Attawapiskat First Nation, Ontario Canada

Discovering Attawapiskat First Nation, Ontario: A Rich History and Vibrant Culture

Introduction to Attawapiskat First Nation, Ontario

The Attawapiskat First Nation, known in Cree as ᐋᐦᑕᐙᐱᐢᑲᑐᐎ ᐃᓂᓂᐧᐊᐠ (Āhtawāpiskatowi ininiwak), meaning "People of the parting of the rocks," is an isolated First Nation located in the Kenora District in northern Ontario, Canada. Situated at the mouth of the Attawapiskat River on James Bay, the traditional territory of the Attawapiskat First Nation extends beyond their reserve up the coast to Hudson Bay and hundreds of kilometres inland along river tributaries. The community is connected to other towns along the shore of James Bay by a seasonal ice road/winter road constructed each December, linking it to the towns of Kashechewan First Nation, Fort Albany, and Moosonee. Attawapiskat, Fort Albany, and Kashechewan operate and manage the James Bay Winter Road through the jointly owned Kimesskanemenow Corporation, named after the Cree word for "our road" -kimesskanemenow. Attawapiskat is the most remote northerly link on the 310 km (190 mi) road to Moosonee. They control the reserves at Attawapiskat 91 and Attawapiskat 91A.

The Etymology of Attawapiskat First Nation, Ontario

The name Attawapiskat, or Āhtawāpiskatowi ininiwak in Cree, translates to "people of the parting of the rocks" from the Swampy Cree language. This name is derived from the unique geographical features of the region. The Attawapiskat River has carved out several clusters of high limestone islands less than 100 kilometres (62 mi) from its mouth, which are unique to the region. These formations, and therefore the river and community, are called kāh-tawāpiskāk in Swampy Cree.

The Rich History of Attawapiskat First Nation, Ontario

Attawapiskat is home to the Mushkego, Omushkego James Bay Cree, also known as Mushkegowuk Cree Omushkegowuk Cree, western James Bay, west-coast, Swampy, Omushkego, and Hudson Bay Lowland Cree. The town site has for centuries been a gathering place for local Native people; they used and occupied a much larger area for their seasonal camps and hunting seasons. Originally this was a seasonal camp that the people visited only in the spring and summer to take advantage of the fishing on one of the main rivers of James Bay. Historically, in the wintertime, families moved to more dispersed sites along the coast, inland or on Akimiski Island, where they trapped, hunted, and gathered roots, fruit and nuts. The latter is also known as "Agamiski and Atimiski Island, and less commonly as Agumiski, Akamiski, Kamanski, Viner's Island, and Oubaskou."

Attawapiskat was entered into treaty with Canada relatively late, in 1930 (Treaty 9 adhesion). The majority of the First Nation members moved to the community as late as the mid-1960s. Many have maintained traditional structures, thinking and interpretation of life in a deeper fashion than in other, less isolated First Nations communities. Some elders lead a traditional life on the land, moving into the community only during Christmas season. Some families, although having their home base in the community, use the land extensively as their economic and social basis. The vast majority of community members are involved in the annual goose hunts in fall and spring. Most of the Attawapiskat First Nation members are aware of their traditions.

Since the 1950s, Attawapiskat has developed from a settlement of temporary dwellings, such as tents and teepees, to a community with permanent buildings. These were constructed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Traditional harvesters from Attawapiskat First Nation continue to regularly hunt caribou, goose, and fish along the Attawapiskat River, while tending trap lines throughout the region. Their activities go beyond subsistence hunting and fishing, as these comprise an important part of local culture and identity.

The Hudson's Bay Company introduced the commercial fur trapping economy in the late 17th century when they established a trading post in Fort Albany. The post in Attawapiskat was established toward the end of the 19th century. Attawapiskat was also once an outpost of Revillon Frères.

The Geography of Attawapiskat First Nation, Ontario

Attawapiskat is a coastal community in the western Hudson Bay Lowland, a vast wetland located between the Canadian Shield and James Bay and Hudson Bay. The town or hamlet of Attawapiskat now covers 1.32 square kilometres (330 acres) of land and is located along the Attawapiskat River, 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) inland from the James Bay coastline in the James Bay drainage basin. It is located 52°55′21″N 82°25′31″W in the Kenora District, the extreme north of Ontario. Timmins, the nearest urban centre, is located approximately 500 kilometres (310 mi) south. Moosonee is 160 kilometres (99 mi) south of Attawapiskat.

