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July 4, 2003

Notes On First Nations in Motion

Some recent activities have prompted me to look at some of the current history of First Nation's people. There are still problems in getting self determination but great progress has been made in their leadership, political power, education, economic development and a much better public image. The Aboriginal Day celebrations on June 2 where native dancing, drumming and art were on display across Canada is just one example.

Of local interest in early June was the Metis Canoe Expedition that came through Mattawa, the Mattawa River and North Bay on its way to Thunder Bay from Lachute Quebec. Six Metis men and 5 Metis women are paddling the 2000km route of the old voyageurs to reenact the Great Rendezvous that took place annually by the North West Company two centuries ago in Thunder Bay.

I was out of town when the Metis canoeists came through but I asked René Lamarche of the Mattawa Museum to report on them and take some photos. They were met at Explorers Point in Mattawa by some native people. The voyageurs were exhausted and bug-bitten from the rapids and portages on the Ottawa. This was nothing compared to the 2 days and 9 portages on the Mattawa River that followed 

The Metis Canoe Expedition on their stop in North Bay. Photo by René Lamarche.

René traveled to North Bay to observe the canoeists arrival there and the ceremonies with various dignitaries including MPP Al McDonald. They had a good meal, pitched their tents and headed west to Sault Ste. Marie the next day. In a CBC radio report June 23 from Sault Ste. Marie they commented that the hardest part of the trip so far was the Mattawa River.

One of the Mattawa Algonquins who met the Metis canoeists was Mike Gauthier, whose work as a native craftsman I have seen and admired in the Mattawa Museum. Numerous pieces of his leather and beadwork are part of an expanding section of the native history of the area at the museum.

The Metis Canoe. Photo by René Lamarche.

Coincidentally, Mike Gauthier has developed a fascinating new initiative where he will take people by canoe on trips on the Mattawa River for 2 days and one night. The adventure will include sleeping at an established campsite with teepees, campfires, native crafts and some history if desired. For more information check Mike's Aboriginal Wilderness Adventure website at www.AWAM.ca. Complete with birdcall you can see the canoe, teepee and other details of the project. His phone number is 705-776-2701.

Mattawa has a strong native presence with the Mattawa North Bay Algonquins and Antoine Algonquins who are advocates for Native Rights, land, and economic development. The Mattawa North Bay Algonquins are on Main Street Mattawa and have an economic development office call MADADJIWAN. A recent announcement about the establishment of a film production studio could bring jobs to the area.

The Union of Ontario Indians provides excellent information in the North Bay Nugget on all aspects of native life every Saturday. This feature called the NIIJII Circle has reported on numerous successes of native people. The Union of Ontario Indians is composed of 43 First Nations including the local Algonquin Nation and they are referred to as the Anishanabek. The NIIJII Circle advertises the Anishanabek News which lists the 2003 Great Lakes Pow Wows locations. A recent issue reported with excitement "the most significant land claim in recent history". The land in question is in Toronto and the Toronto Islands and goes back 2 centuries "to right an historic wrong".

The future of First Nations is very much dependent on the settlement of land claim requests and there are many in various stages of progress. The Algonquin Land claim has made some progress. The Mattawa North Bay Algonquins are represented in the negotiations. The Temagami First Nation and the Teme - Augami Anishinabi have reached an agreement on the elements of their land claim. It appears that 127 square miles of land for a new reserve will be established and an economic development package worth 4 million dollars and 20 million in financial compensation will follow. The land claim process is long and detailed but will ultimately benefit natives and non-native people. For further information go on the internet and type Temagami Land Claim or Algonquin Land Claim, etc.

I will close with some details from the book Canada: A Portrait put out by Statistics Canada, which has a section on Native people. The section characterizes the early native societies as complex civilizations with extensive networks of trade and diplomacy. They spoke numerous languages. Today 3 in 10 native people can carry on a conversation in a native language. In 1996 800,000 Canadians identified themselves as Aboriginal with 26% Metis and 5% Inuit. Most live in rural areas but 30% live in metropolitan areas. Toronto has about 20 thousand and Winnipeg the largest number at 46,000. 

This brief article barely touches on some of the complex issues and does not touch on some of the racism and injustices in our society. One thing that is sure is that the Aboriginal people are determined to be fully participating self determining members of Canadian society - an event worthy of recognition and support.

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