July/August 2010 issue
In the past, the end of one First Nations territory and the start of another’s might be marked by a natural feature such as a huge boulder or a cliff.
||Read more about the history of treaties and disputes that shape the experience of First Nations on the border.
||Discover more videos, interactive features and photo essays about the Canada-U.S. border.
Defining the Canada-U.S. Border
On the frontier between Canada and the United States, weed whackers and wile keep the boundary clear and quiet. Read more
At Smuggler’s Inn, guests are encouraged to watch cross-border smuggling from the comfort of their rooms. Read more
First Nations’ Border Struggles
In a land with no lines, how do you define the end of one territory and the beginning of another? Read more
Lynx: The Cross-border Cat
Lynx don’t care about the line between Ontario and Minnesota, and researchers on both sides are starting to pay attention. Read more
Stanstead on the Borderline
Boosting security in the border town of Stanstead, Quebec, divides a peaceful community.
Ontario’s Elvis Festival
The King comes to Collingwood in a cross-border cultural exchange. Read more
Discover more videos, interactive features and photo essays about the Canada-U.S. border.
First Nations Face Border Struggles
In a land with no lines, how do you define the end of one territory and the beginning of another?
By Richard Wagamese
My Ojibwa family name is Wagamese. By itself, it
means nothing. That is because when the registrars came to
sign up the Ojibwa for treaty, they wrote down only the parts
of the names they could pronounce. Or they gave us English
translations, such as Redsky and Otter Tail, or English
surnames, such as Green, Kelly and Smith. Wagamese is part
of a longer phrase that translates to “man walking by the
|“There is no word for boundary in the Ojibwa language. There is no word for map either. There was only ever the land.”
The name refers to my great-grandfather. He is remembered
in the northwestern part of Ontario north of Minaki
for walking the 72-kilometre length of our traditional
trapline along the Winnipeg River in both directions in
three days. That river is the crooked water referred to in our
name because of the way it snakes from Lake Winnipeg
southeasterly to Lake of the Woods, close to the
Canada–U.S. boundary. It is the great landmark that allowed
my family to declare the boundaries of our trapline.
The shoreline is marked by bogs, marshes, coves, steep
cliffs and huge expanses of spruce, pine and tamarack. There
were no straight lines in Ojibwa culture, so there were no
grids or maps or delineations to assume or claim territory.
Instead, my people used the land itself.
Sometimes, the end of one family’s or band’s traditional
territory and the start of another’s was marked by a huge
boulder or a cliff. Other times, a bend in the river itself referenced
a boundary, even though there is no word for
boundary in the Ojibwa language. There is no word for map
either. There was only ever the land.
For the Ojibwa and other native groups across North
America, land could not be divided. It was whole, as defined
by the Creator. It was sacred, because the idea of wholeness
contained principles such as sharing, harmony and equality.
When territory was decided upon, it was an honourable
agreement based on those principles, and the agreement
became sacred, too, because it involved the land.
The trapline my great-grandfather walked followed the
twists of the river. There were beaver dams, muskrat lodges
and plenty of foxes, wolves, mink and game, such as moose,
deer, geese, ducks and rabbits. It was rich and bountiful in
everything our family needed. That was the other thing
that defined territory; no band or family ever arranged for
more than what it needed.
When I see the number of land claims negotiated these
days and the reams of maps backing up those claims, I
wonder how it all came to pass. The idea of the land as sacred
remains a native principle. But nowadays, we have learned
to see it in straight lines and value it in terms of the resources
and money it could yield rather than the spiritual principles
it gave our cultures.
There is a man walking by the crooked water. He stops
to enjoy the feel of the land all around him. There are no
boundaries between him and the world. There is only a critical
joining: balance, harmony, belonging. No one ever
needed a map for that.
Richard Wagamese is an Ojibwa writer and storyteller from the
Wabaseemoong First Nation in northwestern Ontario. He is the
author of One Native Life.
Related content and resources:
View Henrietta Haniskova’s fashion photos from Collingwood’s Elvis Festival and read a
with the photographer.
Drawing the Border
Read about how it took almost a century
of negotiation and compromise to establish the world’s longest undefended border.
