggest campaign in the 33-year history of Survival. Jean Chretien, the Canadian prime minister, comments on it, saying that the government is spending more money than ever on "first nations". More requests for interviews from Australia and Italy.

Thursday

Go to the departmental seminar. All staff have been asked again to nominate four research assessment exercise publications. I am advised not to submit Canada's Tibet because, although scholarly, it is co-authored and published by a non-governmental organisation. I infer that a single-authored journal article on the sociology of tiddlywinks would be more favourable for my career advancement.

Friday

News comes in of a change of Canadian policy. The Newfoundland government is to grant the Innu "first nation's equivalency", a status that usually takes many years to achieve. I go into the Survival office to read the press clippings. I am bemused by an irate editorial in the Calgary Herald that accuses us of not getting our facts right. It ends by describing me as a "sociology professor at the notoriously leftwing University of Sussex".

Colin Samson lectures in sociology and Native American studies at the University of Essex. He has worked with the indigenous Innu of Labrador-Quebec since 1994. Canada's Tibet can be read at www.survival.org.uk.

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