Kokomis and the Devil

Five different channels and water bodies of Lake Temagami meet in the open stretch of water off Devil's Island. Unassuming winds often slip in through two or more channels, churning up the water into hazardous canoeing conditions that can swamp an unwary canoeist.

There is a small rock squatting on the shore of Kokomis Island (aka Granny Island), now private land, in the center of this stretch. Early in this century, members of the local First Nation left food, flowers or tobacco at its base whenever they passed, and never lingered long or dared to camp on the island. The rock bears a striking resemblance to a small woman. Big Paul was a Teme-Augama guide at Keewaydin in 1904. He cautioned the people at Keewaydin with this tale.

When the Teme-Augama First Nation came to Temagami, the area was dry and rocky. They prayed to Gitche Manitou, their great spirit, for help. He responded to their call by scooping up a great handful of water from the sea and sent it splashing down among the stones of the parched land. As it fell among the rocks and hollows, it splashed far and wide. The largest spill became Lake Temagami and the smaller splashes formed nearby lakes.

Their lives were contented and peaceful until Matche Manitou, a bad spirit, appeared. He made his home on Devil's Island and amused himself by annoying the Anishnabai with blackflies and other nuisances. After a time these activities bored him and he moved to the high granite ridge Devil's Mountain, behind the island.

The Indians knew they would not be able to tolerate his growing malice. To placate him or even distract him, they offered a woman of their band to be his wife.

Art rendering of sacred Kokomis rock

Illustration by Hap Wilson

Her presence only moderated his vehemence but did not stop his persistent devilry. She could not tolerate watching him drown hapless fishermen or hurt the people. They frequently quarreled as she did her best to stop him. As time passed and the woman grew old, the Teme-Augama came to think of her as their grandmother and good spirit, and they started calling her Kokomis.

The quarrels grew into fights and eventually, one day escalated into a fierce battle. Matche Manitou broke pieces of rock from the mountain side and hurled them her, chasing her up and down the mountain and over neighboring ridges.

When he began to overcome her, she sought refuge in the lake, knowing he could not stand the cold, pure water. She swam away as pieces of the mountain landed around her, forming new islands. Eventually, she became exhausted and unable to swim further. She crawled up on the shore of Kokomis Island.

Out of the water, she was vulnerable. Matche Manitou turned her to stone.

There Kokomis has sat since, a melancholy figure of a little woman, her head bowed in her hands. Fed up, Matche Manitou disappeared and was never seen again.

From The Keewaydin Way by Brian Back

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