President's Report 2006 | Community

Tshaukuish (Elizabeth) Penashue

Tshaukuish (Elizabeth) Penashue

In October 2005, at Memorial University's fall convocation ceremonies, Tshaukuish (Elizabeth) Penashue joined the family of over 60,000 Memorial alumni when she was presented with the honourary degree of doctor of laws.

Dr. Meisen introduced Dr. Penashue during his welcome address.

"Elizabeth Penashue is a mentor and teacher, a conserver and a protector of the language, culture and traditions of her people - the Innu of Labrador.

Born into a hunting and trapping family, Dr. Penashue has been a beacon, reminding Innu, young and old, of their traditional way of life and respect for the land. She is one of those most remarkable leaders - the ones that require no formal title. She leads by example and remains a powerful symbol to her people.

But she is more than a symbol. Like all great leaders she is a person of action. Her efforts have drawn public attention to her people and their cause.

Dr. Penashue is a remarkable woman and most deserving of the honour we will bestow on her this evening."

Jean Guthrie, university orator, gave the oration honouring Tshaukuish Penashue. Among her many amazing experiences and accomplishments, Prof. Guthrie described the first of Dr. Penashue's winter walks for the women of Sheshatshiu in the 1980s, one that took them to the NATO bombing range at Minai-nipi and a vigil for a pure lake now spoiled by dead bombs.

"At the prospect of low-level flying by NATO over Innu hunting grounds, she conquered fear and knocked on doors, inviting her people to join in opposing the violation," Prof. Guthrie said. "For occupying the runway at Goose Bay, Tshaukuish and her friends went three times to jail, but they won public recognition and travelled by invitation across Canada, telling this story of Innu resistance and agency. Tshaukuish has since organized a women's centre in Sheshatshiu, and a yearly group expedition by canoe, in tandem with her husband Francis, on the Mishta Shipu, that great river we appropriated to provide hydro power, flooding without notice the land where the father of Tshaukuish trapped and hunted. Her canoe trip mourns the damage of that first development and protests the planning of a second."

With her husband, Jack Penashue acting as translator Eliazabeth Penashue addressed the graduating class as a voice of the people who cannot speak for themselves.

"The reason that I fight for the rights and the protection of the environment is the protection also for the future generations of our children," she said. "That is why I do the things I do. You are probably aware that the Innu people are in crisis in our communities. And, you are probably also aware of the suicides and the issues within our communities. The reasons why we do these things is because we want to live the way we were always taught to live amongst the land, among the environment and the animals. That is how we were raised to live. And, if we start abusing the environment, then you start abusing the people that live on that land."

Dr. Penashue concluded by saying that her walk and her journey is for the people, for the youth, for the children, the grandchildren, the great-grandchildren.

"That is what I do to protect the life of my culture and also of my people."

Scott Hand, chairman and CEO of Inco Ltd., also received a honorary doctor of laws degree during fall convocation. Meanwhile, during spring convocation, honorary degrees were presented to: Irish poet Paul Muldoon, who was honoured during convocation at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College on May 12; nursing practitioner Kay Matthews; choir leader Sister Kathrine Bellamy; Roland Martin, businessman and public servant; author and academic Dr. Roland Le Huenen; businessman Gary Bruce; historian Dr. Robert Gellately; and Holocaust survivor Philip Riteman.