FIRST (ORIGINAL) PEOPLES
The Ojibway Creation story tells how the Ojibwe or Ojibway (pronounced Oh-Jib-Way) are related to Original Man or Anishinaabe (An-ish-in-awb). The Ojibway are said to be the Faith Keepers; Keepers of the Sacred Scrolls and the Water Drum of the Midewinwin (Midi-win-win shamanic society forhealers). The fundamental essence of Anishinaabe life is unity, the oneness of all things; the belief that harmony with all created things can be achieved and that the people cannot be separated from the land with its cycle of seasons or from the other mysterious cycles of living things – of birth and growth and death and new birth. The people know where they come from; the story is deep in their hearts and it is told in legends and dances, in dreams and symbols.
Earliest Ancestors and Inhabitants of Michipicoten River
From archeological sites excavated at the mouth of the Michipicoten River it is evident that there has been an uninterrupted occupation of this region by the aboriginal people for 7,000 years or more. Some of the sites identified are from the period just before the arrival of the Europeans (between 700-1500 AD) which showed that the Ojibway people whose “summer grounds” were located at the mouth of the Michipicoten River used to marry widely with tribes from the south of the Lake and east of it. The ancient canoe routes also showed that the mouth of the Michipicoten River and Magpie Rivers were a hub of transportation and gateways to the interior as far north as James Bay with access to the vast interior of what is today northern Ontario and connecting it with the other Great Lakes and the inland sea of Hudson’s Bay.
The earliest records of the Europeans tell us that they met with two Ojibway tribes inhabiting the north east corner of Lake Superior, an inland group and a coastal group. The inland group was identified as the “Tetes de Boules” or “Gens de Terre”, and later became known as the “Big Head Ojibway”.
The coastal people were the “Michipicoute” also known as “Gens du Lac”. These tribes were connected by marriage and trade. At the height of the fur trade from the 17th to 20th centuries, many Europeans who came to the region took Ojibway wives and their descendants lived the native way of life making a large part of their livelihood by fishing and trading furs with the Hudson’s Bay Company and other settlers.
In 1850 when the Robinson Superior Treaty was signed in Sault Ste. Marie by Chief Tootomenai (Too-too-many); another Chief or headman Chingans (Shing-ans) of the coastal Michipicoten was also present at that signing. The first list of the Ojibway families who received treaty at Michipicoten included the inland (Big Head) and coastal Ojibway (Michipicoute). The tribe called Michipicoten was made up of several different family groups who lived the traditional way of life and were dispersed over a large area of several hundred square miles gathering together in the summer months at strategic points where alliances of trade, marriages and shared ceremonies took place.
Displacement of the Michipicoten People
A brief history of the last 150 years of the Michipicoten First Nation provides an insight into the present day dispersal of its members which was a direct result of forced relocations that were endured by the First Nation as a result of “mistakes” and unfair actions taken by the Government of the day. From the time of the first contact in the early 17th century the Michipicoten First Nation had an established presence at the mouth of the Michipicoten River, on the northeast shore of Lake Superior. In 1850 at Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Chief Tootomenei had asked that the reserve be from the mouth of the Michipicoten River and the Harbour to the mouth of the Dore River. Instead, the Crown did not survey out the proper location but set aside the reserve of Gros Cap (Indian Reserve 49) which was located several kilometres west of the mouth of the Michipicoten River and harbour. As a result, Michipicoten First Nation did not live on Reserve land for most of its history between 1850 and 1970.
The Michipicoten Indians had settled in a village clearing the land and setting up small farms at the mouth of the Michipicoten River, also known as the ‘Mission’ as the first Roman Catholic Church was built there in 1877. With the discovery of gold in 1897 in Wawa, the Michipicoten River Village site was sold to a development company. At the same time, the surrender and sale of the best lands at the Gros Cap Reserve to the Algoma Central Railway Co. (ACR) in 1899 and 1900, approximately 1,485 acres of shoreline, took away all of the eastern shore and waterway route of the reserve. The coastal Ojibway of Michipicoten was now completely cut off from their traditional camping grounds. Around 1900 most of the families moved away while remaining members lived for a while at Whitesands, a small coastal section of the severed reserve. As there was no road into the site, the community ended up migrating onto the Gros Cap Peninsula close to the Michipicoten Harbour at a place called Half-Way. The Gros Cap Peninsula, although originally part of the reserve, had been taken by a surrender from the Michipicoten Band in 1855 and by the time Half-Way was built, it was no longer Indian reserve land.
Michipicoten Ojibway lived at “Half-Way” for almost 30 years until the federal government purchased residential reserve land known as Indian Reserve No 49A. The land was then owned by the ACR, but had been originally part of Gros Cap IR 49. A small community was built for the members called “Green Acres” because all of the houses were painted green. In the 1970’s it became evident that this village was not safe as the ground was unsuitable for the sanitation system, and once again the community was forced to move.
The First Nation and Ontario Hydro negotiated a deal including a hydro line right of way in which Hydro agreed to build a road onto the Gros Cap reserve (IR 49) to provide access to a new village for a right of way for its transmission lines which crossed reserve lands. This time the community moved back onto the reserve near the old Whitesands site where they remain today.
Meanwhile, the inland (Big Head) Michipicoten members had settled at various places along the Pacific Railway line and two Chiefs with 30 families successfully petitioned the Government to provide two small residential reserves for them at Missanabie and Chapleau of approximately 220 acres each in early 1900. As the Fur trade dropped off and the Hudson’s Bay Company Post at Chapleau and Missanabie closed, many of these families began to migrate to other parts of Ontario.
Michipicoten First Nation today
Michipicoten First Nation Gros Cap IR49 today and its surrounding lands include extensive coastline along the shores of Lake Superior, the addition of lands settled through various land claim settlements, including the reserves as Missanabie and Chapleau and boasts a pristine and eco-rich environment of unparalleled wilderness beauty, unpolluted waters and an abundance of wildlife, birds and indigenous plants. Fishing, hunting, and trapping are still practiced by the people and children can be taught the ways of their Ancestors.
Michipicoten First Nation is a vibrant community with approximately 1,020 members dispersed around the globe, building on socio-economic independence and with a strong sense of community and cultural identity, Michipicoten First Nation strives to maintain harmony and balance with Mother Earth, neighboring First Nations and surrounding communities.
(Content courtesy of Michipicoten First Nation and National Archives)