The History of Serpent River First Nation

Serpent River First Nation has a long history starting with the migration from the East Coast in 900AD, to who we are today as Genabaajing in the 21st Century.

900 - 1400AD

The Three Fires Confederacy is formed and assigned roles. The POTOWATAMI are the Keepers of the Sacred Fire, the ODAWA are the providers in hunt and trade. Lastly, who we are, the OJIBWE: Serves as Military protection and the preservation of sacred teachings.

During this time, the Woodland Culture was established in the development of trade routes throughout North America, the development of the Clan System for the governing of our people, the development of a nomadic society traveling North and South at change of season and the development of the roles for the hunters and gatherers.

1600ad

European contact through the fur trade introduces the use of guns, leading to Inter-tribal warfare and dependence on European goods. This time also brought upon the introduction of alcohol and diseases such as Smallpox and TB, which ravaged the Anishnabe people.

1615Ad

Samuel de Champlain explores Lake Huron with Etienne Brule and meets aboriginal people near Spragge, Ontario, which is currently Serpent River First Nation land.

1640AD

Ojibwe move into the North Shore area from Nipigon, north of Lake Superior.

Jesuits enter Anishnabe territory.

1649AD

Iroquois attack on Nipissing.

1662AD

Ojibwe, Wyandot, Nipissing and Ottawa defeat the Iroquois at Iroquois Point, west of modern day Sault Ste. Marie.

1669-1763AD

French and Indian Wars (Beaver Wars).

British and Iroquois vs. French and Ojibwe:

Iroquois plunder for furs along the north shore of Lake Huron. British Government appoints a Superintendent of Indian Affairs, pays for scalps of other tribes.

Ojibwe take advantage of the French/British conflict, Treaty of Paris ends the war.

1697ad

200 Mississauga Canoes travel south to rid Southern Ontario of the Iroquois. Victorious, they settle along Port Credit River.

1763-1773ad

Ojibwe consolidate position in the area known today as Western Ontario. White settlement expands north and west despite “no settlement” proclamation for the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes regions.

1763-1769ad

Pontiac Rebellion against British in the Great Lakes region. Odawa (Ottawa) Chief Pontiac, war leader, (aka Obwandiyag) is assassinated.

1764ad

“Covenant Chain of Friendship and Alliance” formed between British and 24 Anishnabe nations at Niagara Falls. Wampum Belt to be held by the Odawa at Michilimackinac.

1776ad

American Declaration of Independence. Ojibwe living in American territories become refugees.

This is possibly the time when the Meawasige family migrates to Nipigon area, north of Lake Superior.

1781ad

The British purchase Mackinac Island (now Michigan, USA).

1787ad

Windawtegownini born at Spragge.

1796ad

The British surrender posts at Sault Ste. Marie and Mackinac Island with consulting the Anishnabe.

Summer visits to Drummond Island (military centre) for annual distribution of British gifts (according to Covenant Chain) to Anishnabe continue until 1823. Thereafter, gifts are distributed at Penetanguishene.

the war of 1812

Shingwaak and other Ojibwe warriors from Manitoulin Island and the north shore of Lake Huron support the British against the Americans. On Mackinac Island, the Americans are defeated but the island is returned to the Americans in 1814.

1830

Transfer of responsibility for Native people in Canada from military government control. British begin to set aside Indian reserve lands to “Christianize and civilize,” to protect and assimilate.

Some Mackinac Island Odawa experienced mistreatment at the hands of the Americans. The Pugawakwam family for example, moved north to Manitoulin Island (Agnes Pelky). The 1764/86 Wampum Belts move to Manitoulin with the Odawa.

Indians living in American territory east of the Mississippi River are removed to territories west of the river. The “Trail of Tears” is the result of an American land grab to accommodate white settlers.

1836

Joseph Meawasige is born.

Bond Head Treaty: British government agrees to renounce its claim to Manitoulin Island and attempts to concentrate all Ojibwe/Odawa population on Manitoulin Island. These attempts are unsuccessful. Migration of Ojibwe from Manitoulin to the north shore of Lake Huron begins.

