Grand Lake Newfoundland and Labrador

Bear (or sand bread) anyone?

Sandra Phinney


Elizabeth Penahue is an Innu elder who lives in Labrador. She's not a rich woman in a monied-way, but she is rich in culture and tradition. She's been an environmentalist and community activist her entire life, and taken part in protests that are a threat to the Innu way of life such as low-level military flying, Voisey's Bay mining, Churchill River and Muskrat Falls hydro projects.

Her life’s mission has been to show the Innu way, and to hold onto traditions that foster respect for wildlife, nature, and humanity. She often says, "I am very proud. I am Innu woman. If I don't do this, who will?"

Imagine how honoured (and happy!) I was when she invited me to accompany her on a camping trip to Grand Lake, close to her community. I had more than one heartsong moment on that journey! For example, shortly after we set up the tent on the shores of the lake, we saw a black bear. Later, during the night, bear came callin’ likely because it could smell food in our tent.

We all woke up in a start when we heard scratching along the edge of the tent; Mrs. P. asked her husband to go out and shoot his rifle into the air to scare the bear off (an Innu would never shoot a bear--unless their lives were seriously threatened--as bears are considered sacred animals). She then added, “And Sandra, why don’t you go out with your headlamp and see if you can see bear.” Right.

So Francis headed out with his .22 ; I donned my headlamp and headed out timidly behind him—praying bear would be long gone. Mrs. P slowly made the rounds of the tent sprinkling holy water here and there. It was all quite surrealistic. This happened three times during the night. The third time ‘round I actually hoped I would see bear—and was disappointed when I didn’t.

I don’t have photos of bear but love the photo of Mrs. P. making sand bread. The process consists of gathering small pebbles the size of peas or smaller, and making a mound on the beach. This is covered with dry brush, sticks and pieces of wood to make a hot fire to heat the pebbles. Then the wood is removed, and bread dough the size of a large pancake is placed on the hot pebbles and covered up with more hot pebbles and the hot wood is once again placed on top.

After an hour, the wood and pebbles are removed, exposing the cooked bread. I thought the bread would be full of pebbles and sand stuck in the crust. Not so. Comes out clean as can be. Eaten with freshly mashed berries, well, it’s simply divine.