The Nipissing First Nation consists of historic first nation (i.e. aboriginal) people of Ojibwa and Algonquin descent who, following succeeding cultures of ancestors, have lived in the area of Lake Nipissing in the Canadian province of Ontario for about 9,400 years. They are referred to by many names in European historical records, since the colonists often adopted names given to them by other nations.
The Nipissing are generally considered part of the Anishinaabe peoples, a grouping of people speaking Algonquian languages, which includes the Odaawaa, Ojibwe and Algonquins. This broad heritage is likely the result of the Nipissings' living at a geographical crossroads, a watershed divide.
Lake Nipissing drains via the French River into Georgian Bay and, to the east of Lake Nipissing, Trout Lake drains via the Mattawa River into the Ottawa River. Living at the crossroads between two watersheds, the Nipissing were key to trade to the East, West, North and South of Lake Nipissing. The French portaged the watershed divide extensively to reach the Great Lakes by canoe from their settlements around Montreal on the St. Lawrence River.
To the west the Nipissing trade routes extended as far as Lake Nipigon and their Ojibwa neighbours, and to the north as far James Bay, where they traded with the Cree and, later, the English. Their trade network to the east extended as far as present-day Quebec City, also on the St. Lawrence. The Huron lived nearby to the South. Archaeological evidence shows that the Nipissing integrated some Huron styles and techniques in their pottery.
They obtained food primarily through hunting, fishing, and gathering. Their extensive trading likely allowed them to supplement their diets with corn, beans and squash as well, which were staple crops of many First Nations peoples. The land in the lake valleys would have supported some horticulture.
Today Nipissing First Nation lies between the city of North Bay and the municipality of West Nipissing in northeastern Ontario, Canada. Most members of the First Nation reside on the First Nations reserve of Nipissing Indian Reserve 10.
The Nipissing controlled trade routes that became increasingly desirable during the early colonial period, as the French proved a large market for the inland pelts. The Iroquois, based south of Lake Ontario, executed military campaigns against the Huron and Nipissing in the competition for furs. By 1647, the Nipissing regrouped in the Lake Nipigon area. The Nipissing continued to use their historical trade routes, but at greater risk. By 1670, the Nipissing are documented to have returned to Lake Nipissing.
By the early 19th century, the Europeans had started their own trapping of the area in and around Lake Nipissing, rather than relying on pelts brought by First Nations peoples. This competition resulted in fewer pelts available to the Nipissing and other First Nation peoples in the area.
In 1850 the Nipissing signed the Robinson Huron Treaty with the Canadian representatives of the British Crown. In the face of increasing European encroachment by settlers, they wanted to confirm their claim to the north shores of Lake Nipissing and its main waterways.
Traditionally, the Nipissing nation was structured around families and clans (or doodems). The five doodems were: Blood (Miskwaa'aa (recorded as "Miskouaha")), Birchbark (Wiigwaas), Heron (Ashagi (recorded as "Outchougai")), Beaver (Amikwaa (recorded as "Amicois" or as "Nez Percez")), and Squirrel. During the period of the clans' early contact with the Europeans, the Blood, Birchbark, and Squirrel clans were located on and about Lake Nipissing, the Heron clan resided primarily on Lake Nipissing but also on lands extending southward to the eastern coast of Lake Huron's Georgian Bay, and the Beaver clan was located on the northern coast of Georgian Bay, adjacent to Heron territory.
Each clan was subdivided along family lines, with each family consisting of about thirty people; the "head man" was usually the patriarch of the family. The head men of these semi-autonomous doodem met in council to decide on the rules by which the larger nation would operate. They governed independently but at the same time cooperatively, as part of Nipissing Nation as a whole. They respected a person's right to decide individual paths, whether a man or a woman.
The Nipissing are a very spiritual people and traditionally used many natural medicines. Their extensive spiritual life featured interment ceremonies for the dead.
As of February, 2009, Nipissing First Nation had a total registered population of 2,201 people, of which 886 lived on their own Reserve. The 2001 Canadian Census recorded 1,378 people lived on Nipissing 10 Indian Reserve.
The current governance of the Nipissing First Nation is elected under the custom electoral system, consisting of a chief, deputy chief and six councilors. The current council consists of Chief Marianna Couchie and Deputy Chief June Commanda, along with Councillors Doug Chevrier, Arnold May, Darrell McLeod, Brian Couchie, Zachary Beaudette and Eric "Ric" Stevens. Their three-year term ends July 31, 2012.
The Nipissing First Nation's council is a member of Waabnoong Bemjiwang Association of First Nations, which is a regional chiefs' council. The First Nation is also a member of the Union of Ontario Indians, a tribal political organization representing many of the Anishinaabe First Nations in central and southern Ontario.
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