1847

Uranium is discovered near Elliot Lake.

1849

A map showing the “Serpents’ Band” and two mining locations indicates government motivation to sign treaties, paving the way for mining development.

Paypamash chooses to live where the soil is good near the Serpent River. He sees the legendary serpent in his garden (per, Agnes Commanda interviw with Perry Shawana).

1850

Robinson-Huron Treaty: Windawtegownini walks the northern border of the reserve with the commissioner (Shanahan) and the treaty is negotiated with individual bands in order to clear the land for mining.

Hopi Prophesy: “When the Eagle lands, our people will become world leaders.”

1857

Native people can become “enfranchised” if they can read and write either English or French, have no debts and are of upstanding character. They thereby give up their native status.

1862

Bluesky is born Showeshkogezhik.

1866

Bomgeezhik Senior is born.

1870

First road, Cutler Station Road (tote road). Construction begins between Spanish River Lumbering Company, Mill and Cutler Station along with the construction of the mill (built by Spanish River Lumbering Company) and docks on Aird Bay.

Railroad through the reserve is completed in 1887.

3,400 Ojibwe living on the Great Lakes area continue seasonal migration and traditional pursuits.

1872

Marie Louise Minogiizhgut Oshkaabis born to Wesenookwe near Spragge.

1876

The Indian Act: Status is given to those whose names appear on the Indian Register. If a woman marries a non-Native man, she and her children lose their status. A person can become enfranchised, voluntarily giving up his/her status. Provision is made for band councils.

1878

Paypamash and his family flee attacking Mohawks (Naadwe) and warn people living at Spanish Mills. He then moves his family to the other side of Aird Bay for safety.

1882

Joe Simpson, father of Agnes Pelky, Catherine Simpson Shaw and Lena Simpson Nahwegezhic

1887

Railroad through the reserve is completed.

1890

Trunk Road is built through the Serpent River First Nation Reserve, replacing a wagon trail portage from Lake Huron to the Serpent River. The Indian Agent Paylist shows 26 families living on the reserve including Chief Oshowskukeshik, Paipommosh, Tahbishkokeshik, Michigwob, Meawasegait, and Cahtepushie families.

1890

Mary Pugawakwam born at Lake Wolsley, Manitoulin Island.

1894

Surrender for the Mill. Signed by Antoin Ojowashkogijig (Chief), Tibish Kogijig (2nd Chief), William Nahmiwan, Maiiawasige, Jacob Ashkaboos, Robert Ojawashkogijig, James Simpson, Louie Meawasige, Joseph Kijigad, Peter Ashkaboos, Louis Gijadjiwan, and Louis Kijagad, signatures used two names.

1895

A large number of community members move to Cutler on SPR line where there is a good school.

1900

Cooks’ Mill at Spragge is loggin on the reserve. Bluesky gives all the children on the reserve Christmas gifts and sells his big house for a school.

1906

Land is set aside for Cutler/Savidge Lumber Company.

1911

Near the present site of Elliot Lake, Bluesky and Bill Nahmiwan think they are selling a huge tree to a logging company. They are actually selling the entire village near the present day St. Joseph’s General Hospital in Elliot Lake. A map showing the marker for this land is missing.

1911-1919

Construction of the highway through the reserve travels to Spanish on the south side of the tracks, providing work for men in the community who use horses, wheel barrows and manual labour.

1913

Residential School opens in Spanish although some community members were already attending the school when it was located in Wiki.

1916

Agnes Pelky remembers sailing to Sheshegwaaning with her parents and sister in an “Indian sailboat” for a family wedding.

1918

Spanish Flu Epidemic: Two Moses boys and two Simpson boys die. Sixteen students and the College in Spanish die within two weeks due to the Spanish Flu.

1920

Cutler is booming! The town boasts a bank, a CPR station, a saw mill, a boarding house, a company store, a jail, church and a theatre.

