Anishinaabe elder seeks to build momentum for community’s return to traditional homeland in Ontario

An Anishinaabe elder is gathering support and building momentum for his community to return to their traditional territory in northwestern Ontario.

Temius Nate held the first meeting of the Miminiska group in Thunder Bay at the end of March with approximately 30 members. They are descendants of families who lived on Lake Miminiska near the Eabametoong First Nation, approximately 350 kilometers northeast of Thunder Bay.

Nate estimates that 80 to 100 members of the Eabametoong First Nation are eligible to join the Miminiska group, including 10 members who left more than 50 years ago. They now live in Eabametoong, Thunder Bay and other northern Ontario communities.

“It’s where I’ve been the happiest in my life and I’m still the happiest when I go back,” says Nate. “This is my home and I will do whatever it takes to keep it.”

A map of the area around Lake Miminiska in northwestern Ontario, near the Eabametoong First Nation, at the center of the Miminiska group’s efforts to return to their traditional homeland. (Jon Thompson/CBC)

Eabametoong leader Solomon Atlookan said the parties were “working through the finer details and issues”, but did not yet comment on the Miminiska band’s return intentions.

Eabametoong Chief and Council formally recognized the Miminiska Group through a band council resolution in 2009, but the resolution states that the group must formally apply to the federal government to be recognized as a new band.

Indigenous Services Canada has also encouraged the group to apply for band recognition in 2019, but the group has yet to do so.

“This group has expressed a desire to recover and relocate to their traditional area around Lake Miminiska in northwestern Ontario in the past,” a spokesperson wrote in an email to CBC News. “To date, Indigenous Services Canada has not received a formal request for band separation from this group.”

Nate said he had no intention of going through this process.

“We want to be a group but we don’t want to have a reserve,” he said. “As a reserve, the government owns the land and you’re locked in there like an animal on a farm. It is of no use to people who want to do business with us. We don’t need Indian Affairs to tell us we’re a band.”

It is unclear how the group could obtain band status without following the process established by the federal government.

Memories of living together

Nate recalls the Indian Agent first landing in Miminiska in 1959, telling the eight or ten large families living there that they needed to move to Eabametoong so their children could get an education. He said no one moved.

The agent returned for five years, Nate said, bringing pallets of tinned meat and then vouchers for goods to the Eabametoong store. The families traveled 40 kilometers to the reserve and back. Finally, in 1964, a member of his family was elected to the council of Eabametoong and almost everyone moved on.

We want to be a group but we don’t want to have a reserve.– Elder Temius Nate

The children and grandchildren of many who lived on Lake Miminiska still return, especially in the summer.

A trap line 15 kilometers set back from the shore remains. The cabin and church that Nate’s father, Edward, built still stand near where he is buried. Edward died in 1991, never having left.

Mary Lou Baxter and her younger sister Flora Baxter attended the first organizing meeting of the Miminiska group.

Now in their 50s, they were among the first generation of Miminiska families to grow up in Eabametoong. But when school ended in the spring, they looked forward to returning to live by the lake with their grandparents.

Flora recalls her mother telling her throughout her youth that Eabametoong was not really her home and that she had an ambition to help families return.

“She said, ‘My house is actually Miminiska. We were brought here. We were moved here,'” Flora recalled. “And I never fully understood that until the last few years here.. so I would love to be a part of that in any way.”

Mary Lou said she would consider moving to Lake Miminiska if a community develops there.

Economic potential of the region

When the members can raise the money they need to move, Nate believes the grandchildren of those who left Lake Miminiska will finally inherit the economy promised to him in his youth.

When he was a child, an engineer told him that harnessing the energy of nearby waterfalls could generate enough electricity to power all of Toronto and Montreal. He remembers prospectors blasting and drilling nearby. Now, with potential roads and power lines pointing to the Ring of Fire mining deposit northeast of Eabametoong, Nate sees those promises renewed.

The Miminiska Lodge built in 1944 remains a popular fly fishing destination for walleye and pike. Thunder Bay-based Wilderness North bought the lodge and seven cabins in 2007. Its president, Alan Cheeseman, said the lodge has employed local guides for generations and would welcome any members who wish to return.

“I don’t see a big conflict at all. We’re selling wilderness and we’re selling remoteness. We’re selling the fact that wilderness is healthy and I think everyone needs to come back to the land to some degree. “

The lodge has also hosted prospectors digging into the same deposits that Nate saw their predecessors explore a lifetime ago.

Lake Miminiska is near the Eabmetoon First Nation, approximately 350 kilometers from Thunder Bay, Ontario. (Radio Canada)

On April 6, Canadian mining company Lithoquest announced that it had completed geological surveys and started drilling in a 5,500 hectare area northeast of Lake Miminiska. Company president Bruce Counts called the site an “exceptional opportunity” with “high-grade gold mineralization,” according to site readings.

Lithoquest has ceased drilling in order to consult Eabametoong and expects work to resume in the summer.

Counts said the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the consultation, and while he wouldn’t say whether or not the company intended to consult with the Miminiska Group, he said his team “n have not yet had the opportunity to meaningfully engage and meet with all the community stakeholders involved in our project.”

Nate wants to be part of Lithoquest to be consulted. He is also pushing for Ontario to engage Miminiska Group on the license to operate the airstrip, which has been in the hands of lodge operators for decades but was established with local First Nations administrators. during its construction.