Discover high-tech security on the border as a globetrotting adventurer takes a hike with his family through Waterton Lakes National Park
into the U.S.
|Comments on this article||View all comments (13) | Leave a comment|
I was born in Rock Island 1941 and grew up in Graniteville. I went to school in Beebe Quebec. I have tried all possible routes to find out the year that the old school was torn down and replaced with the Beebe Intermediate School. It is next to impossible to find any info on the Three Villages as I knew them from 1940 - 1960. If you could help me with the dates I would appreciate it. Thank you.
Could someone please point me in the direction of the 1955 Canadian National Geographic film? I'd like to view this for myself. Thankss!
I'm Canadian and I was standing on the Canadian side filming houses and stuff on the US side when a US border patrol walkd over and asked : What are you doing filming US establishments. Told him it was nothing - I didn't mean anything by it - I was a tourist, to which he responded : and why were you filming at the other border crossing? Free trade, did you say? Wasn't that bad od an experience though - but I never returned...
I'm one of those bordertown dual citizens. Grew up in Stanstead, had Vermont friends, went to the Drive In in Derby Line. Grandmother, Mother, and all of us have moved back and forth across that line all of our lives. Locals know to report. Gates do not bother us, American and Canadian border guards know us and treat us well. It's never been a impediment to the two communities, which really are one community without the constrictions. Most of which exist in outsider's perceptions.
After decades of normality the department of homeland security has 'Berlin Walled" this community fortunately the number of terrorists caught in this town has made it all worthwhile.
What about simply moving the border outside the city on both sides like the international peace park in North Dakota/Manitoba? Either side can drive into the area, but you clear customs when leaving from either side.
I'd love to see a completely open border (like the EU has inside the Schengen) but Canada's asylum rules might be a sticking point as would the US attitude towards guns.
The United States has bigger problems to worry about than a small peaceful town. The United States can't keep the Mexican border safe so why worry about this peaceful area? Like I said already the United States has bigger problems they should be worrying about!
I use to live on Canusa Street when I was about 9 years old. Our neighbours with their American Flags on the front of their homes always had different school holidays than we did. I noticed that when I was a kid. We always crossed the Street to go play with them. And, the Customs Officers on both sides of Canusa were always friendly... back then.
Lines of the mind. Closing the barn doors after the horses have escaped. Every one of the 9/11 attackers entered the States with permission of the U.S. government using government facilities… not slinking surreptitiously across the border through the reading room of a small town library.
Hiding out behind islands, in-ground motion sensors, hovering helicopters, spying on neighbours sharing a beer together… in the nine years since 9/11, how many nefarious terrorists have been nabbed crossing the street from Stanstead into Derby Line? Wouldn’t a massive wall down the middle of the town with spotlights, razor wire and patrolling armed guards ready to fire serve the same purpose and be more effective? Could that be any more – or less - ludicrous?
The Canadian Geographic film of 1955 prophetically acted as a snapshot of the past while nervously suggesting a future scenario no one could have imagined at the time. It’s one thing to slap down electrical tape to point out an imaginary line it’s quite another to effectively divide a community along ideological and political lines.
One question not addressed by the Canadian Geographic coverage is: Are the Canadian border agencies just as vigilant and reactionary as their U.S. counterparts in enforcing such a grievous act like exchanging a lemon-poppyseed cake with the folks across the street? Might one expect a Canadian SWAT team in a Zodiac to burst out from behind a rock to descend upon Grandpa and the grandkids from Vermont as they cast their lines for panfish?
Parenthetically, what WOULD be the reaction by Americans be IF Canada built an Israeli-style wall between the two countries? Could it be seen as a defiant sentiment of “Don’t trust US? We don’t trust YOU”? With subsequent hard feelings and ‘righteous’ indignation?
No one’s suggesting addressing security isn’t in everybody’s best interests. But in doing so, it needs to be remembered of what’s actually being defended: an imaginary dotted line that not only separates towns, but friends and families as well.
On a governmental level, that might not seem significant however - on a very human scale - dividing and alienating people is what led to the security measures in the first place.
I never heard of Stanstead untilhearing about the arena that is to be built in honor of Pat Burns, the only coach in the history of the National Hockey League to have won the Jack Adams trophy as Coach of the Year on three seperate ocassions. Way to go Pat