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First Nations on Manitoulin Island

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A First Nations dancer during a Pow-wow dance contest at West Bay (M'Chigeeng), Manitoulin Island First Nations dancer at a Pow-wow, Manitoulin Island, Ontario Canada
Wikwemikong, Manitoulin Island, Ontario
Designated as one of the 5 Cultural Capitals for Canada, 2006

The reserve of Wikwemikong, located on Manitoulin Island, is noted for the vitality of its culture and the quality of its traditional art. This community of 6,800 people will host many workshops for exploring the diversity of traditional arts, Aboriginal dance and lodge construction. Further, the cultural festival programming will be expanded so that visitors can learn about the traditions of other Aboriginal communities, including Inuit throat singing. Finally, visitors will be able to take part in a colourful fall fair, highlighting the farming heritage of this dynamic community. All the activities will encourage community members to learn more about their culture, their history and their language, and will cast light on the contribution of the Aboriginal community to Canada's history.
Aboriginal dancer, Manitoulin Island An Anishinibek First Nations dancer during a Pow-wow dance contest, Manitoulin Island
Manitoulin means spirit island in the Ojibwe language. The island was a sacred place for the native Anishinaabe people who were Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi.

The North Channel was part of the route used by the voyageurs to reach Lake Superior. The first known European to settle on the island was Father Joseph Poncet, a French Jesuit, who set up a mission near Wikwemikong in 1648. The Jesuits called the island "Isle de Ste. Marie". Diseases introduced by the Jesuit visitors had a devastating effect on the island's population. Subsequent raids from the south by the Five Nations Iroquois drove the remaining people from the island by 1650. According to oral tradition, the island was burned to purify it as they left and it remained largely unsettled for the next 150 years (1650 - 1800).

Native people (Odawa, Ojibwe, Potawatomi) began to return to the island following the War of 1812. Governor General Bond Head planned Manitoulin Island as a protected homeland reserved exclusively for the First Nations.  He requested the agreement of the tribes living on Manitoulin at that time, to permit their Indian brothers to move their and share the island with them.  They agreed, and a treaty to that effect was signed in 1836 (The Bond Head Treaty), which was subsequently ratified by the Crown.  All of the island in Georgian Bay, and as far West as Sault St. Marie were reserved for the First Nation's people.  The Anishinabe were guaranteed the "innumerable fishing islands" and the "Great Father [would] withdraw his claim to these islands".

Jean-Baptiste Proulx re-established a Roman Catholic mission in 1838 which the Jesuits took over in 1845. In 1862, the government was concerned that few other tribes had moved to Manitoulin, so they decided to change policy.  Indian Agents sought a new treaty for Manitoulin Island,  opening up the island for settlement by non-native people. The Wikwemikong chief did not accept this treaty, and that reserve remains unceded (land and sovereignty was not surrendered to the Federal Government).  The island to the West of the Wikwemikong territory was ceded to the Crown, and Indian Reserves were established for the various Indian settlements.  The rest of the island was surveyed, and sold off to settlers.  The proceeds from the sale of land was supposed to be held in trust and used only for the benefit of the Indians.

Today, there are 7 reserves on Manitoulin:

  • Wikwemikong Unceded Reserve
  • M'Chigeeng First Nation (formally West Bay First Nation)
  • Sheguiandah First Nation
  • Sheshegwaning First Nation
  • Wauwauskinga First Nation
  • Zhiibaahaasing First Nation (formerly known as Anishinabek of Cockburn Island)
  • Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation (formerly known as Ojibways of Sucker Creek)

The circle and four cardinal directions are: sacred objects, sacred feathers, sacred herbs and sacred art. Aboriginal peoples' religions represent examples of primal traditions that have existed for some 30,000 to 60,000 years. Due to their migrations across North America over successive time periods, generalizations regarding Aboriginal traditions are difficult to make. Differences among hundreds of tribal groups with their languages, together with contrasts of geography and climate to which the people have adapted, has resulted in specific ceremonies unique to each tribe. In no Aboriginal language is there a term that translates as "religion' and thus the term 'tradition' is preferable. Basic Aboriginal concepts are grounded in the experience of time and process. Therefore, the seasons of nature are understood in a cyclical manner and sacred lore has developed an interrelation with the natural environment. Thus, the ending of the seasons for activities such as hunting, fishing and agricultural pursuits are celebrated through dance, song and recital of legends, mythical stories and clan histories. Different tribes perform their ceremonies according to individual tribal time frames which impacts the dating and scheduling of the Aboriginal festivals.

