The Laughing People: A Tribute to my Innu Friends by Serge Bouchard

After reading two recent works of fiction dealing with Canada’s north and its Indigenous peoples, I was moved to pull this book off my shelf and write a brief review in honour of Canada’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30th.

The Laughing People is an endearing account of a life spent amongst the Innu of the Quebec/Labrador peninsula. It is all the more poignant as both the author and his partner (and co-author) passed away before this English-language translation was published. Originally published in French as Le people rieur: Hommage à mes amis innus in 2017, it was awarded the 2018 Prix Victor-Barbeau from the Academie des letters du Quebec.

It was in 1970 that Mr. Bouchard, a young anthropologist first arrived in the Innu territory. This was a crucial period in the Innu’s existence as snowmobiles were replacing dogsleds and prefab housing is replacing their more traditional nomadic tents. They have never been under more pressure to assimilate. Mr. Bouchard sums up their pre-historic lifestyle that white colonizers wanted to be changed (or gone completely):

To sum up, the Innu of old lived in a world that had achieved unity. Wood, stone, plants, snowshoes, tools, all assumed a sacred aspect, confirming the supremacy of the imaginary. Far from jeopardizing the practical efficacy of decisions and acts, on the contrary, this poetry reinforced it. Ingenious, meticulous, the Ancients had rigorous dreams. They were supported by their mistanapeo to become better hunters. They knew by heart the names of all the animals, trees, plants, and shrubs, of what they ate, and what healed them; they knew the geography and topography of their nation, and they mastered exceptionally well the hydrography and its networks. The knowledge contained in myths brought each to the essential: good families must work together, welcome, share, and maintain a respectful rapport with the spirit world. Tales, remedies, genealogies; building a canoe, sewing clothes; portaging, hunting, packing, hauling, paddling, singing, curing, dreaming; the accumulated knowledge and skillset of each individual and family amounted to a colossal sum of know-how that made up the cultural heritage of a world that we wanted to annihilate.

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Reflecting back over a half-century of travelling with and living amongst the Innu makes for not only a fascinating story but an insightful look at the changes these nomadic people have had to face time and time again. If you are looking for a good readable memoir about life in this part of Canada’s north, then I recommend The Laughing People.

About the Author

Serge Bouchard (1948-2021), a renowned broadcaster with Radio-Canada and a prolific French-language author, received the Governor General’s Literary Award for non-fiction for Les yeux tristes de mon camion and the Prix Victor-Barbeau from the Académie des lettres du Québec for Le peuple rieur.

Marie-Christine Lévesque (1958–2020), Serge Bouchard’s partner, was an editor and regular contributor to his books.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ McGill-Queen’s University Press (Aug. 18 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 240 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0228008123
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0228008125

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