Eabametoong First Nation, ON

Introduction: “The reversing of the water place”

The community of Eabametoong First Nation (Fort Hope) is located on the north shore of Eabamet Lake, 360 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ontario (http://www.eabametoong.firstnation.ca/).  It is a proud member of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation ( http://www.nan.on.ca/ ) and the Matawa Tribal Council ( http://www.matawa.on.ca/ ), and a signatory to Treaty 9. [1]   Surrounded by beautiful lakes, rivers, and old growth forests with abundant wildlife, the people of Eabametoong have creatively used the vast natural resources of their territory to sustain themselves and their way of life for centuries.

Figure 1: Map of Nishnawbe Aski Nation [from NAN website]

History

Eabametoong is a traditional name, which in Anishinaabemowin (the Ojibway language) means “The reversing of the water place.” Each year, due to water runoff, the flow of water from Eabamet Lake into the Albany River temporarily reverses. Before the fur trade, the people of Eabametoong lived at and around Eabamet Lake because of the abundance of fish, including sturgeon, walleye, and whitefish. They also followed the “annual rounds,” hunting, gathering, and moving with the seasons.

The name “Fort Hope” comes from the Hudson’s Bay Company fur trading post built by the lake in 1890. At that time, the people of Eabametoong would camp nearby and transport furs and other goods by canoe. The trading post was abandoned in the 1960′s, but later a new store was built on the reserve overlooking the lake.  Nothing remains of the old trading post today; however, two churches were built at the old bay site, the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England.  The original churches are still standing and the cemetery is still in use today. The site, referred to as “Old Bay” or “Old Fort Hope,” is 6 km southwest of the community’s current location across Eabamet Lake.

Figure 2: Aerial view of Eabametoong First Nation [from NetNewsledger, April 7, 2016]

In 1905, when the treaty was signed at Fort Hope, the Fort Hope Band and the Fort Hope Indian Reserve came into existence. At the time of the treaty signing, 500 people signed on. The new community of Eabametoong was started in 1982. The official name, Eabametoong First Nation, along with the community flag, was adopted in 1985.

Today, Eabametoong First Nation (EFN) has approximately 2,400 band members, of whom about 1,300 live on reserve. The nearest road/railway town is Armstrong, 155 km southwest. The EFN reserve is accessible year-round by air, with flights operated by three First Nation airlines. During winter, residents also maintain “ice roads” to Thunder Bay (16 hours), Pickle Lake (9 hours), and other towns and First Nation communities.

Although EFN currently faces demographic and socioeconomic challenges, it has a vibrant culture and heritage, strong community values, and promising economic opportunities ranging from the Ring of Fire mining and infrastructure projects to eco-tourism.

An Historical Timeline of Eabametoong First Nation

1890 – Hudson’s Bay Co. establishes a fur trading post on Eabamet Lake
1891 – The outpost of Fort Hope is established at Attawapiskat Lake to separate the Indians and the fur traders
1894 – The Roman Catholic Church begins construction of a church building
1898 – Construction of the first Anglican Church is completed
1899 – The first calf is born at the outpost
1905 – The James Bay Treaty No.9 is signed
1908- The first Peterborough canoes are brought in for the Hudson’s Bay Co.
1909 – A survey of the reserve begins
1911 – The survey of the reserve is completed by Dobie on July 19th
1920 – Peterborough canoes replace birchback canoes
1927 – Gold is discovered at the Fort Hope mine (Round Lake)
1930′s – The first float planes enter the area and children begin attending Residential School
1931 – Fort Hope Reserve #64 is ratified by order-in-council
1940′s – A Gold Rush results in the discovery of Gold deposits to the East of the reserve by Williamson
1955 – The first school is opened at Old Home Point on the reserve
1958 – Gold deposits are discovered by Little Long Lac Mines at the reserve lake
1962 – The present community settlement of Eabametoong begins to take shape
1965 – Construction of a new day school begins and the Residential School system ends
1967 – John C. Yesno officially opens the new school in September
1969 – Construction of a Generating System commences
1970 – Fort Hope Power Authority commences operation
1971 – A Nursing Station is built
1973 – Construction on airstrip commences
1975 – Telephone and radio communications arrive on reserve
1976 – A Co-operative Store and Police Station are opened
1980 – A forest fire destroys most of the community infrastructure and the village is temporarily evacuated
1983 – TV Ontario commences local telecasting
1985 – The modern traditional name of “Eabametoong First Nation” was adopted

Languages

The Ojibway language  (spoken and written)  is the working language used by the mature population while English  (spoken and written)  is predominant as the working language with the younger generation.