The Medicine Wheel is an important symbol in North American Aboriginal Culture. It is believed to provide spiritual protection as well as protection from illness. It consists of a circle which represents the cycle of life in that all life travels in a circular path. It has four spokes in the middle which represent the four directions of north, south, east and west; the four elements of Sky, Water, Wind and Earth, the four colors of people (Red, Black, White, Yellow), and the four faces of people (physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual).   The centre of the wheel is believed to be the centre of spiritual power. This Wheel is believed to bring good feelings and serve as a reminder that we are one with our mother earth and each other.

There are four colours of human (Red in South, Black in West, White in North, Yellow in East).

Tobaco, sweetgrass, sage, and cedar are the four sacred medicines.

Eagle/Wolf     Deer/Moose   Raven/Bear   Buffalo/Elk are the four sets of sacred animals.

The four phases of the moon in each season can be seen around the outer edge.

Native spirituality always works in sets of four.  Some of the typical sets are described in the following table.





East Wind

South Wind

West Wind (the Grandfather of the Winds)

North Wind





Spring Summer Fall Winter

Mental Realm

Spiritual Realm

Emotional Realm

Physical Realms









Yellow Race

Black Race

Red Race

White Race









Father Sky

Mother Earth

Grandfather Sun

Grandmother Moon





Eagle, Wolf Deer, Moose Raven, Bear Buffalo, Elk

Illumination, Leadership

Growth, Gentleness

Introspection, Dreams

Renewal, Stamina

Aboriginal dancer, Manitoulin Island A native dancer during a Pow-wow dance contest, Manitoulin Island
Each First Nation has members who, for various reasons, do not actually reside on the reserve. As well, other band members are seasonal residents, increasing accordingly during the summer months.
Community On-Reserve Population Off-Reserve Population Total Population On Reserve, %
M'Chigeeng First Nation 994 1,117 2,113 50.8%
Aundeck Omni Kaning 304 362 666 15.5%
Sheguiandah First Nation 149 148 297 7.7%
Zhiibaahaasing First Nation 55 85 140 2.9%
Sheshegwaning First Nation 121 239 360 6.2%
Whitefish River First Nation 330 702 1,032 16.9%
Wikwemikong Unceeded Reserve 2,926 3,954 6,880 42.53%
Total 4,879 6,607 11,486 100.0%

As reported in 2005 by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada

Aboriginal dancer, Manitoulin Island Stanley Peltier, Wikwemikong

Traditionally, a Pow Wow celebration was expressed through song and dance.  However, a significant but often forgotten part of these get-togethers was the exchange of gifts.  This practice was an important part of re-establishing old ties and friendships with each other.

When a gift was given, proper etiquette required that a gift be given in return immediately; the return could be made the next Pow Wow season.  The women would make beaded bags, clothing, quilts etc... to be given away.  It was not uncommon for people to give away horses, buggies, blankets and many other valuable things.

Throughout the years, the Pow Wow has evolved into a tradition exemplifying generosity and giving.  The Winnebago term hayluska meaning "to give" or "giving" best defines today's Pow Wow as we come into the circle with honour and respect for each other and the drum.

Pow Wow time gives us a chance to reflect on who we are as Anishnaabe People and to celebrate our rich inheritance.


A 4 part series on the Aboriginal's view of Manitoulin Treaties

Sir Francis Bond Head (1 January 1793 20 July 1875), known as "Galloping Head", was Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada from 1836 to 1838, was personally involved in the 2nd. Manitoulin Treaty.

National Archives images, text, & description of Manitoulin Treaty

Correspondence about Manitoulin Island between Sir Francis Bond Head, Lieutenant-Govenor of Upper Canada, and Lord Glenelg, Colonial Secretary in England, 1836.  Lord Glenelg held the post of Colonial Secretary until 1839 when he resigned under severe criticism for his poor handling of several colonial crises.  In the case of Manitoulin, both were convinced that aboriginals needed protection from the European settlers, and Manitoulin was ideal for its bountiful fishing, hunting, and poor land (rocky, shallow, & poor soils that are difficult to farm), making it less interesting to English settlers who were mainly farmers.

A native dancer during a Pow-wow dance contest, Manitoulin Island Aboriginal dancer, Manitoulin Island
View of Government's Historian on Manitoulin Treaties

Transcripts of the Manitoulin Treaties

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Latest Update: April 26, 2013 11:24:24 -0400