Mishkeegogamang First Nation



Earliest Times

The members of the Mishkeegogamang First Nation community are Ojibway people. They are part of the Algonquian language group which includes Cree people and as many as thirty other cultures, each with their related languages and dialects. Some of the earliest Ojibway may have lived on the east coast of Canada; then, in response to a spiritual direction, moved westward in a great migration which is thought to have begun around 900 A.D. and been completed around 1400 A.D. This migration resulted in settlements along and around the Great Lakes.

The people of Mishkeegogamang acknowledge that their people originated from the Great Lakes area. They don't believe that their ancestors came over the Bering Strait to populate North America, but rather that their people have always been in this area, placed here by the Creator. The word Anishinaabe, by which Ojibway people identify themselves, comes from the root words ani meaning "from whence," nishina, meaning "lowered," and aabe, meaning "the male of the species." Legends say that the Creator made man from the four sacred elements, and then lowered him to the earth.

In earlier times, the people were not organized into bands as they are today. They migrated with the seasons, traveling in family groups of 12 - 30 people, depending on the circumstances, season, and availability of game. Several groups met at a traditional location in summer for celebrations, and for the annual fishing season. Only rarely were there much larger gatherings; the threat of war might be a reason for tribes from a larger area to gather at a central location. Until around 1850, the family groups were often also clan groups. These clans were exogamous - i.e. one could not marry a member of his or her own clan. Each small group had leaders for particular reasons - i.e. chief hunters, people knowledgeable about medicine, leaders in war, etc. Sometimes an elder would be respected by many family groups and be an unofficial leader/representative in time of war or negotiation.

Contact with Europeans

The Anishinaabe first met white people in the early 1600's. The Hudson's Bay Company established posts on Hudson's Bay and James Bay, and then traders moved between the Great Lakes and Hudson's Bay to find furs. In this territory they encountered Ojibway people who were willing to help and guide them. Some historians feel that the first Ojibway moved into northwestern Ontario with the traders. The people of Mishkeegogamang do not agree with this, but feel that their arrival in northwestern Ontario predated the Hudson's Bay Company. Cree used to occupy the territory which now includes Mishkeegogamang, but they were pushed northward by the Ojibway people.

Initially trappers had to make the long trek to the posts on the shores of Hudson's Bay to sell their furs. But rival companies began coming inland, and trading with the trappers right near the trap lines. So the Hudson's Bay, to compete, also had to establish interior posts. To this end, they sent an employee, John Best, along the Albany River in 1786 to find a suitable spot for a post. The place he chose, near the northeast end of Lake St. Joseph, was called Osnaburgh House. It lasted (with some minor moves due to flooding and fire) for nearly 200 years. Today there is a tourist resort at that spot called "The Old Post."

The Hudson's Bay Posts caused many cultural and social changes. Before, people had hunted and trapped for their own needs. Now they could trade their furs for the goods at the Hudson's Bay Post; the knives, guns, fabrics and multitudes of other available goods were a huge convenience for them. By the early 1800's, many depended on these goods for survival. This dependency coincided with a decrease in game due to over-harvesting and lack of regulation, and this in turn led to severe hardships between 1820 and 1880.

The Post became an important part of life for the people of Osnaburgh. Jobs were sometimes available there, and the post manager acted as the liaison between the people and the government.

Treaty Number Nine

In 1905, the government of Canada sent three commissioners to Northwestern Ontario to try to get the occupants to cede their traditional lands to the Crown by signing Treaty Number Nine. Mining companies were beginning to take interest in the rich resources of the area, and the government needed a free hand to grant them land concessions. The commissioners' first stop was Osnaburgh House, a kind of test case for them of the success of the rest of their journey. They addressed the group of about 330 people who had gathered there for their summer encampment.

Map of ReservesA respected leader of the group, a man named Missabay, spoke for the people. After a night's consideration, he signed Treaty Number Nine on behalf of his people. The people were then listed, and each was paid $8 at the time of signing, with the promise of an additional $4 each year. It is important to note that the people who were there were not a "band." Their designation as a band was an administrative convenience for the government. They were merely a cluster of family groups who customarily traded at Osnaburgh House and who happened to be gathered there for the summer.

The treaty commissioners and the people agreed on two pieces of land for reserves, which were called Osnaburgh 63A and 63B. The commissioners promised the people they would not have to live on the reserves, and that their traditional lands, a vast territory surrounding the reserves, would be theirs to use indefinitely. The people chose Missabay as their first chief, and two councillors were also selected, on a ratio of one council member per 100 people. Thus the band and council system were instituted for the people who traded at Osnaburgh House.

From the Bush to Town

In the decades after the treaty, people lived more or less as they had previously, camping around Lake St. Joseph for several weeks in the summer, and spending most of the winter in their family groups in the bush. However, some log cabins and wigwams were being built on the south shore of Lake St. Joseph, and by the 1950s there were two churches, about 30 homes and a council hall at the site of the Old Village, across the lake from Osnaburgh House. A few of the houses had begun to be occupied nearly year-round.

map of old village

In 1954, Highway 599 was built from Savant Lake, to join with the road from Dog Hole Bay to Pickle Lake that had been built earlier to accommodate the mines. The government wanted the people to live near the highway, which was several kilometres east of the Old Village. A site was chosen for a new village, called New Osnaburgh, today the Main Reserve. It was closer to the highway, on Dog Hole Lake, and by 1960, most people had moved to the new location. The timing coincided with the beginning of the system of government pensions and social assistance. The money available from the government was more than what people could earn by hunting, fishing, and trapping, so many began to forego the arduous winter treks into the bush. Increasingly, families stayed year-round in the new village, while those who still hunted and trapped became "commuters."

The Past Fifty Years

The decades of the 1950s to the 1980s were ones of many social problems for the community. The people were not used to living together year-round in a large group, and there was too little full-time employment. Children who had grown up in residential school came back to the community with little knowledge of their language or culture. In some cases they couldn't communicate with their own parents because they had lost their language. Because of the misuse of drugs and alcohol, and because parents were not coping, many children had to be taken out of their families and even out of the community. Traditional structures had broken down, and new organizations had not yet taken their place effectively.

The 1990s and the first years of the new millennium have been times of re-building and hope, although many problems remain. In 1999 Ontario Hydro settled with the band for $17.25 million for the damage caused by the flooding of Lake St. Joseph. The band now deals systematically with threats to its traditional homelands; government, and the lumbering and mining companies increasingly are seeing the wisdom of dealing with the band before, rather than after, the fact.