Episode 11: The Power of One - Innu

Florent Vollant is a dynamic Innu singer-songwriter, one-half of the internationally acclaimed Native pop duo KASHTIN. In Montreal and his home community of Maliotenam, we will follow Florent on his musical campaign to inspire Innu youth with the passion and concern he feels for his language.


Florent Vollant was born in Labrador, and was later adopted into a family of Innu hunters living near Maliotenam, one of eight Innu communities stretching from Québec City along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. The Maliotenam reserve was created in 1949, as major industrialization and resource exploitation forced the Innu off their ancestral lands and into settlements. Situated next door to the industrial town of Sept Iles, and in close proximity to forestry operations, mining and hydroelectric developments, Maliotenam has been especially hard hit.
The widespread dislocation occasioned by these disruptions in the traditional way of life is compounded by what Florent Vollant sees as a lack of interest in the culture and language on the part of Innu leaders. Many of the Innu communities provide minimal language instruction so that by the time they reach their teenage years, and under the onslaught of southern culture, very few young people actually speak their language. Often, even their French is poor, and they suffer serious social and emotional problems.
Growing up in a hybrid culture of French and Montagnais (the French name for the Innu Nation), and realizing early on the threat to his language, Florent decided to apply his musical talents to its revival. He takes great pleasure in writing and performing songs in Innu and sees this as the most effective way for him to teach the Innu language to youth. His warm, dynamic personality and charisma come through as clearly on stage as they do in his musical compositions.

Part 1

Maliotenam has, since 1985, been the home of the Innu Nikamu music festival, where each summer Native performers from North and South America converge to participate in a series of unforgettable concerts, impromptu musical encounters and exchanges. As a teenager, Florent was able to meet many aboriginal musicians who ultimately influenced his career.
In the early 1990’s, Florent got together with his friend and fellow Innu Claude McKenzie, to form the group KASHTIN. Their first CD of original folk rock songs in the Innu language quickly rose to the top of the charts in Quebec, and ultimately, worldwide. KASHTIN's rootsy acoustic sound and driving beat has since influenced a whole generation of Native performers. This episode explores the work Floent does with a group of young musicians in his home community.

Part 2

The oral tradition of the Innu language sustained itself through songs and the telling of legends. Today the language is widely spoken in the communities. But in the schools it has little place. Doris Volent speaks Innu fluently, but she is required to teach in French. Doris Volant "We lack teaching material. I used to teach Innu ten years ago. I was always busy creating new material while trying to teach at the same time. Looking at it ten years later, it's still the same thing for those teaching Innu now. There is still a lot of work to do."
There are however, resources within the community that teachers are able to draw upon. The Montagnais Cultural and Educational Institute which was created to help safeguard and standardize Innu, is also involved with the development of materials.
Florent voices his concerns and hopes for the future generation of Innu youth growing up in the shadow of tradition, and struggling to maintain their sense of identity in the midst of rapid change. He knows that language has been an important part of maintaining his identity and is keenly aware of his responsibility as a role model for the next generation of Innu and other First nations young people.

Language Keeper

Daniel Vachon was one of the first to work on the writing of the Innu Language and was fully recognized for it. He contributed to the production of nearly a dozen Innu language books.