Migisi Sahgaigan: A Nation with its Own Resource Law.

Forest Cutting Off Hwy 502
Controversial forest cutting off Hwy 502, near the community of Migisi Sahgaigan.

By: Ryan Suzuki

If you type Eagle Lake First Nation into Google Maps, and follow the directions, you will get lost. Migisi Sahgaigan is the Ojibway name of the community many know as Eagle Lake, and they are reclaiming their identity. Even Google has the community listed as Migisi Sahgaigan, representing the Ojibway language to the international community. Perhaps this is a step toward decolonization and reconciliation.

I arrived a month ago in Migisi Sahgaigan to train community members in journalism. I had never been here before, and it was a journey into the unknown. My new position with Journalists for Human Rights sent me on a whole new trajectory. Although I have shot social justice documentaries in several remote Indigenous communities, I have never uprooted my home and moved to a remote community. It is a big change from city life in Winnipeg, where my community and family support me. To be honest, it was nerve racking, but soon after my arrival I felt like accepting this position was a good idea. During the next 8 months working and living here, I hope to learn from both the people of Migisi Sahgaigan and this land. I also hope to share my experience and skills in filmmaking, photography and media.

Migisi Sahgaigan is a proud community, engaged in innovation and language revitalization. A prominent elder has been supporting the Ojibway language class in the elementary school to teach the local dialect. Language is deeply linked to culture and holds knowledge. The Ojibway language is complex, sophisticated and has intricate descriptive ways of knowing the land.

Anishinaabe tradition is alive and well in Migisi Sahgaigan. There is an immaculately kept sweat lodge just North of the community. It is a place to connect to the spirits, heal and learn the Ojibway language. In the summer an annual traditional pow wow is held. The youth also have a pow wow soon after the snow melts in May. Even though this is a small community it is an active and powerful nation.

As industrial development encroaches, Migisi Sahgaigan is working hard to protect the land and follow their traditional laws. The Domtar mill in Dryden has been pumping poison into the water, land and air for decades, only 16 kilometers away. This is the source of the mercury contamination that has polluted the English River System, resulting in neurological disease and compromised access to healthy food and medicine. The polluted water from the Domtar Mill flows close to but away from Eagle Lake, which Migisi Sahgaigan is on. There is a delicate divide protecting Eagle Lake from the poison. A terminal moraine ridge pushes the contaminated water to the North and West of Eagle Lake into Whitedog First Nation, Grassy Narrows First Nation, the Winnipeg River, Lake Winnipeg, the Nelson River and Hudson Bay. Despite the watershed hydrology, there is concern over the mercury levels in Eagle Lake.

Aggressive pressure from Goliath to begin mining gold in the area is an environmental risk. There is also a looming threat of nuclear waste disposal on traditional and ancestral lands. These industries disturb the bedrock and can affect underground water bodies. Fresh spring water and the health of Eagle Lake are at risk. Deforestation is intruding and the community is upset that the Ministry of Natural Resources is allowing the forests to be cut so close to the community. It is said that one of the last remaining forests in the area surrounds the community. Migisi Sahgaigan is actively fighting to protect the land, and enact Maanachi Totaa-Aki, their resource law.

Notorious forest cutting near the community of Migisi Sahgaigan
Notorious forest cutting near the community of Migisi Sahgaigan.
Photo Credit: Edward Pitchenese

Migisi Sahgaigan is relatively close to the Trans-Canada Highway and industrial development, yet there is a serenity and quiet as the sun sets. The peace here is a stark contrast to the busy city. Smiles are warm, and kindness and laughter are heartening. There is something special here. Perhaps it is the spring-fed lake, breeding the largest muskies around, or perhaps it is the people’s connection to the land. Migisi Sahgaigan First Nation holds the knowledge keepers, required to steward the land in a responsible and sustainable way for generations to come. Perhaps they can teach us that the land is sacred and is not simply a resource for a ravenous economy.

Eagle Lake in April
Eagle Lake in April


Community journalism training is an integral part of JHR’s larger Indigenous Reporters Program. In-community training in Ontario is generously supported by the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

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