N’ziibiimnaan – Our River [Film]
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N’ziibiimnaan – Our River [Film]

September 4, 2019

[Drumming] [Singing and Drumming] [N’ziibiimnaan] As a young man I always had extreme curiosity about our history and the trails and canoe routes that our people used. I would visit the Elders to talk to them and question them about our history. [Singing and Drumming] I soon became aware that Biigtig Siibii was very important to the Biigtigong Nishnaabeg. One Elder explained it this way, “It was our highway.” Long Lac and Biigtigong were pretty closely connected because of that river. My grandmother was born there as well as most of her sisters and brothers. I talked to them and they indicated they traveled back and forth between Long Lac and Biigtigong by canoe. It always fascinated me, and I was determined to one day
re-trace the route
that my ancestors had
taken. In 2014, I planned to do the trip with my granddaughter, Kyralee. And then summer of 2016, our dream had become a reality. Anyways, I want to thank everybody, I want to thank Gord and his wife for coming along, volunteering to come along. Gord has been preparing over the last year. Gary McGuffin, and Andrew also. Roy, I will think of you, and I will think of your Mom, and I will think of my Grandmother. Wish you good luck there my good friend. The canoe takes you places where a vehicle or anything else can’t go. I can put my canoe in the water here and end up in Northwest Territories. Just like jumping on that truck and driving over there, I can do that in my canoe, but going through the wilderness all the way. Looks like a nice landing there, eh? As we left the campsite at the west end of MacKay Lake, it threatened to rain, but soon cleared up. What did you do with that rock, Ky? Shortly after noon we stopped for lunch on the east end of the lake. The area there looked disturbed and there were fragments of human artifacts. I suspect it might have been the site of the trader MacKay’s trading post. Towards the east, the river narrows and there is wild rice growing. They were in flower. I am suspecting that the raising of the lake level from the logging dam ahead of the river prevented the wild rice from growing to its full potential. [Laughter] Way to go, Kyra. Good balance. You’ve got some muscle there after all, eh. Yeah right, I’m the strongest one here! ‘Biig’ is a morpheme from a word meaning to ‘erode’ or ‘break away’. ‘tig’ is a morpheme denoting the condition of a river. So ‘Biigtig Siibii’ in English would mean the ‘breaking away or eroding river’. There are three logjams between Caramat Landing and Big Rock Rapids. It’s not bad Go in parallel, draw to bow, draw at the bow. I took my powersaw to clear these logjams. I was wondering what the people used long ago, because it is hard to cut logs that are in water. [Powersaw on] [Laughter] When I do these long portages I am always amazed at how hardworking our ancestors were. They would just do this as a part of every day life, day after day. Ow. There is a first big portage going down the river, it is about 200 metres long. Roughly about seven minutes carry one way. When we cleaned the portage last year we could still see remnants of the original trail although I lost it a few times. It’s not even that bad! As I wandered over the grown in trail I was aware of the fact that my ancestors had walked and stood and carried their birchbark canoes on the very spot that I was standing. I felt a moment of spiritual connection. I have a feeling it is all going to tip. [Water sounds] [Swinging of axe] [Swinging of axe] Hang on to it. Putting my axe away. We arrived at Tickseed campsite late in the afternoon. A wonderful spot with plenty of space for tents. [Fire crackling] [Fire crackling] [Chatter] The portage at Dead Man Rapids is on river left. We named the portage ‘Cedar Portage’ because it runs through a nice cedar grove alongside the river. [Loon calls] Waboosekon Lake is quite calm this morning. As we head south I am thinking of some of the other routes that our people used. About halfway down Waboosekon Lake there is a rock cairn on the south shore. I have no idea who put it there or why it was put there. I did not want to touch it. I felt a need to respect the purpose of whoever put it there. [Sandhill Cranes calling] [Mosquitoes buzzing] And then when you get into the back Kyra made cedar tea that evening after supper. It was refreshing and energizing. [Camp stove on] I can’t think straight. I know I am getting tired when I start making mistakes. What is the bow and what is the stern? [Laughter] Yes, he says, “Climb in!” So, okay, I climb in, turn around to sit down, and I’m like “How come my seat is in front of me?” [Laughter] Oh, a nice breeze. A heavenly breeze. See, we will have the wind at our back tomorrow, too. Okay I am going to put this cedar back in here. When you are done with that cedar, what you do is you put it in the bush and you put a little bit of tobacco on top of it. I will do that in the morning. That night I was visited by the four ladies in my dreams. I interpreted this to be the four ladies from Long Lac, who moved to Biigtigong, giving us their blessings for our efforts. Near the old beaver marsh about halfway across the portage Kyra found a glass vase half buried in the ground. A testament to the human presence in the past and a reminder that we were not the first ones here. We decided to do the High Falls portage while it was still cool in the morning. Even this place did not escape the modifications from the modern industrial use. The rock in the centre of the Falls was blasted to allow freer flow of wood over the Falls. We were also joined by four more canoeists. David Courchene III and his son Dawson, Ocean Cherneski, and Kailee Michano. It was good to have that additional company. [Music] [Music] [Laughter] [Water splashing] Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go. Yes, that is where we are. Seven kilometres at the most. Oh my gosh. Oh…One, two, three, four, five, six. It is not going to work. How do you do it? Just play around, figure it out. Experiment. Yes. We did fourty kilometres today. Longest stretch so far. We did not like the campsite again at Camp 19 above the rapids so we decided to push on to Lake Superior. We phoned in to let them know we were coming. as we could now get cell service. and to thank the ancestors for a safe trip. As we were doing so, an eagle flew around us. Another good sign. [Drumming] The welcoming committee were out in full force. Drums were out, and a song sung. [Singing and Drumming] They see it can be done now. You know, it is not just a dream. You can do it. All you have to do is get on that canoe and do it. Because when you are out in the wilderness you depend on each other. and you have to depend on each other, to help out. That is the way it is in life. It is not a single journey through life. Everybody knows that. And if those kids can come out and back from those canoe trips with a sense that we have to work together, to get to where we want to go, they will work out better as citizens of Biigtigong, citizens of Canada, citizens in this Planet. Miigwetch to our Grandmothers and Grandfathers for looking after us on this trip. Miigwetch. [Music] [Closing Credits] [Fire crackling]


  • Reply Duncan Michano March 27, 2017 at 1:47 pm

    Well done Andrew. Appreciate all the work.

  • Reply Lesley Durham-McPhee March 30, 2017 at 1:48 pm

    Wonderful tribute to past, present and future.

  • Reply Robin Lauer April 1, 2017 at 3:21 pm

    Nice film and narration, Thanks

  • Reply Charley Couch April 3, 2017 at 4:41 pm

    Beautifully done and a real tribute to Anishanaabe history.

  • Reply Ray Jr. St. Louis April 5, 2017 at 4:47 pm

    Great video!!! What a moving experience and glad that Chief Michano was able to fulfill his dream. What a great learning experience for everyone who went on that fantastic journey.

  • Reply Peggy Smith April 8, 2017 at 5:36 pm

    Inspiring! Would like to join you for a trip. One of the first places I remember as a child was Camp 5 and Caramat. Haven't been back since we moved to Thunder Bay when I was 6 years old (1958).

  • Reply Ian Wong Music May 25, 2017 at 5:49 pm

    Thank you Andrew for inviting me to be part of the project. It was a true honour to have my music featured. Congratulations on a beautiful film!

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