Eabametoong First Nation Flag

The idea of having a flag was born in the early 70′s, just as the Band and Reserve government was developing.  In 1974, a logo contest was conducted among the students of the John C. Yesno Elementary School. The Band Council under Chief Cornelius Nate selected the chosen logo, a canoe between two teepees.  This selected logo was designed by a student named Peter Nate.  However, the colours were not chosen until 1983. The three main colours emerged during the Road Impact Study, headed by Andy Yesno. During the course of this study, research showed that the people of Eabametoong have and still depend heavily upon the land for survival.  The flag represents the people of Eabametoong, who are part of the Ojibway Nation of the Nishnawbe-Aski.

The Symbols

The symbols show the traditional ways of shelter and travel of the Eabametoong people as they roamed about Nishnawbe-Aski long ago and continue to do so to this day.

The teepee was a portable home that was light to carry from place to place. The birchbark canoe was the primary mode of travel on the many rivers that formed the highways throughout the land. The teepee has been replaced with canvas tents of all shapes and sizes. The birchbark canoe has been replaced with wood and canvas canoes or aluminum boats.

These symbols on the flag are reminders of the way of life and culture of the Ojibway people.

The Colours

“The three main colours that form the background of our flag symbolizes our determination and faith to continue to survive at Eabametoong.

Yellow – for as long as the sun shall shine
Green – for as long as the grass shall grow
Blue – for as long the rivers shall flow

Our culture and heritage is carried on through this flag by the interpretation of its various colours.

The black represents those of the people who have gone forward from this life.

The red represents those of the people who are still living today.

The white represents the creator as our guardian spirit.”

Demographics and Socioeconomic Challenges

Like many Indigenous communities in Canada, Eabametoong First Nation has a young and growing population. The Registered "Status Indian" population for Eabametoong as of 2014 totals 2,532 individuals, with 1,532 living on-reserve. [2]   As of the 2006 Census (no 2011 data are available), approximately half of community members living on reserve were under the age of 19, and the median age was 17.8, compared to 38.8 in the total Canadian population. [3]  Education and job training, especially for younger generations, has been identified by community members as a major challenge. At present, the local John C. Yesno Education Centre (federally funded, band-operated school) offers grades 1 through 9. Students seeking to complete high school must leave the community and board with a family in Thunder Bay or another city hundreds of kilometres away. According to the school principal, 157 young people should be in grade 9, but only 23 are actually attending. Another 43 band members attend high school off reserve. This means that the majority have dropped out before grade 9. In addition, Tikinagan Child and Family Services reports that a significant number of children are living off reserve under their care. Various initiatives are being examined to improve the situation, and community members have identified child welfare as a priority issue.

Housing at Eabametoong First Nation is also a challenge, with overcrowding and maintenance being ongoing concerns. According to the most recent Census data available, the average household size is 4.2 (compared to the Ontario average of 2.6), and 35.2% of dwellings require major repairs (compared to 6.6% in Ontario).

Figure 3: Employment and Unemployment Levels in Eabametoong First Nation and the Province of Ontario, 2006 Census

Due to the lack of local employment opportunities, the unemployment rate on reserve (29.8%) is more than four times the Ontario average (6.4%), and the employment rate (26%) is less than half (62.8%). Moreover, the median after-tax income among all census families at EFN ($22,720) is almost one-third that of Ontario families ($59,377), and a much larger percentage of the total income at EFN comes from government transfers (36.7% vs. 9.8%).

Figure 4: Median After-Tax Family Income in Eabametoong First Nation and the Province of Ontario, 2006 Census

According to social scientific research, education, housing, employment, income, and economic disparity are among the most significant social determinants of health (e.g., Raphael, 2009). These statistics underscore the need for economic development at EFN to proceed in tandem with sustainable job creation, education/training, community infrastructure investment, and initiatives to promote community health and well-being, while protecting the environment.

State of Emergency in 2010

In October 2010, the then Chief and Council of Eabametoong First Nation declared a State of Emergency. In addition to the challenges described above, the community faced serious social issues, including numerous arsons, three murders, several other violent incidents, widespread prescription drug abuse, no ambulance service, environmental contamination, an overstretched sewage system, and a longstanding boil-water advisory.  The aim of this declaration was to draw sustained attention to these issues and to stimulate action to find long-term solutions.

