Uenitshikumishiteu won’t let the project happen. If you don’t touch the hill, destroy it, uenitshikumishiteu won’t get mad.
~ Unidentified Innu committee members, on proposed construction near Manitu-utshu.

Uenitshikumishiteu are semiaquatic animals described by the Innu. They are most often described as large otters, and they are known for their ability to swim through land and their protectiveness of their young.

Appearance Edit

Uenitshikumishiteu are huge otter-, or seal-like creatures, although they have been occasionally compared to sea lions. Their fur is described as either yellow-orange[1] or dark brown, and in the earliest written account they are described with white feet and large ears.[2] In an environmental report of the Churchill River area, one Innu woman compared them to graboids from the movie Tremors. However, after viewing a clip from the movie, she clarified that they moved differently from the graboids.[1]

Behaviour Edit

The creatures' most notable quality is their ability to swim not only through water, but also through ice and earth. Whenever they travel through land, the ground starts to ripple like a wave.[1][2][3] Some anecdotes mention them opening holes in the ground, implying that they may leave tunnels behind.[3]

While they prey mainly on seals, uenitshikumishiteu are dangerous animals that have been known to attack and kill humans. Most Innu anecdotes explicitly describe them as being evil. However, they mostly only act in self defense or to protect their young. Eyewitness accounts imply they are social, as they have been seen in groups of up to four.[1]

They are said to growl like dogs,[3] but may also make a low whistling noise. Strong ("Notes on Mammals of the Labrador Interior") transcribed a human imitation of the noise as wheú-u-u, and compared it to the call of a quail.[2]

They live inside Manitu-utshu, a mountain located in Labrador, Canada, which functions similarly to an uisht (beaver lodge) with an underwater entrance. They have also been sighted at the nearby Muskrat Falls, Mekentsheu-shipiss (Mackenzie River)[3], Netaukau (Sandy Point), Kakatshu-utshishtun (Grand Lake), and Seal Lake.[2] Their tracks have also been seen on the shoreline of Mishta-shipu (Churchill River) just past Muskrat Falls.[1]

Related stories Edit

The most popular story about this creature involves two hunters who came across a young uenitshikumishiteu. One of them killed it, and immediately after, the water nearby began to bubble and the ground began to ripple as though it were a wave. The hunters ran as fast as they could, but the one that killed the uenitshikumishiteu began to scream and then fell into a hole in the earth. The second hunter remained unharmed.[1][2] 

In another version, the hunters instead encountered two young otters, one brown and one white. One of the hunters killed the white otter, and the uenitshikumishiteu came after him. As before, the second hunter survived.[3] 

Anthropological information Edit

The Innu people have their own classification system for animals, and uenitshikumishiteu are alternately placed in the "manitush" (malevolent) or "nitshikᵘ" (otter) categories, depending on the region.[1][4] In fact, "nitshikᵘ" appears to be a root of the creature's name, which implies it is a kind of otter regardless of its classification. As a side note, otters and seals are given similar words in the Innu language, which explains the conflation of the two in uenitshikumishiteu's descriptions.[5]

Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro had plans for construction in the Muskrat Falls area, but many of the Innu people expressed concern that the project would anger uenitshikumishiteu and that the creatures would destroy any work done in the area.

Uenitshikumishiteu fall under the domain of Missinakᵘ, the animal master of aquatic animals in Innu folklore.[1]

Similar creatures Edit

References Edit

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Innu Kaishitshissenitak Mishta-shipu: Innu Environmental Knowledge of the Mishta-shipu (Churchill River) Area of Labrador in Relation to the Proposed Lower Churchill Project, Innu Nation (2007). Pg. 14, 48, 94-96.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Strong, William Duncan. “Notes on Mammals of the Labrador Interior", Journal of Mammalogy (1930). Pg. 9-10.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 "Manitutshu the Spirit Mountain at Muskrat Falls", Innu Nation.
  4. Clément, Daniel. "Why is Taxonomy Utilitarian?", Journal of Ethnobiology (1995). Pg 29.
  5. "Aimun-Mashinaikan Innu Dictionary", Innu-Aimun (2018).
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