Misipawistik, MB

Grand Rapids

Our Land, Our Water, Our Life

Introduction

The Misipawistik Cree Nation (MCN) is located on the Northwestern shore of Lake Winnipeg and on the eastern shore where the mouth of the North Saskatchewan River enters Lake Winnipeg.  Traditionally, people from the Misipawistik Cree Nation have considered their community the geographic centre of Manitoba.  Misipawistik Cree Nation is approximately 400 km north of Winnipeg and is accessible by Provincial Highway #6, by air and by water.

History

Archeological excavations and surveys reveal Misipawistik Cree Nation has a long history of traditional fishing and was a place for trading and gathering.  Archeological findings of bone fragments, artifacts and chert flakes demonstrate that the community historically was a stable culture and had a functioning economy long before European cultures. (Mayer-Oakes, 1970)

The first documented explorer La Vérendrye was in the area in 1739. La Vérendrye established Fort Bourbon below the rapids in 1741.  This was the beginning of an important trade route with the Europeans to all points west.  The Hudson Bay Co. built its first tramway in the community in 1877 to help move equipment and supplies upstream and finally westward (McCarthey, 1988).
Traditional York boats were first used and were eventually replaced with steamboats that occupied a major role in steamship navigation on Lake Winnipeg in the late 1800’s.  This industry created many employment opportunities for the people from the community.

In 1875 Treaty #5 was negotiated at Grand Rapids. (background information to follow)

In 1886 Captain William Robinson of Selkirk began Dominion Fish Co. and North West Navigation, this would lay the foundation for a thriving commercial fishing industry that still continues in the community today.

Grand Rapids Hydroelectric Dam

Construction of the hydroelectric dam on the Saskatchewan River began in 1960.  Regrettably the construction of the dam resulted in the destruction of the rapids which was so central to life in the community and the lasting effects are still felt to this day.  The flooding of the Saskatchewan River delta covered 2200 km2 and destroyed important winter trapping areas and the Summerberry marsh (Loney 1987).  Fishing spawn blocked by dam damaged the fishing industry and commercial fishing was halted for a time as a result of high levels of methylmercury (Loney, 1995).  The lands and water surrounding Misipawistik Cree Nation have been forever changed.

Social Impacts

The social impact/upheaval resulting from the construction was immediate.  Along with the influx of thousands non community members also came the damaging effects of alcohol, violence in the community and tensions between the local community members and the workers.  Racism was now an active force in the community.  Misipawistik Cree Nation found themselves in an unfamiliar situation of being social outcasts in their own community, the community no longer felt like their own.  Other agencies and entities became more important than their own governance.  As colonization continued social structures were broken down.  Traditional lifestyles and health practices were lost and the value of collective responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of families and children disintegrated.
These abilities to harvest and share food had a deep cultural meaning behind these actions was lost and had lasting social impacts.  With the loss of traditional occupations such as fishing, hunting, and trapping, their economy was devastated.
The vacuum created brought in a flood of negative influence. Uncommon social supports such as welfare were introduced to our people to offset the loss of the economy.  Families became dependent on these supports, finding themselves in a cycle of dependence.  The transition to store bought food and packaged food attributes to the decline in their health.  Hunger is a sad reality as the high cost of food impact the comunity.

The resulting sense of powerlessness leaves in it wake a loss of self esteem, lack of confidence, feeling of incompetence and insecurity, and has led to a loss of sense of community.  The influence of outside jurisdiction has caused separated the people.  Families are separated by jurisdiction and location.  They became separated by their own river which was once their life of the community.  Individual’s personal struggles overtake their lives and there is nothing left for the community concern.  BUT THE PEOPLE FOUGHT ON.

Community Life

Misipawistik Cree Nation has always been and always will be industrious and self sufficient.  Children are taught to become contributing members of the community.  Many have returned to fight and to help those who are in need and still feeling the effects of the devastation.

The community continues to use the lands and water to support their livelihood.  Misipawistik Cree Nation people observe the Cree laws and codes of conduct that includes respect for all life, not taking more than is needed, responsibility for ones actions and individual rights that are only limited by infringement on the community.

