The Saulteaux or Plains Ojibway (Nahkawininiwak in their language) speak a language belonging to the Algonquian language family; Algonquian people can be found from Newfoundland to the Rocky Mountains, and from Hudson Bay to the southeastern United States. Algonquian languages comprise Algonkin, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Cree, Delaware, Menominee, Ojibwa, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Sauk/Fox, and Nahkawiwin (Saulteaux). The name Saulteaux is said to come from the French word saulteurs, meaning People of the Rapids; this name refers to the location around the St. Mary’s River (Sault Ste. Marie), where French fur traders and the Ojibwa met to trade in the late 17th century. Amongst some storytellers there is a migration story that predates contact with the people of France and England. It relates the movement of the people to the west, where they began to settle and set up with their neighbours, the Lakota and Dakota, alliances which allowed for peaceful coexistence. It was during the fur-trade rivalry between the French and English that these alliances were broken.

With the fur trade in decline, the disappearance of the bison, and the increase of settlers of European origin, the Nahkawininiwak, along with other plains First Nations, began the treaty-making process with the newly developed government of Canada. Nahkawininiwak leaders signed, on behalf of their various bands, Treaties 1 and 2. Later, in 1874 and 1876, Nahkawininiwak were signatories to Treaties 4 and 6. These four treaties ceded to the government of Canada much of the land of southern Manitoba and southern Saskatchewan, as well as portions of Alberta. In return, the First Nations were promised annuities ($3-$5 per person per year), reserves, education, as well as hunting, fishing and trapping rights.

In Saskatchewan, the following First Nations communities have Nahkawininiwak speakers: Cote, Cowessess, Fishing Lake, Gordons, Keeseekoose, Key, Muskowpetung, Nut Lake, Pasqua, Poorman, Sakimay, Saulteaux, and Yellowquill. In addition, the following communities have a mixture of Nahkawininiwak, Nêhiyawêwin and other languages: Cowessess, Gordons, White Bear, and Keeseekoose. There is some movement to adopt the original name of Anishinabe, which is the name that the Ojibway people used in earlier times to identify themselves. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many of the ceremonies and traditional beliefs of the Nahkawininiwak were banned by law. In the 21st century some of these ceremonies are being revived, belief systems such as the Midewiwiwin are being reintroduced, and some Nahkawininiwak have adopted Plains ceremonies such as the Sun Dance.

William Asikinack

Further Reading

Peers, L. 1994. The Ojibwa of Western Canada: 1780 to 1870. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press; Tanner, H.H. 1992. The Ojibwa. New York: Chelsea House; Ward, D. 1995. The People: A Historic Guide to the First Nations of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Saskatoon: Fifth House.