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Labrador Innu elder passes away at 103

Shimun Michel Sr. was involved in Innu land and resource issues for decades.
Shimun Michel Sr. was involved in Innu land and resource issues for decades. - Contributed

Shimun Michel Sr. remembered for commitment to family, tradition and activism

SHESHATSHIU, N.L.

A man believed to be the oldest living Innu passed away in Sheshatshiu on Oct. 30.

Shimun (Simon) Michel Sr., 103, was a well-respected elder. Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation Chief Eugene Hart said his loss is significant to the Innu communities of Labrador.

Hart noted Michel was one of the remaining traditional Innu drummers in the community. He was respected for his knowledge and preservation of Innu culture.

“Shimun by his age was able to see a significant amount of change in the community as he was there when the community of Sheshatshiu was formed in the 1960s and resided here for most his life, raising his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren here,” Hart said. “Our community feels this is a significant loss and we will remember him as one of those who helped guide our community and helped preserve our history from when we lived in Nitassinan to where our communities have developed today. On behalf of Chief and Council and the entire community of Sheshatshiu we will miss Shimun.”

Michel was born in Nitassinan, (the interior of Labrador), on Dec. 24, 1914. He had over 170 direct descendants.

The Innu Nation released a statement following Michel’s passing, echoing Hart’s comments about the changes he witnessed in his long life. Michel had been involved in Innu land and resource issues since the emergence of the Innu Nation as a political movement in the mid-1970's, according to the statement, including the campaign against low-level flying and the developments of megaprojects at Voisey's Bay and Muskrat Falls.

“Shimun Michel was regarded by all who knew him as a kind, deeply thoughtful and spiritual man with a strong connection to the land and animals,” the statement read. “He was guided by the spirit of the caribou, his abiding belief in Innu self-determination, and his resolve to build a better future for all Innu.”

A funeral service was held for Michel Nov. 3 in Sheshatshiu. Lake Melville MHA Perry Trimper spoke at the service, expressing sympathies and deepest respect to the family and friends of Shimun Michel.‎

“His leadership has been a great part of our lives and as a leader of the Innu of Labrador,” Trimper said.

Trimper passed along comments from Premier Dwight Ball to those assembled. Ball said Michel was someone who not only witnessed decades of Innu history, but who also shaped it. His activism not only benefited his people, Ball noted, but also inspired others to pursue Innu self-determination, and make a commitment to build a better future for all Innu.

“In order to know who we are, we need to have a strong sense of where we have been, and we need to know where we want to go,” Ball wrote. “That is why our elders are so important, and why Elder Shimun (Simon) Michel Senior had such a tremendous impact on so many.”

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