When we were out on the land, we went in family groups.  We all went together. Everyone knew who was there and every night there was care taken that all had returned to camp.  During the day as people went out on the land they went in groups, no one went out alone. We were all accountable to each other. Some were digging root, some hunted, some went ahead to see where the camp was to move to.  As they went out daily, they decided as a group the night before which direction they would go.  No one decided their own direction, it was important so no one would get lost and people would know where to find you if you did wander too far.  You had to keep your word; you were accountable to each other.
During the days journey they called to each other from group to group so even if they could not see each other you knew about where the other groups were.

Everyone returned to the campfire in the evening, the groups came in one by one till all the groups were accounted for.  No one felt rested till all had returned to the campfire. Only then could they rest and enjoy each others company around the campfire.  They told stories of hunting, of fishing, and a way of life that kept them.  They laughed at their mistakes, taught lessons to the young, built up the men and women in their camp. Then all went to bed till the next day to start another day.
We are all children of Misipawistik Cree Nation and we all come under that call, it is our uniting force. This is our nation, our community; we can make it what it needs to be, The Great Grand Rapids.

In order to do that it will be not what we look at but what we see!
We could look at the effects of Poverty such as the alcohol, the drugs, the neglect, the broken families, the low income properties,
the abandoned children, the young people who have no purpose, different life styles and much more but it is what we see that will make the difference.

Do we see those who are lost and struggling?
Do we see those who are being left behind because of lack of education, opportunity, and support?
Do we see those who are being hurt, are hurt, who need a helping hand?
Do we see those who are alone in their need?
Do we see what we have to do to help those in our community that needs a helping hand, SO NO ONE IS LEFT BEHIND!
Do we see the educational systems that are needed to help those who need to see success?
Do we see the physical housing, health facilities and recreational facilities that are needed for ALL our members to have a full life no matter what side of the river they live on?
Do we see the power that each member has to help another member to rise up and walk in pride and confidence, whole and healthy?
Do you see yourself doing so?
Do we see our children happy and successful?
Do you see your need and the help there is for you?

We need to see the depth of poverty in our community and be willing to see where the needs are; are you willing to take your part?

Population

Our population is very young. The Median age is 21.7. The total membership is 1753 in May 2012.  34% are under age 15 years of age, of those 20% are under 5 years of age.

Labor force activity

Misipawistik Cree Nation has a labor force participation of 66.3% However, the unemployment rate if 32.7% compared to 5.5% in Manitoba

Social Development

Education in the community is still reflecting the effects of post traumatic events. Only 20% have completed a post-secondary education.  59% have not finished high school or post-secondary. Only a little over 33% of the population had attended school. There are still many dropouts and those that have graduated were prepared to take advantage of further training opportunities. The struggle to overcome poor mental health and addictions is one major drawback.
However many new initiatives have been put into place. Culture Camp, University College of the North Training Centre, Employment and Training, Adult Education are all being conducted.  There are also churches, Pow Wows, and other options for spiritual and mental health.

Governance

Misipawistik Cree Nation is governed by elected chief and three councilors. Elections are held according to Custom Election Code every three years called by Electoral Officer.

Economic development

Misipawistik Cree Nation has a community Action Plan with a number of goals identified. Its economic development priorities include hard infrastructures such as new business ventures both in partnership with neighboring First Nations.  Misipawistik Cree Nation businesses include MCN store, Pinesew Energy Gas Bar, Development Corporation, Telecommunication, VLTs, Restaurant as well as an increase in viable personal businesses

Future directions

The history of our people is one of hard work and self reliance. The unity within family and our community will help us to ensure that no one is left behind be it in education, housing or health and wholeness. Although we have suffered much, it only strengthens our resolve that no one is left behind. We are up to the challenge of addressing everyday issues the community faces recognizing the strengths and resilience that flows from our culture and values.

Key elements of strategic plan

  1. Education
  2. Changing attitudes
  3. Supports for members, families
  4. Value our youth
  5. Community vision and Leadership

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