At that time, the Chief and Council endorsed a Seven Point Action Plan:

1)            Declare a State of Emergency

2)            Develop an Emergency Response Plan

3)            Political Advocacy and Lobbying

4)            Long-Term Planning

5)            Improved Communication between Community Leaders and Members

6)            Community Development Strategies

7)            Ongoing Monitoring and Evaluation

As then Chief Lewis Nate put it:

“We are not going to sit back and wait for help. We need to get our community organized. We know what the problems are…we have to stop blaming each other and move forward. We need to be willing to work together and it has to come from the heart.”

Amidst this crisis, community members got together to start rebuilding their community and implementing the Action Plan, and the State of Emergency was lifted in March 2011. Yet, just a few months later, hundreds of community members were forced to evacuate to Thunder Bay due to nearby forest fires – a recurrent problem for the community since at least the 1980s. Meanwhile, an election in June 2011 resulted in a new Chief and Council. In this context, EFN submitted a proposal to partner with the Poverty Action Research Project (PARP). The PARP team members have since undertaken numerous community visits to develop a better understanding of the conditions facing EFN and to work together on economic development and other strategies that will support community health and well-being.

Strengths and Opportunities

Despite its historically and structurally rooted challenges, Eabametoong First Nation has many important strengths and opportunities. As one young man put it in a PARP community meeting, EFN is “rich” in its culture, traditions, land, and natural resources. According to the Census, more than 11% of community members speak the Ojibway language fluently, and nearly 1 in 3 has at least some working knowledge of the language. The annual “Festival Days” were re-established in July 2012, including community activities such as scavenger hunts, fishing derbies, and blindfold-canoe races. Communal values, such as sharing game meat with Elders, remain strong. Increasingly, youth are returning to drumming and dancing, and many community members continue to hunt and fish. The fact that the language and these cultural practices have survived, despite the impacts of colonization, speaks to the community’s resilience.

Figure 5: Winter Day at Eabametoong First Nation [from CBC News, Jan. 3, 2014]

Community members are also proud of their traditional land base and its natural resources, as well as their ability to pull together and support one another in times of crisis. A state-of-the-art health clinic, the Kevin C. Sagutcheway Memorial Nursing Station, was opened in October 2011, followed by a new Community Development Centre in January 2013 and a new school playground and refurbished baseball diamond in the summer of 2013. A new police detachment was opened in September 2015.  Dozens of community members have completed the local detox program and are in the process of healing. Some are upgrading their education through Wahsa Education Centre. Others have moved off reserve to pursue post-secondary degrees. Outside organizations have also been part of this process of renewal, including community safety initiatives (in partnership with Little Black Bear & Associates), computer investments (One Laptop Per Child program), skating programs (through Right to Play), and a baseline community well-being survey on local values, concerns and expectations related to the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of potential nearby mineral and associated infrastructure development (funded by the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development and Mines).

Figure 6: Kevin C. Sagutcheway Memorial Nursing Station

Figure 7: Opening of Community Development Centre, January 2013

Indeed, the single largest economic opportunity lies in the “Ring of Fire” mineral belt, northeast of EFN, which has been described by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce as “an unparalleled opportunity for the province to diversify its economy and solidify its place as a global leader in mining and mining technology” (quoted in the Toronto Star , Feb. 20, 2014). The Ring of Fire is a 5,000 square kilometre area thought to contain $60 billion worth of minerals, including copper, gold, nickel, platinum, zinc, and chromite (a rare valuable mineral used to make stainless steel). By 2012, 30,000 claims had been staked in the region by 35 prospecting companies. Under Ontario legislation (the Far North Act, 2010), Section 35 of the Constitution Act (1982), and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007), they are required to negotiate agreements with the local First Nation communities before proceeding. This includes Eabametoong First Nation and eight other First Nation communities affiliated with the Matawa Tribal Council (for more information, visit http://www.matawa.on.ca).

In the first decade of Ring of Fire mining activity, it is estimated that 5,500 full-time jobs could be created. The Province of Ontario anticipates $2 billion in tax revenue. In addition to a fair share of jobs and profits, Eabametoong First Nation and its neighbours expect to benefit from (and be part of the construction of) an all-season road and/or rail line and power transmission lines. However, they first and foremost have deep concerns about environmental impacts and long-term sustainability. Moreover, community members would require sufficient time and resources to acquire the skills training necessary to benefit from any employment opportunities.

