Where did our Waswanipi people originate? Aboriginal hunters and gatherers have used or occupied the boreal forest north of the Height of Land in Quebec since the last glaciers receded some 6,000 to 10,00 years ago – time immemorial as we say.We Waswanipi eenuch·are some of their descendants. Our ancestors came in contact with Europeans in the 17th century and, over the following three centuries, European governments and commercial enterprises gradually took complete control over our territory and colonized much of it with migrants from their home countries.
Within this context, we can still ask the question “Where did the people who now call themselves “Waswanipi” originate?” Since 1976 our community has been located about 275km north of Val d’Or, where Quebec Highway 113 crosses the Waswanipi River; but before that, our home base was a trading post some 15 km to the west, on the island located in Waswanipi Lake.
From 1965 and onward there was a long and difficult struggle to reunite our people at its present location at Waswanipi River. Band members were much divided as to the best location for a new town site. Ottawa delayed because of worries about cost and the indecision of the Band Members. The Quebec Government of the day did not recognize aboriginal title and was slow to transfer any “Provincial land” – as they saw it – to Federal control for a new town site. The matter was only settled in 1975 after Hydro-Quebec had lost the James Bay Court case and the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement had been negotiated.
Site preparations for our new community began in 1976 at the confluence of the Opawica and Chibougamau Rivers – the headwaters of Waswanipi River. The first houses were occupied in 1977. Today it is the home of 1400 Waswanipi – proud beneficiaries of a hard fought for James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.