The Mill burns in 1924 and men must move for work to Spragge and Blind River.

1922

The Federal government prosecutes BC First Nation for practicing the Potlatch Ceremony. First Nation ceremonial objects are confiscated and the culture is forced underground. Chiefs start using two names.

1924

Whooping Cough epidemic along the North Shore.

1931

Construction begins on the new highway. Men earn $4.50/month.

1940

Trappers in Elliot Lake area (Mosgetnaowamia) are harassed by game warden. Art Meawasige’svision quest and feast is kept secret. Art is told it will be the last one.

World War 2.

1951

Indian Act Revised: Indian children are encouraged to attend provincial schools. Provincial authority in Child Welfare recognized. Children are removed from their communities and raised in non-Native environments.

1957-1963

Cutler Acid Plant opens after Federal government negotiates a 99 year lease with Noranda Mines. During negotiations, the Chief asks about potential health risks but he is assured the government will take care of everything. No cleanup negotiated after production is finished. Chief and Council are active in pursuing change to the agreement but the reserve is powerless. A wage economic is introduced and the end of large family gardens begins.

Health/social/family/environment problems emerge. Drownings, people killed on highway.

1958

Native men no longer have to produce a blue card (which shows they are enfranchised) to get admission to beverage rooms.

1960

Registered Indians gain the right to vote. Chief and Council are very active, looking into employment, health and pollution problems caused by the acid plant.

“The Sixties Scoop.”

1968

The the spring of 1968, as a training exercise, army troops blow up and bulldoze the ruins of the acid plant into the ground at a cost of $100,000.00 (~$700,000.00 value today). Toxic waste is blown up as well and spread all other the reserve.

1970

Chief Bill Meawasige active in formation of National Indian Brotherhood, later called the Assembly of First Nations (AFN).

The beginning of the Native Studies program at Laurentian University.

Red Calcide blows all over the reserve on windy days and makes the sky appear red.

1973

Supreme Court recognizes aboriginal lands claims.

SRFN elects its first female Chief, Lorena Lewis.

1978

Cutler Ladies Ball team earns a berth in the Ontario Championship at Saugeen.

1983

Dr. Roselie Bertell reports “elevated rates of unexplained fetal deaths and abnormal offspring” for acid plant workers.

1988

After 15 years of hard work on the part of Chiefs and Councils, a $5.7M cleanup of acid plant site is completed. An estimated 9,000 truckloads of material are hauled out of the area, enough to fill three football stadium fields. The material is hauled to the Spanish dump. Some material is left in the ground, as well as sewage in a large holding tank that continues to leach into Lake Huron.

1998

Jane Stewart’s Federal Government apology for Residential Schools. Aboriginal Healing Foundation established and $350M set aside for survivor healing.

2005

$1.9B compensation package is set aside for residential school survivors.

2008

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Apology to residential school victims.

Inukshuk in Serpent River First Nation

Inukshuk in Serpent River First Nation

 
Spragge, Serpent River First Nation

Spragge, Serpent River First Nation

 
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Birch Bark Canoe, also known as Montreal Canoe.

Birch Bark Canoe, also known as Montreal Canoe.

Chief Pontiac, Odawa (Ottawa) d. 1769

Chief Pontiac, Odawa (Ottawa) d. 1769

Mackinac Island, MI, USA

Mackinac Island, MI, USA

 
Atom structure in Elliot Lake, ON

Atom structure in Elliot Lake, ON

Idian Reserve map, North Shore, Lake Huron.

Idian Reserve map, North Shore, Lake Huron.

 
Cutler Mill.

Cutler Mill.

Docks on Aird Bay.

Docks on Aird Bay.

 
Cutler Station,

Cutler Station,

 
Mill Surrender Document.

Mill Surrender Document.

 
Community members working on the highway.

Community members working on the highway.

 
Cutler, Boomtown

Cutler, Boomtown

 

A special thanks to Mr. Ken Bisson and Ms. Janice Gamble for their research and production of the history of Serpent River First Nation.