Visitors to Northern Ontario are often drawn by the majesty of the wilderness—and with good reason. But guests to the area may not get a complete introduction to Northern Ontario’s natural treasures unless they go to the people who know the land best.
West of Fort Frances, just north of the US border and south of Highway 11, it’s the Rainy River First Nations where locals are most closely acquainted with the land and its knowledge. The Rainy River Ojibway people have occupied this part of Northwest Ontario in one form or another since at least 3,000 BCE, and their intimate knowledge of the land is ancestral, passed down from generation to generation. At Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre, they invite visitors to celebrate the land and its extensive human history alongside them.
Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung means “the Place of the Long Rapids” in Ojibway, but it’s best known in English as the Manitou Mounds, a National Historic Site of Canada boasting the largest concentration of ancient burial mounds and village sites in Canada, ranging in age from roughly 2,500 years to more than 7,000 years old.
“The people of Rainy River First Nations have been here for thousands of years,” explains Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre’s Tanya Hunter. “If you look to our creation story, we followed the Migis shell and the food that grows on water—Manoomin (wild rice). This is how the people came to be here.”
Residents of the Rainy River First Nations live where their ancestors did, along the waterway previously known as Manidoo Ziibi, or Spirit River. Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung, the Place of the Long Rapids, offered an expanse of shallow rapids teeming in spawning sturgeon to thousands of years’ worth of residents.
These ranged from those known as the Laurel people (from 300 BCE through 1100 CE, during the European Middle Ages) to the Blackduck people (800 CE to 1650) to the modern history of Anishinaabeg people, known through different names over the years—Ojibwe, Chippewa, and Saulteux being only some of them. After the signing of Treaty 3 between 1873 and 1916, residents of the community began homesteading, building cabins, farms, and farming infrastructure.