Indigenous Communities

Boozhoo, Wacheya, Aaniin Greetings! - Welcome to Northwestern Ontario; a place which rests upon the traditional territory of 88 First Nations each linked together by one of the nine Tribal Councils, who provides technical skills and assistance to each community; and one of the three Aboriginal Representative Organizations, who represent the political aspirations, determined by member community Chiefs, to the various levels of Canadian government.

Why do we hear traditional territory so much and why is it such an important issue in Ontario? Ultimately, prior to colonialization (1534), groups of indigenous peoples lived here. They were the first peoples (Anishnabeg) of this land we now call northwestern Ontario. Northwestern Ontario is home to three main tribes which make up the indigenous population: the OjibwayCree and OjiCree tribes. During the 1800s, the government drew up contracts (otherwise known as Treaties) which permitted the sharing of land and resources, as well as, retained rights for indigenous peoples to hunt, fish and gather, as they had done for centuries; without limitations to a jurisdiction. These contract also identified a “treaty payment” which was a payment to each registered Indian; this payment was to ensure the well-being of the individual. This payment has not increased with inflation; however, much of the programming provided by the Ministry of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, could be associated with the original intent of the historical treaty payment.

In Canada’s history of colonization, there arose a distinct culture of people who identified as Metis. Members of the Métis Nation are comprised of descendants of people born of relations between Indian women and European men, during colonization. The initial offspring of these unions were of mixed ancestry. The genesis of a new Aboriginal people called the Métis resulted from the subsequent intermarriage of these mixed ancestry individuals.

There are a number of organizations within Northwestern Ontario who are mandated to provide resources, support and financial capacity for Indigenous peoples. These organizations have been created and maintained to assist in fulfilling Canada’s commitment to reconciliation; to enhance cultural retention, as well as, providing resources which eliminate the barriers to an equal and fair quality of life in Canada; denied to many Indigenous peoples by the intergenerational, traumatic effects of the residential school system.


Despite a continuously difficult struggle, the Indigenous peoples in Northwestern Ontario are made up of a broad, yet very young demographic. Elders, who have priceless knowledge of the lands, traditions and stories; working age generations fighting discrimination, post-traumatic stress, and still working hard to ensure their children have the ability to succeed and a young, vibrant population, rediscovering first languages, traditions, ceremonies and other activities giving them the strength to succeed. Much like Quebec and the Francophone population fights hard to retain their French language and culture, the Indigenous peoples, in Northwestern Ontario are working hard to ensure the same. There are youth councils (NANGCT#3Seeds of ChangeFeathers of HopeDilicoTBIFC), activist groups and many inter-ministerial and inter-agency committees working together to find a path toward reconciliation and a thriving, self-sustaining way-of-life for the Canada’s Indigenous peoples. 

The physical landscape of Northwestern Ontario is vast. Treaty #9 and the Ontario portion of Treaty #5, also known as Nishnawbe Aski Nation, is comprised of 49 First Nations and encompasses over two thirds of Ontario’s land mass. NAN’s objectives are:

  • Implementing advocacy and policy directives from NAN Chiefs-in-Assembly
  • Advocating to improve the quality of life for the people in areas of education, lands and resources, health, governance, and justice
  • Improving the awareness and sustainability of traditions, culture, and language of the people through unity and nationhood
  • Developing and implementing policies which reflect the aspirations and betterment of the people
  • Developing strong partnerships with other organizations

NAN continues to work to improve the quality of life for the Nishnawbe Aski territory.  Through existing partnerships and agreements with Treaty partners (governments of Canada and Ontario), NAN continues to advocate on behalf of the communities it represents for self-determination with functioning self-government.

Grand Treaty 3

Treaty 3, also known as Grand Council Treaty 3, is the traditional government of the Anishinaabe Nation serving 28 First Nation Communities in the Treaty #3 Territory. The Treaty #3 Territory covers 55,000 square miles in Northwestern Ontario and eastern Manitoba. The Anishinaabe Nation of Treaty #3 have rights and responsibilities to the water, lands, and air in Treaty #3 territory. The Grand Council of Treaty #3's overall goal is the protection, preservation and enhancement of Treaty and Aboriginal rights.
Grand Council Treaty #3 is protects, preserves and enhances treaty and aboriginal rights by means of exercising inherent rights, sovereignty, nation-building, self-governance and self-determination.

