Photo: Temagami elder Alex Mathias with Mary Carol

Alex (above) and now-deceased partner Mary Carol Hill. Alex made the drum out of hollowed cedar and deer hide, and the stick uses moose hide.

Photo: Alex Mathias Collection


Facing religious persecution

Aboriginal ceremonies held to save sacred site

Building a bark canoe

The mouth of the Obabika River, where he lives, has been inhabited, according to archeologist Thor Conway, "for two to three thousand years." Alex's first language is Ojibway and he is one of about half a dozen speakers left in Temagami.

In 1999, he hosted Native-Canadians for a fall spiritual ceremony of fasting on his family territory near the sacred rock on Chee-skon-abikong Lake. He performed his first traditional, native wedding ceremony in June 2000. In September that year, Alex married Hap Wilson and Stephanie Aykroyd. 

In the summer of 2001, Alex shot a bear on Wakimika Lake that some believed was the Diamond Lake nuisance bear. As a status aboriginal he has the right to hunt and trap in parks. Pee-dan-kun, which means coming of the clouds, has been called a holy man and a mystic.

Canoeists are flocking to Alex and his wife Mary Carol's cabin on Obabika Lake like prospectors to the Klondike. In light of all this, it is not surprising that Alex has become the talk of Temagami.

Photo: Old Misabi and his wife Muh-jee-kway at their Obabika cabin.  ca. 1910.

Old Misabi and his wife Muh-jee-kway at their Obabika cabin.  ca. 1910.

Photo: Keewaydin Archives

A hundred years earlier canoeists recreationists, prospectors, fire rangers, surveyors found Old Misabi at the same spot, then center of the Misabi family community. Old Misabi was about 100 years old in 1900 and he was head of the family. The land was their sustenance, their universe. Mother Earth.

Neganikabo, an Ojibway elder who dispensed lore and wisdom, was a literary character in Grey Owl's later writings. Grey Owl biographer Jane Billinghurst believes Neganikabo was a composite of Temagami Ned and Old Misabi.  

Old Misabi was an Ojibway who came to Temagami in the late 1850s from the Shawanaga area of Georgian Bay, according to ethnohistorian James Morrison. As a young man, he trapped on the Don River, now inside Toronto city limits. In Temagami, he married into the Katt family and was given a portion of Katt territory as Misabi land. By 1874, the Misabis were permanently settled at the Obabika Lake site where Alex is today. This location gave them quick reach to a diverse hunting and gathering landscape. They grew a garden right there, the mouth of the river was a winter ling fishery and down the lake stood a sugar maple stand, rare this far north. As well, it provided good access to the major trade routes on Lake Temagami and the Sturgeon River and the trading posts on Bear Island.

Old Misabi's cooking wigwam at Obabika. ca. 1910

Photo: Keewaydin Archives

Photo: Old Misabi's cooking wigwam at Obabika. ca. 1910


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