With a gift of tobacco, Onigaming First Nation welcomed a new pontoon boat Friday—one that will be both an economic opportunity and a chance to connect with areas of the lake that are important to the band’s history and culture.
“Right now we’re testing the waters,” said Clifford Bob, referring to plans to use it as a charter service through the Lake of the Woods area and more.
As part of Friday’s inauguration ceremony, elders, youth, and other community leaders spent the morning travelling on the boat to four sites on Crow Lake, which are sacred to the band, to offer tobacco and their thanks.
“This is one of the reasons we put tobacco out: to say thank you,” said elder and band councillor Fred Kelly, stressing the importance of giving tobacco to these places, and to give the tobacco offering to ask for safe passing across the waters.
The first stop was what the community calls “Spirit Island,” noticeable by its white rocks and the many nesting seagulls that make their home there.
Then the boat made its way to what’s known as “Castle Rock”—historically one of the places where people in the community would go for their vision quests.
Tobacco also was offered at “The Shaking Tent” rock on the east end of Crow Lake—a spot used to communicate with spirits—while the final stop was “Chase Point,” one of the windiest spots on the lake and where they believe spirits live.
Upon returning to the launching point at the end of Onigaming Road, community members then were invited to head out for 20-minute tours on the boat to enjoy it and the lake.
A lot of the places the boat visited on its first run were the community’s old hunting and trapping grounds, noted Chief Norman Copenace.
“They used to be our Safeways, our grocery stores, our pharmacies, our churches,” he remarked.
But with westernization, the younger generations within the community do not have the same knowledge of these sites as the elders do, Chief Copenace noted, which is why the boat is also an important addition to the band.
“We’re also trying to revive the knowledge of the sites,” he remarked, referring to the other purpose of the pontoon boat, where it can be used for excursions for youth and those within Treaty #3.
Funding for the venture came through the Canada/Ontario Resource Development Agreement (CORDA)—with $35,000 for the boat, which can hold a dozen people, and more funding to purchase equipment such as life jackets.
Onigaming also provided bridge funding for the project.
“We haven’t determined established routes yet,” noted Bob, who usually works as a consultation representative for the First Nation when it comes to mining and government but spearheaded the pontoon boat project through writing the proposal and a business plan for it.
At this time, the band still is consulting with its leaders and elders about the exact routes that will be set up.
“Right now we’re thinking Sioux Narrows and back, with stops along the way,” Bob said.
“Another would be to Morson and back, with stops along the way.”
One area the band could expand into is eco-tourism, added Bob, or to historical sites such as Massacre Island.
As well, the boat could be chartered for family reunions, weddings, rides around the lake, or “whatever have you,” Bob said.
“Our destinations at the moment are limitless,” he remarked.
Since the band is just testing the waters right now, that doesn’t mean full-time jobs just yet, Bob warned.
But he did note the charter’s crew would include both a driver and another individual to monitor safety.
“Hopefully, next year it will be a full-time job for two, three crews,” Bob said.
“[It’s] a little income and revenue for the community for future expansion,” he reasoned.
“We think, in the next couple years, we might have a fleet of these things if all goes well.”