The Greater Sudbury Area – Atikamesksheng Anishnawbek

The Greater Sudbury area is situated on the traditional territory of the Atikameksheng Anishnawbek. Like many traditional territories, Atikameksheng has its own stories related to the land and environment that existed long before the arrival of settlers to this area. They had their own system of governance, their own educational systems, their own stories, their own ways of knowing and being and their own ways of relating to the land around them and to the Anishnawbek from surrounding traditional territories. All of this contributes to the unique identity of the peoples from this traditional territory. Similarly, each First Nation community in the surrounding Anishnawbek territories have their own history and stories that set them apart from each other but there are also many similarities between the peoples of the Anishnawbek territories.

Atikameksheng Anishnawbek

The Atikameksheng Anishnawbek are descendents of the Ojibwe, Algonquin and Odawa Nations. In 1850, Chief Shawenekezhik, on behalf of the Atikameksheng Anishnawbek, signed the Robinson-Huron Treaty, granting the British Crown and their people (Royal Subjects) a right to occupy and share the lands of the Anishnawbek. The Robinson-Huron Treaty will be discussed in the next chapter. The Anishnawbek have a special relationship to the land that can be difficult for non-Indiegnous people to understand.

The following excerpt from an Interview with Art Petahtegoose from Atikameksheng Anishnawbek describes the relationship between the Anishnewbek and land including animal and plant life:

At the time when the white man came, was a time when the mind of the Anishnawbek was knowing that language carries within it what the people were living. When we take a look at gift giving and we go out to harvest the moose, go out to harvest the bear, go out to harvest the berries, and go out to harvest the fish, the animal and the berry in being harvested one must not view it as one being more important than the other and that is what you see in the living Anishinabe people. If you’re going to go out to harvest berries there is a need to give tobacco, there is a need to give medicine in return for the taking of that life. When you are looking at land as being a form of life, and look at concepts of death, we really don’t see death we see life giving life. My life is coming from that fish, my life is coming from that plant, my life is coming from that water, so that object is carrying life within it which is able to nurture me (Art Petahtegoose, personal communication 2018).

Whitefish River First Nation (Wiigwaaskinaga)

The early relationships between Indigenous peoples and the settlers is described by McGregor (1999) in his book “Wiigwaaskingaa.” Fur trade in the interior areas covered in south-central Ontario resulted from the competition between the French and English fur trading companies. McGregor (1999) indicated that by the early 1500s, beaver pelts had become a precious commodity for the fur trade in the St. Lawrence area and eastward. Overharvesting of beaver left the region depleted. The Wendat (Huron) seized the opportunity to bring beaver pelts from the interior to the trading companies. Samuel de Champlain was among the first French explorers to establish alliances with the Huron and Odawa and to use the trading routes established by Indigenous people. English fur traders soon entered into the pursuit over the monopoly of the fur trade, establishing alliances with the Iroquois which resulted in war between the Iroquois and the Wendat. By the 1780s, the rivalry between the English and the French fur trading companies continued to pit nation against nation for the control of the interior.

According to the history provided by McGregor (1999), one of the first sites of the the Wiigwasskingaa community was at LaCloche Island, named the Bell Rocks (Sinmedweek) because when certain rocks were struck they would ring like a bell. According to oral tradition, these rocks were used as an early warning device to warn of impending attack from nations from the south. Oral tradition indicates that this village was abandoned as they (the villagers) suffered a great tragedy and the dead were buried and the survivors moved away to “Wiigwaaskingaa M’Nising” (Wardrope Island).

By the 1830s, the fur trade was on the wane and was replaced by the timber industry. The villagers began to cut trees for the lumber company. This significantly changed the landscape. At one time, the island was covered with huge birch trees and as time progressed there were fewer trees on the north end of the island.

The signing of the Robinson-Huron Treaty once again promoted a move for the people of Wiigwasskingaa. The villagers were moved to a tract of land (reserve) between two rivers – Whitefish River and Wanabitaseke. In 1906, the community was moved one final time to its present location.

Learning Activities

  1. Give specific examples to show how the land and its resources affected the way of life and identity of people in Atikameksheng Anishinaabek and Whitefish River First Nation (Wiigwaaskinaga). In what ways are these two First Nations distinct? How might you account for these differences?
  2. Atikameksheng Anishnawbek and Wiigaskinaga have reverted back to their own language for their communities. What is the significance of reverting back to their original Anishnawbek names for their communities?

Expanding Your Knowledge

  1. The following website contains information about Atikameksheng Anishinaabek: Atikameksheng Anishnawbek
  2. Whitefish River First Nation has developed a historical timeline that begins in 1761 and highlights significant events up until 2010. Take some time to explore this timeline by clicking on the circles at the bottom of the following timeline: Whitefish River Timeline
  3. This link provides you with a description of the treaties that are relevant to Whitefish River First Nation: Whitefish River First Nation: Nature of Treaties
  4. More information about the history of Whitefish River First Nation is contained within the attached chapter from McGregor’s Book – “Wiigwaaskingaa.”: Wiigwaaskingaa


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