The vegetation is typically subarctic, with a mostly coniferous forest (stunted black spruce and tamarack) in the muskeg. Wildlife includes geese, ducks, caribou, moose, beaver, bear, wolves, wolverine, marten, rabbit, muskrat, otter, and other species. Winter roads constructed each December link Attawapiskat First Nation with Fort Albany First Nation, Kashechewan, Moosonee, and Moose Factory to the south. The fertile soil (0.8 m (2 ft 7 in) deep) is underlain by clay and silt. It is normal for the Attawapiskat River to rise 1 to 2 m (3 ft 3 in to 6 ft 7 in) during spring break-up; on rare occasions the community has had to deal with recurring partial and complete flooding.

The Geology of Attawapiskat First Nation, Ontario

The Attawapiskat kimberlite field is a field of kimberlite pipes in the Canadian Shield located astride the Attawapiskat River on Attawapiskat First Nation land. It is thought to have formed about 180 million years ago in the Jurassic period, when the North American Plate moved westward over a centre of upwelling magma called the New England hotspot, also referred to as the Great Meteor hotspot. The area is composed of 18 kimberlite pipes of the Attawapiskat kimberlite field, 16 of which are diamondiferous. The Victor Mine was developed on top of the Victor pipe. Mines from Victor Main and Victor Southwest have appeared close enough to the surface to be used in an open-pit mine. The Victor Kimberlite is a composition of pyroclastic crater facies and hypabyssal facies, and is considered to have a highly variable diamond grade.

Mining in Attawapiskat First Nation, Ontario

De Beers Canada officially opened the Victor Diamond Mine, Ontario's first ever diamond mine on July 26, 2008. De Beers has spent approximately $1 billion on construction of the mine. It is an open-pit mine located 90 kilometres (56 mi) west of the settlement of Attawapiskat on Attawapiskat First Nation traditional land mining two pipes in the field at 52°49′14″N 83°53′00″W. The mine expected to produce 600,000 carats (120 kg) of diamonds a year.

Traditional harvesters from Attawapiskat First Nation regularly hunt caribou, goose, and fish along the Attawapiskat River, while tending trap lines throughout the region. Like many other northern Cree communities, these traditional activities are more than subsistence, comprising an important part of local culture and identity. Therefore, the community leadership was very concerned with the proposed development of the Victor mine, and, at De Beers' invitation, sought to ensure that any environmental impacts of the mine would be effectively mitigated.

An Impact-Benefit Agreement (IBA) was signed with community leaders in 2005 with Danny Metatawabin, acting as coordinator for the Impact-Benefit Agreement (IBA) between De Beers and Attawapiskat. Community members later protested the agreement through demonstrations and roadblocks, claiming that the community's share of the "bounty from the mine isn't getting back to the community." De Beers has negotiated a lease area. Although it is acknowledged that the mine is on Attawapiskat traditional land, the royalties from Victor Mine flow to the Province of Ontario, not Attawapiskat First Nation. They have 500 full-time employees, with 100 from Attawapiskat First Nation. De Beers also employs Attawapiskat First Nation in winter road construction. The "mine employ[s] 100 people from Attawapiskat at any one time. It generates about $400 million in annual revenue for the company. " Sub-contractors from Attawapiskat First Nation also work for the mine.

The company has transferred about $10.5 million to a trust fund held by Attawapiskat as of January 2011. The Attawapiskat Trust, established January 1, 2007, receives payments made by De Beers Canada and Attawapiskat Limited Partnership (ALP) as part of the Victor Diamond Project Impact and Benefits Agreement (November 3, 2005-11-03). The beneficiary of the trust includes "all members of Attawapiskat on a collective and undivided basis."

Victor was forecast to have a "17-year cradle-to-grave life. That includes construction, an estimated 12 years of operation and then winding down to closure and rehabilitation of the site." In an interview with CBC reporter Megan Thomas in Sudbury, Ontario, De Beers' Victor Mine spokesperson explained that Victor Mine could be exhausted by 2018 as was originally anticipated. It would take several years to close the mine completely. It is not economically viable with present-day technology to mine the deeper remaining 40 metres of diamond-bearing layers. However, the mine had produced at a high level of performance leading to "[f]urther exploration of the site" with the "hope that De Beers will uncover another source of diamonds within close proximity of the existing operation." Tom Ormsby, claimed that "The high quality of the Victor diamonds and the vastness of the Canadian shield points to great potential for another diamond mine being developed in northeastern Ontario." The "Canadian Shield has great potential to host diamonds" Canada's potential "appears to be at least twice as good as what southern Africa has held for potential for diamonds."

