Thursday, November 12, 2009

I squeal to a stop at Windigoostigwan Lake

The southeastern shore of Windigoostigwan Lake runs along Highway 11. You can pull in right off the highway to stretch your legs. The lake empties into Lac des Mille Lac and its western end leads to French River. Windigoostigwan Lake was part of the old northern water route; Pigeon River to the south was part of the old southern water route; both start (or end depending on your travels) at Lake Superior. Both of these water routes are 10,000 years old as the First Nations used the waterways to travel around the region. The First Nations introduced these waterways to the early Europeans who came to the land to trade furs, explore, and map the land. In the dominant historical narrative these water routes have been seen as the way of the voyageurs, fur-traders, explorers and settlers, but in fact, these water routes pre-date the colonial project by thousands of years. So, the Europeans did not discover these connected river, lake and portage water routes.

Windigoostigwan means Windigo's Head in Ojibway; at least that is what Warwick S. Carpenter wrote in 1912. He was the secretary of NY State Conservation Committee; he went on a paddling and portaging adventure in the early 1900s and wrote up his travels, about the time Quetico Park was being made into a nature preserve. I have to ask folks who know Ojibway if indeed that is what Windigoostigwan means. My students at Seven Generations told me it has something to do with Windigo. Somewhere on the shore of the lake are cliffs where one can make out the head of man, writes Warwick S. Carpenter. The head of a spiritual being, the Windigo? The Windigo is a cannibal spirit being, very powerful and frightening, but the Windigo is more than that.

I walked up the exposed Canadian Shield,

up the ridge of stone sheltered by a stand of white pine, cedar, balsam, and black spruce.

At my feet was an emerald green map of moss

I walked up to the top of the ridge. I looked down. I was standing on the spot where Raven, Crow and Eagle tear apart their prey. Feathers of all colours, patterns and sizes lay scattered over the stone.

No comments: