One week after people began gathering at Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre, a group of 26 people landed at Northwest Angle near the original signing site of Treaty 3.
Community members from all across Treaty 3 territory were invited to participate and no canoeing experience was required. Canoe and safety training was given ahead of departure.
The trip was undertaken in partnership with Lake Life Adventures which escorted the group with a barge and pontoon boat to carry the majority of the materials and equipment required for the trip as well as providing food along the way.
For many of the canoers, the trip was about honouring a time gone by.
Elder Lorna Cochrane from Mitaanjigamiing First Nation says retracing the path of the ancestors who signed the treaty 150 years ago.
“To me, it’s kind of an exciting thing to kind of relive what our ancestors did,” Cochrane said. “To experience how they lived, paddling and being in a group. I’m challenging myself to do this because I’m getting older and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Rainy River First Nations Chief Marcel Medicine-Horton and his son Trapper were also part of the trip. Chief Medicine-Horton was part of a group of young people who made a similar trip 25 years ago as part of the 125th anniversary of the treaty signing. Ahead of departure, he said the trip was a bit more daunting than it seemed as a young man.
“Back in the day there was no apprehensions, there was no anxiety,” he said, preparing his canoe to depart. “As a 53 year-old traveling with my 12 year-old son, and 190 km, I’m a little bit anxious on the inside but I am so proud of this moment, it’s phenomenal. These are the shores that [the chiefs] left from, these are the shores that they traversed 150 years ago, it’s truly humbling.”
Bill Arch and his wife Colleen are from Ojibways of Onigaming and took the trip as well. Arch is a member of council there as well.
Arch says he thought the trip was important to go on.
“I thought it was important because the treaty is a living, breathing document that our ancestors established with the Crown,” he said. “I believe that really sets a precedent for the people of Treaty 3.”
The trip carried the group from the historical centre down the river to the town of Rainy River on the first day. They made several stops en route to Young’s Bay Resort in Minnesota where they made landfall. Many stops saw the group welcomed by different communities and celebrated. The group was treated to a feast and fish fry at Assabaska Ojibwe Heritage Park. At other stops along the way, group members were welcomed into communities and invited to shower and share meals with community members. There were also times when they were roughing it and it was the group on their own on some of the islands in Lake of the Woods, and there was no cellphone service.
Arch says over the course of the trip the group came together.
“Everybody melded well together,” Arch said. “We actually bonded well together, we have a group chat and we’re sharing stories and pictures on there. Building relationships is very important and I hope that continues.”
Aside from a few days, the weather treated the group pretty well, though there were times that paddlers headed quickly to the houseboat to get out of the open water. There were also some days that only the most experienced paddlers canoed across large stretches of Lake of the Woods and some canoes were towed by the barge or pontoon boat.
The group landed at Harrison Creek in Minnesota where they were met by community members and Chief Linda McVicar for a feast and celebration. Arch says when they finally landed at their destination he was exhausted.
“I was tired, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually,” Arch said. “I actually laid on the ground there for maybe 15 minutes before we had our feast. I was thankful for the welcoming of the people and the nourishment of the ceremonial feast.”