"A federal review of the relationship between De Beers' Victor mine and Attawapiskat showed that government support for training and capacity did not start soon enough to deal with the huge lack of skills in the First Nation."

Demographics of Attawapiskat First Nation, Ontario

There are over 2,800 members of Attawapiskat First Nation, but the local on-reserve population was 1,549 according to the 2011 census. More than a third of the members of the Attawapiskat First Nation who still live on their home reserve are under the age of 19 and three-quarters are under the age of 35. Altogether, 5% of the community, 101 people, have attempted suicide over the seven months from September 2015 to April 2016.

Language in Attawapiskat First Nation, Ontario

Almost all of the Aboriginal population of Attawapiskat speak the Swampy Cree language, one of the varieties of the Cree language, as their first language. Many elders understand very little English; they speak Cree and other Aboriginal languages. Some of these elders, such as Shano Fireman, self-identify as Inninew (person, part of the people Cree).

Land Use and Occupancy in Attawapiskat First Nation, Ontario

The ancestors of today's Attawapiskat band occupied all the territory from the Kapiskau River in the south, to Hudson Bay (Cape Henrietta Maria) in the north, and from Akimiski Island in the east to Lake Mississa (150 miles inland) to the west. This has been contended by the present day chief and council [oral history], is supported by documentation in the archives of the HBC [Hudson's Bay Company], and was documented by Honigmann [1948].

A land use study was carried out "jointly by the Research Program for Technology Assessment in Subarctic Ontario (TASO), the Mushkegowuk Council, its constituent First Nations, and the Omushkegowuk Harvesters Association. The overall purpose of the project was to help the regional Council and its associations develop a strategy for natural resource co-management, self-government, and sustainable regional development. In 1990 Dr. Fikret Berkes, Distinguished Professor and Canada Research Chair at the University of Manitoba, and a team of academics interviewed 925 aboriginal hunters from eight communities (Attawapiskat, Moose Factory, Moosonee, New Post, Fort Albany, Kashechewan, Peawanuck and Fort Severn) of the Mushkegowuk region, Hudson and James Bay Lowland. Their results published in 1995, showed "that geographically extensive land use for hunting and fishing persists in the Mushkegowuk region, some 250,000 square kilometres (97,000 sq mi). However, the activity pattern of Omushkego (West Main) Cree harvesters has changed much over the decades; contemporary harvesting involves numerous short trips of a few days' duration instead of the traditional long trips. Although the First Nations control only 900 square kilometres (350 sq mi) (0.36% of the region) as Indian reserve land, they continue to use large parts of their traditional territory."

In her Masters thesis (1998) Jacqueline Hookimaw-Witt, a Muskego-Cree, interviewed elders from Attawapiskat who described in great detail ways in which they continued to harvest, fish and hunt for food, clothing, crafts and subsistence to complement store-bought items. Hookimaw-Witt was the first Muskego-Cree to earn a doctorate.

Economy and Employment in Attawapiskat First Nation, Ontario

Economic and employment opportunities are limited to work within the community, mainly in the service sector or for the local band council. There are only a handful of businesses in the town, including De Beers Victor Mine, Kataquapit's Inn, Northern Store, Attawapiskat Band Council, Attawapiskat Development Corporation, Attawapiskat Airport, April's Coffee Shop, Kloxplex Studios, SIPC Development Incorporated, DeBeers Marc Guevremont Training Centre, Attawapiskat Hospital, WAHA Paramedic Service Base, Attawapiskat Fire Rescue, Attawapiskat Water Treatment Plant, Attawapiskat Health Centre, Vezina Secondary School, J.R. Nakogee School, Kattawapiskak Elementary School, CJBA-FM, M. Koostachin & Sons, Hydro One, Bell Canada, Canada Post, Attawapiskat First Nation Education Authority, K-Net Services, Xittel, Xplornet, and Parish Hall. From 1927 to 1960, the Catholic Church's Oblate Mission operated a sawmill. In 1901 the Hudson's Bay Company established a trading post and store in town. The Northern Store took over the operations from HBC in the