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‘We are not Oji-Cree’: 22 First Nations across Manitoba, Ontario clear the air on distinct identity

February 15, 2024

1st Anisininew Gathering of Nations meets in Winnipeg to ‘take back’ their identity

Three men seated at a table are pictured looking forward. The first two men are wearing Indigenous headdresses.
Anisininew Okimawin Grand Chief Scott Harper, centre, is pictured with Garden Hill Chief Charles Knott, left, and Donny Morris, chief of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug in northwestern Ontario, at a Thursday news conference held by the Anisininew Gathering of Nations. (Prabhjot Singh Lotey/CBC)

First Peoples Law Report: CBC News: Members of nearly two dozen First Nations across Manitoba and Ontario that gathered in Winnipeg for the first time this week say they want their distinct identity to be correctly recognized.

The Anisininew Gathering of Nations, a three-day event in Winnipeg that ended Thursday, was hosted by Anisininew Okimawin — a coalition of four First Nations from Manitoba’s Island Lake area — and attended by leaders and members of 18 Ontario First Nations.

A collective declaration written during the meeting voices the group’s “intent to move forward as one” and reject the “widespread misconception” that identifies them as Oji-Cree, said Anisininew Okimawin Grand Chief Scott Harper.

“We are not Oji-Cree. We are the Anisininew Nations,” he said at a Thursday news conference.

“We hereby call all levels of government to recognize and to respect us as the unique Anisininew Nations and people, distinct from the broader categorization of First Nations,” he said.

While Oji-Cree is used to refer to Indigenous people whose culture and language originate from a blend of Anishinaabe and Cree, their nations are considered uniquely separate from both.

Anisininew communities are mainly found near the Manitoba-Ontario border, sandwiched between traditional Anishinaabe territories to their south and the Cree to their north.

Harper says the Anisininew Gathering of Nations symbolized a renewal of the shared bonds between the 22 communities and a chance to “take back” their identity, which includes a unique culture, language and historical connection to their ancestral territories.

“It is time to dispel the settlers’ descriptions that have long misrepresented our people,” said Harper.

“No one has ever asked us: who are we? But we have been given names. We were given who they think we are,” he said, adding that “Oji-Cree” can be considered “offensive” by some.

WATCH | Anisininew Nations gather in Winnipeg:

Gathering of Anisininew Nations from across Manitoba, Ontario marks ‘a new chapter’

13 days ago, Duration 2:00

About 20 Anisininew Nations from Manitoba and Ontario gathered in Winnipeg this week, declaring their unity and rejecting Canada’s identification of them as Oji-Cree.

Click on the following link to view the video:

Harper said the gathering was important because the communities involved have been historically “fragmented” by the Manitoba-Ontario border, as well as treaty boundaries.

“When these borders were created, it separated our communities … in so many ways: as families, as people,” he said.

Donny Morris, chief of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug in northwestern Ontario, said he’s enthusiastic about joining the other Anisininew communities in Manitoba.

“Why are we separated from each other?” Morris asked during the news conference.

He likened the collective’s mission to the collapse of the Berlin Wall — which divided the German city into two from 1961 and 1989 — and to Barbados and Jamaica gaining independence from the British in the 1960s.

“I think one day, in the future, we will be requesting that concept of giving back our land.… Respect our language, respect who we are — our culture — but most importantly, respect our land,” he said.

“We have the authority, the power, to sit down with any government [and] discuss our future.”

People are pictured lining up to shake hands with people standing alongside a table.
People line up to shake hands with chiefs from four Manitoba First Nations and 18 from Ontario during the Anisininew Gathering of Nations, which was held over three days in Winnipeg this week. (Prabhjot Singh Lotey/CBC)

Harper said the gathering underscores the collective’s commitment of nationhood.

“We’ve shared so [many] stories, so many things that unite us.… reclaiming who we are as people, and to make clear who we are,” he said.

“As we embark on this journey of revitalization, we call upon our nations, allies and the broader public to recognize and support our rights of self-determination, sovereignty and the stewardship of our ancestral lands.”

The 22 Anisininew communities that participated in the gathering are:

  • Red Sucker Lake.
  • Garden Hill.
  • St. Theresa Point.
  • Wasagamack.
  • Bearskin Lake.
  • Deer Lake.
  • Kasabonika Lake.
  • Keewaywin.
  • Kingfisher Lake.
  • Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug.
  • Koocheching.
  • Muskrat Dam.
  • Neskantaga.
  • Nibinamik.
  • North Caribou Lake.
  • North Spirit Lake.
  • Sachigo Lake.
  • Sandy Lake.
  • Wapekeka.
  • Wawakapewin.
  • Webequie.
  • Wunnumin Lake.

Ozten Shebahkeget, Reporter

Özten Shebahkeget is Anishinaabe/Turkish Cypriot and a member of Northwest Angle 33 First Nation who grew up in Winnipeg’s North End. She joined CBC Manitoba in 2021 through the inaugural Pathways program. She is also a recent graduate of the University of Saskatchewan’s master of fine arts in writing program.