Given the high stakes of this development, in 2013, the Matawa First Nations hired former Ontario Premier Bob Rae as Chief Negotiator to develop a negotiating framework agreement with the Province of Ontario. After months of talks, it has been agreed that the process will consist of four negotiating tables, focusing respectively on environmental sustainability, community infrastructure, social issues, and resource revenue-sharing.

Figure 8: Ring of Fire Map [* from CBC News, Jan. 3, 2014]

To prepare for these developments, in the fall of 2013, some EFN community members took a new eight-week Mining Readiness Training Program, being offered through the Ring of Fire Aboriginal Training Alliance (RoFATA), an innovative partnership between Confederation College, Noront Resources Ltd., and Kiikenomaga Kikenjigewen Employment & Training Services (KKETS), the Matawa First Nations Tribal Council employment and training organization ( http://www.netnewsledger.com/2014/01/20/matawa-students-start-ring-of-fire-training-program/#sthash.qLC0Sj5e.dpuf ).

A Negotiations Framework Agreement was signed by the Matawa Chiefs and provincial representatives in March 2014.  Currently, negotiations are focused on protections for the environment, addressing socio-economic issues, infrastructure needs, and a revenue sharing agreement. While Ring of Fire development has slowed, the extra time is allowing EFN a chance to become better prepared for various pressures the community is anticipating when mining development is ready to proceed.

Beyond the Ring of Fire, EFN has learned from past economic initiatives, and is open to a diverse range of development options. Community members have proposed ideas for individual businesses (such as a small motor and appliance repair shop, a hair salon, and a taxi service), community businesses (including sustainable forestry and value-added forest products, alternative energy, a variety of tourism ventures, a healing lodge, and a community garden and greenhouse), and off-reserve businesses (whether owned by band members or the community, or in partnership or joint venture with private companies). For instance, in May 2013, EFN and two other First Nation communities signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Wisk Air Helicopters (the main supplier of helicopter services for mining companies in the region). In August 2013, a five-day training boot camp was held at the remote fly-in Ozhiski Lake Camp (owned and operated by EFN community member Weiben Slipperjack) for ten EFN community members interested in operating their own hunting and fishing camp outposts. These are just a few of the economic development initiatives being pursued locally and regionally.

Figure 9: John C. Yesno Education Centre

To provide more coherence to its overall strategy for economic development and community well-being, and in order to negotiate with outside businesses, EFN recently established an Economic Development Corporation. Its first task will be to develop clear processes and procedures and appropriate roles and relationships between the corporation, Chief and Council, and the wider community.

In 2013, Eabametoong First Nation elected a new Chief and Council, including its first female Chief, Elizabeth Atlookan.  Chief Atlookan was re-elected in 2015, affirming community support for her leadership and direction with Councillors Charlie Okeese, Clara Wabano, Ralph Shawinimash, Steven Atlookan, and Louie Sugarhead.  The people of Eabametoong are in a process of transformation. They are striving to heal from recent and historical traumas and are renewing their entrepreneurial spirit. They have always had creative ideas and found ways to survive, despite the obstacles. As the community website states:

Through the might of our First Nation we continue to evolve in the planning and development of our rich natural resources that will benefit our people and enable the kind of capacity-building that will help to build a strong and self-sufficient Eabametoong First Nation.


Pictures of northern Ontario – flying to Eabametoong



The People of Eabametoong – through the seasons

  



Photos of the community







View from Eabamet Lake

Mid-Summer’s Sunset on Eabamet Lake

References

Driben, Paul, and Robert S. Trudeau. 1983. When Freedom is Lost: The Dark Side of the Relationship between Government and the Fort Hope Band . Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Long, John S. 2010. Treaty 9: Making the Agreement to Share the Land in Far Northern Ontario . Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Wright, Lisa. 2014. “Ring of Fire must be a national priority: report.” Toronto Star , February 20.

 

[1] Source for information presented in the first part of this Community Profile:  http://eabametoong.firstnation.ca/.

[2] Retrieved May 22, 2016 from the Statistics and Measurement Directorate: https://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1429798605785/1429798785836.

[3] Statistics for residents living off-reserve are not available.