Montagnais-Naskapi - Orientation

Identification. In its broadest sense the name "Montagnais-Naskapi" refers to all of the nomadic hunting and fishing Algonkian peoples inhabiting the Labrador Peninsula of Newfoundland and Quebec since at least early historic times. Used in this sense, the name includes those groups referred to historically as the Montagnais, Naskapi, and East Main Cree.

Location. The Montagnais-Naskapi occupied a vast area of the Labrador Peninsula extending from the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the lower St. Lawrence River north to Ungava Bay and northwest to James and Hudson bays. The Montagnais occupied the southern part of this region, the Naskapi the northern part, and the East Main Cree the western part. The Labrador Peninsula, with its barren coasts and spruce-dominant forested interior, rises from south to north to a rolling, glaciated plateau dotted by numerous lakes, swamps, and bogs. To the extreme north of the plateau the tree line is reached and eventually the plateau is devoid of all plant life except lichens. Winters in Labrador are long and cold, Summers cool and short. Precipitation on the peninsula is relatively high for its altitude and tends to be highest near the coasts.

Demography. The Montagnais-Naskapi numbered approximately fifty-five hundred in the early 1600s. From that time until about 1925, their population declined almost continuously because of European diseases, warfare, alcoholism, and starvation owing to fluctuations in game animal densities and overhunting and trapping of game animals. In the mid-nineteenth century the Montagnais-Naskapi numbered about four thousand, decreasing to between three thousand and thirty-five hundred by the end of the century. In the twentieth century the availability of medical supplies and store-bought foods helped reverse the long period of population decline. Today the Montagnais-Naskapi number more than twelve thousand.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Montagnais-Naskapi speak a dialect of the Cree language of the Algonkian language family.

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