Uenitshikumishiteu

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The Uenitshikumishiteu are an unknown semi-aquatic animal reported in the interior of Labrador, a very remote area almost entirely populated by the Innu and Naskapi people. The Uenitshikumishiteu are described as large sea lion-like otters with dirty blonde or russet fur, whitish legs and large ears. They are somewhat social, occasionally reported being in groups of three or four. They are also often said to be protective of their young and are also said to make a low whistling call similar to a quail and dog-like growling. There are some more mythical aspects to the uenitshikumishiteu, for instance, they are said to “swim” through the ground as if it's water. Many sightings occur near Muskrat Falls in the Churchill River, north of which is the Manitu-utshu hill, which the Innu believe is the home to a colony of Uenitshikumishiteus accessible by an underwater entrance. Though sometimes considered a seal, the Uenitshikumishiteu is considered a type of “nitshik” or otter and is said to be controlled by the god Massinak, who controls all aquatic animals. Despite its bizarre ability to allegedly swim through the ground, which has never actually been observed, the Uenitshikumishiteu is referred to, and treated as, an ordinary animal. During the construction of the controversial Muskrat Falls Generating Station, the Innu expressed concerns for not just environmental reasons, but that it will anger the Uenitshikumishiteu.

The first written sighting of a Uenitshikumishiteu was in a newspaper in 1898, which claimed the Naskapi people told of an unknown species of seal, like a harbour seal, but significantly larger with dark reddish brown fur. In the late 20’s, William Strong was told by two elderly Innu men that they witnessed a uenitshikumishiteu in Seal Lake. They described it as being very large, and had dark brown fur, with white legs and large ears. In 1939, Scientist J.K Doutt, known for discovering the elusive Ungava Seal in Quebec went on an expedition to Seal Lake, Labrador, where sightings of the mysterious "seal” were common. There are no records that Doutt found anything substantial on his monograph, so he probably didn’t find the creature. In a 2007 report by the Innu Traditional Knowledge Community, it mentioned that in September 12th, 2006, an unnamed man claimed that his father and grandfather saw, on different occaisons, a uenitshikumishiteu resting on the ice just below Muskrat falls on the Churchill River west of Happy Valley-Goose Bay. On the same report, the father of a committee member reported seeing a uenitshikumishiteu resting on a floating piece of ice in the same area. Other people, like Shenum Pone and Shimiu Pastitshi Jr also had reports in the area. Uenitshikumishiteu tracks have also been reported in Sandy Point, Grand Lake and Seal Lake, one of which was actually reported by a biologist, Ishpashtien Nuna Sr.

Illustration by "Cicada Ghost"

Illustration by "Cicada Ghost"

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