In 2012, I stood on a spit of land, essentially surrounded by Cedar Lake, Chemawawin people call, ‘The Old Post.’ Malcolm Thomas has fond memories of life here, before the flooding. “You didn’t have to travel far to hunt and trap. You could make good money trapping … $45.00 for a large mink. We also dug seneca root, a medicine that was sold by the pound. The land was good for growing things too. We grew potatoes, onions, carrots … lots of things. Life was good before the move.”
This was before construction of the Grand Rapids hydro dam in the early 1960’s.
Malcolm, born near Shoal River to Mary Anne and Cornalius Thomas in 1932, was on the land with his father at age nine. “Dad and I hunted and fished together; I really enjoyed trapping muskrat in the spring at Summerberry Marsh. By the time I was eighteen, I had my own trap line and dog team.
Don Easter, Malcolm’s maternal grandfather, taught Malcolm’s sons to hunt, fish and trap. By 1971, however, the commercial fishery was closed by the provincial government because of mercury contamination, due to rising water. Trapping proved frustrating; as water rose behind the dam, it flooded beaver and muskrat habitat. Eventually most trappers quit entirely
Malcolm continued, “I don’t like what the government did to allow Hydro to destroy our land. Now, people are dying. But we had to move to build this dam. If not for the flood, the land would still be good and our people healthy.” The people of the Chemawawin Cree Nation continue in their struggle to ensure a bright future. They have survived enormous changes that have impacted their lives and are working diligently to realize their potential — testimony to their determination and resilience.