A chat with local Anishinaabe historian Art Hunter

By Allan Bradbury
Staff Writer

June is Indigenous History Month. Rainy River District residents have a wealth of resources around us to learn about Treaty 3 and the history of the Anishnaabeg in the region.

Art Hunter, historian at Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre (Manitou Mounds), is one such resource. He says there are different periods of history to consider. Anishinaabe people from long ago are known as gete-Anishinaabe (pronounced ‘gaytay’) which means the “old, old people” in reference to ancestors and people that have come before.

“There was more freedom of movement amongst all tribes,” Hunter said. “They chose their places to live based on food. When that was taken, it caused hardship. But before that, the people had more freedom of movement around the country and they also had relationships amongst each other.”

In those days, there were understandings among different tribes that passage would be granted along the main waterways of the area.

“An elder I talked to talked about right of ways,” Hunter said. “The tribes had their right of ways for four or five different water systems. The Ohio River, the Mississippi, and the St. Lawrence River … when another tribe wanted to travel because there was trading going on. There was no restriction on traveling … that was one of the things amongst the people, they respected each other. Although there were conflicts, I’m not going to say there was never conflict because there was amongst different tribes. But generally there was respect among the tribes when they wanted to move from place to place.”

He said another thing people don’t realize is the diversity among Indigenous groups.

“I think, you see it all over the world, when you look at the medicine wheel you look at the four colours — the red, the white, the yellow, and the black. They’re all grouped in one group, so when you see a Native person, people use the term Indian, ‘oh they’re Indian,’ they’re kind of put in one group.”

Among other things, the medicine wheel, however, is meant to represent the different groups from each of the four cardinal directions, north, south, east, and west.

“There are many different people, there are many different Anishinaabe people across the country even in the United States there’s so many different tribes that have their own culture, have their own ways of living … I don’t like the term religion but every tribe has their own religion, the Blackfoot, the Sioux, the Ojibwe, the Cree.”

Different tribes take different things from the natural things around them and that affects the way culture develops, Hunter says.

“It’s the land and the water that teaches us,” he said. “That’s how we develop language and culture and religion, we didn’t just start it.”

Even the different tribes represented in the same colours of the medicine wheel are different from one another.

“The yellow people, the yellow nation, they aren’t just one nation, they have many different languages within that. With black culture, there’s many different tribes, many different languages,” Hunter said. “The white nation, we all know there’s many people. Whenever I ask one of my friends ‘what’s your nationality?’ They’ll say ‘I don’t know, a little bit of French, a little German, a little bit of this, a little of that.’ Within that there’s culture.”