The First Nations people who called Bawating (Sault Ste. Marie) home when the Europeans arrived in the 1600s were the Anishinaabe. The oral history of the Anishinaabe tells that they once lived near the "Great Sea Water" and that they followed a sacred miigis or seashell until they reached Bawating.
This is what the Anishinaabe migration looks like on google view. Where do you think the starting point and end point are? Do you think any of those map names existed when they made their journey? Where is Sault Ste. Marie on this map?
Ojibway migration route. Imagery courtesy of Google Earth
What do the red lines connect in the painting?
The Anishinaabe elder Nokomis has said that the lines indicate that there is a relationship between the things connected. The lines show the direct relationship between the human and animal world.
Norval Morrisseau, "Migration" 1973 Anishnawbek 1873 ROM2005_4064_1
Bawating before the Settlers
What did Bawating (Sault Ste. Marie) look like before the European settlers came? Here are some paintings from the 1800s.
The Irish-born Paul Kane (1810-1871) made this painting on the site of an Ojibway village at Sault Ste. Marie in 1846.
Would you have liked to live here then?
How would you get your food?
How would people keep in touch with each other?
Where would you get your clothes?
How would you stay warm?
How did the Anishinaabe do all these things?
The Irish-born William Armstrong (1822–1914) was a Canadian painter who ended up having an unexpected extended stay in Sault Ste. Marie in 1870. This painting is of Anishinaabe fishermen using the dip net method to catch whitefish at the Bawating (Sault Ste. Marie) rapids.
The British-born Anna Jameson ( 1794-1860) visited Sault Ste. Marie in 1837 where she made this sketch of the rapids.
Once Anna Jameson ( 1794-1860) finished her sketch of the Sault rapids in 1837, she turned around and painted the lodge of the Anishinaabe man Wayishky.
Here is another painting created during William Armstrong's unexpected stay in Sault Ste. Marie in 1870. This painting is described as an Indian settlement at Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario with the canal in the background.
The American artist George Catlin (1706-1872) painted this canoe race that took place on the St. Mary's River in 1836.
In his Letters and Notes, Catlin said, “. . . one of their favourite amusements at this place, which I was lucky enough to witness a few miles below the Sault, when high bettings had been made, and a great concourse of Indians had assembled to witness an Indian regatta; or canoe race, which went off with great excitement, firing of guns, yelping, &c. The Indians in this vicinity are all Chippeways, and their canoes all made of birch bark, and chiefly of one model; they are exceedingly light, as I have before described, and propelled with wonderful velocity.”
An artist from Switzerland named Frank Buchser (1828-1890) painted this view of an Anishinaabe family at the St. Mary's River rapids in 1868.
How the Anishinaabe saw the world
It is a treasure to have the images above that show Anishinaabe life from the 1800s at Bawating. But we must ask if the European paintings depict life as the Anishinaabe experienced it? How do you think they saw themselves? How did they see the world? Here are some examples.
The First Nations people of the Sault Ste. Marie area made their art in many ways. Two of the most common ways were drawing on birch bark and painting on rock cliffs. To the above are the Agawa pictographs, paintings drawn on the side of a rock cliff on the shore of Lake Superior.
One often sees images of animals in First Nations art because, in their traditional beliefs, animals have a spirit just as people do. On the above is a closeup of one of the Agawa pictographs. The animal with horns and spikes along its back is a painting of Mishipeshu, a creature who is said to live at the bottom of lakes.
Norval Morrisseau, The Storyteller: The Artist and His Grandfather, 1978
Norval's grandfather was a tremendously important person in his life who not only raised him but also taught him all of the traditional Anishinaabe beliefs. Can you locate all the animals in the painting?
Artist: Norval Morrisseau, The Gift, 1975, acrylic on paper, Dimensions: 196 × 122 cm (77 3/16 × 48 1/16 in.), Credit line: Thunder Bay Art Gallery, The Helen E. Band Collection
What are those dots on the figures in the painting?
The dots represent the disease of smallpox that the missionaries unknowingly spread to the First Nations who had no immunity to it.
Art scholar Carmen Robertson has described this painting as a meeting between a shaman and a missionary. The green in the head of the missionary shows that he thinks with his brain while the green in the chest of the shaman shows that he thinks with his heart.
Norval Morrisseau, Man Into Thunderbird, no date, oil on canvas, Collection of the Art Gallery of Algoma; Gift of the Ontario Heritage Foundation
How do the man's feet tell the story of the painting?
What animals do you see besides the thunderbird? What is the thunderbird for the Anishinaabe?
Norval Morrisseau, Indian Woman in Ceremonial Headdress, no date, acrylic on canvas, Collection of the Art Gallery of Algoma; Gift of the Ontario Heritage Foundation
How many different colours are used in this painting?
Are there any animals in this painting?
What might the woman be looking at?
Norval Morrisseau, Indian Butterflies and Bees, no date, acrylic on canvas, Collection of the Art Gallery of Algoma; Gift of the Ontario Heritage Foundation
How many butterflies do you see?
How many bees do you see?
How many flowers do you see?
Why do you suppose they all have a similiar shape?
Norval Morrisseau, Heaven Dwellers Society, 1971, acrylic on canvas, On Long-Term Loan from the Algoma University Foundation
Are there any animals in this painting?
Most of the colours are similiar. What kind of feeling does this create?Peter Migwans, Big Eagle, 2013
What do you see inside the wings of the eagle?
What do you think the eagle is about to do?
The eagle seems very powerful. How does Peter Migwans create this feeling?
Why is the eagle an important for the Anishinaabe?
What does Peter's last name mean in Anishinaabe?
Peter Migwans, Four Men, 2013
What is the same and what is different about each of the four men?
What animals are in the painting?
What do you suppose is coming out of each man's mouth?
John Laford, Life of the Sault Rapids, 1980, acrylic on canvas, Collection of the Art Gallery of Algoma; Gift of Mrs. Elsie Jarrett
How many animals are in this painting?
How many are there of each kind of animal?
How many people are in the painting?
Which do you think is more important to the Anishinaabe, animals or people?
John Laford, Untitled, 2001, acrylic on canvas, Collection of the Art Gallery of Algoma; Gift of the Artist
What animals do you see in this painting?
Are there any people in the painting?
How are the birds the same?
How are they different?
What connects the animals?
How the Europeans saw the Anishinaabe
Here are paintings made of Anishinaabe people in the 1800s by artists from Europe