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Ka Ke Ki Ku

Accession number: 
Production Years: 
1959 to 1960


Film Properties: 
Length (feet): 
1059 (16mm)
Length (minutes): 
Holding Institutions: 

Library and Archives Canada: 16mm, Beta, VHS.
"An investigation of two Montagnais (Innu) villages on the north shore of the St. Lawrence. The first, St. Augustine, situated near Labrador is undergoing change as formal schooling has arrived for two week periods. The children from the village attending the school have been segregated by sex as is the tradition, since the age of six or seven. Back together in the school environment they are shown to be shy with each other. The second village is La Romaine (formerly Oloman Shibou) located 100 miles to the west. The Montagnais are shown picking up lumber delivered by ship and dropped on the shore. The band is building a house which the film suggests represents a significant change in their society from a nomadic one - living in tents and following the caribou, to a stationary one - sending out hunting parties from a home base. The summer construction of canoes is shown with the children watching and learning the traditional methods passed down in this manner. As the narration emphasizes, 'Montagnais civilization is based on their ability to follow the rivers, to build canoes.' Change is creeping in to even this centuries old practice of hand building the canoe. A government agent and the manager of the Hudson Bay Company - who provides the canvas that replaced birchbark - are now involved. There is a spiritual aspect to the canoe building. The Montagnais invoke the spirits of the river and of the canoe giving both form and being to the final product. All canoes constructed in the summer must be completed in time for the annual procession in honour of the Virgin and of the migration. The pageant occurs on the same day as Pardon, a religious feast of indulgence observed for centuries in Brittany. On the following day the entire tribe sets out for the caribou hunt with the children leaving by plane to a boarding school at Seven Islands. The narration adopts a condescending tone towards the Montagnais throughout the film. As footage of the lumber being picked up from shore is shown the narrator says, 'Do they know that a house keeps out the cleansing sunlight? Do they know that there is a practical simplicity in all this disorder... That they risk destroying the harmony of a carefree life?' followed by, 'Now, ingenously, they wish to live in one of these houses, where they think to live as in a tent. They do not understand that they will no longer awaken with the fresh scent of the bed of balsam.' During the canoe building sequence the narration advises, 'We need not try to understand the secret harmony of their design. There is an unrecorded pattern as familiar as the songs of childhood.' The suggestion is that in sending the children to boarding school the Montagnais are, 'turning their backs on the centuries old school of the rivers and the forest'. In conclusion, as part of the summary the narration states, 'One must recognize the limits of man's understanding and respect the realms which the Indian keeps in his heart'."


Online database National Film Board of Canada.
"In summer in Olomanshibou (La Romaine), the children learn the Montagnais alphabet by chanting Ka Ke Ki Ku along with missionary Alexis Joveneau in a makeshift tent school. They also learn the traditional way of life by watching the adults build canoes and by taking part in the annual procession of the blessing of the village's candles, rifles, salt and canoes. But in the fall, an airplane will take them away to another school, the residential school in Sept-îles, where they will be taught another alphabet and another culture."

"Les Montagnais nomades du Caribou durant l'hiver se sédentarisent durant l'été et, à  travers mille et un travaux, s'absorbent à la construction des canots comme la trace inoubliable d'un immense passé. Car un canot dans leur langage c'est beaucoup dire."