The technical staff at Grand Council Treaty 3 are in place to:

  • Employ strategic approaches to designing governing models, service delivery and Resource management options
  • Develop capacity building plans to match self-government priorities
  • Link political direction and service delivery through policy development and law making for a national system
  • Propose implementation options for the realization of a National Vision
  • Promote new ways of doing business
  • Provide policy and administrative support to the network of programs and services that operate in the Anishinaabe Nation
  • Promote efficient, effective, transparent, and accountable Anishinaabe services
  • Identify gaps and overlap in existing service delivery and create plans to reduce gaps and overlap
  • Act as a Secretariat to the National Assembly and Grand Council
  • Provide administrative support to Chiefs committees

Union of Ontario Indians

The Robison Superior Treaty Group (RSTG) is encompassed within the Union of Ontario Indians (Anishnabek Nation) which represents 40 First Nations throughout the province of Ontario from Golden Lake in the east, Sarnia in the south, Thunder Bay and Lake Nipigon in the north. The 40 First Nations have an approximate combined population of 60,000 citizens, one third of the province of Ontario’s aboriginal population.  The Anishinabek Nation has four strategic regional areas Southwest, Southeast, Lake Huron and Northern Superior and each region is represented by a Regional Grand Chief. The Northwestern Ontario portion of the Anishnabek Nation lies in the Northern Superior Region.

The Union of Ontario Indians has its headquarters located on Nipissing First Nation, just outside of North Bay Ontario and has satellite offices in Thunder Bay, Curve Lake First Nation and Munsee-Delaware First Nation.  The UOI:

  • delivers a variety of programs and services, such as Health, Social Services, Education, Intergovernmental Affairs and Treaty Research, and does this with a compliment of approximately 70 staff members.
  • provides the necessary forum for collective First Nation actions on housing and other issues through their Chiefs in Assembly, and direction to the Grand Council Chief by way of resolution
  • is governed by a board of directors and has a Grand Council Chief and a Deputy Grand Council Chief that carry the day-to-day leadership responsibilities.

Nokiiwin Tribal Council represents six of the UOI communities from the Robinson Superior Treaty around the shores of Lake Superior and Lake Nipigon, with a population of 5,990. The Robinson Superior Treaty was the first treaty in Canada to explicitly protect the hunting and fishing rights of Indigenous people in the territory.


Travelling the Landscape in Northwestern Ontario can be challenging. There are 25 First Nations in Ontario’s remote north. These communities are only accessible by air and/or winter road. Flight costs range from 100-1200 dollars depending on community and airline used. There are three main passenger airlines used while travelling in Ontario’s remote north: Wasaya AirwaysBearskin AirlinesNorth Star AirNakina AirThunder AirPerimeter Air and Air Creebec. Bus service throughout the Northwestern Ontario area is sporadic and can sometimes have long layovers in awkward places; however, there are three formal passenger transportation services currently operating in the Northwest. GreyhoundCaribou and Kasper. Travel between communities can range from an hour to almost 6 hours. There are organizations advocating for better transportation throughout our region such as Northern Ontario Municipal Association. More information is available here.

The urban hubs for Northern Ontario (Thunder Bay, Sault Ste Marie, Timmins and Kenora) are rich in resources, support services and cultural spaces. This can be challenging in more rural and remote areas however, most organizations have satellite offices throughout the region, so no matter where you find your home, in a First Nation community or one of the many municipalities, there are resources available to you.

Common Ojibway Phrases

Here are some common Ojibway phrases used in Northwestern Ontario:

  • Boozhoo - Greetings
  • Gigawabamin Minawah - See you again
  • Miigwech - Thank you
  • Nini - Man
  • Ikwe - Woman
  • Binoojiing - Child
  • Owayseug - Animals
  • Ahki - Earth
  • Nibi - Water

List of Organizations

Anishnawbe-Mushkiki Health Access Centre
Thunder Bay Indian Friendship Centre
Beendigen Incorporated
Shkoday Abinojiiwak Obimiwedoon AHS
Kinna-Aweya Legal Clinic
Native People of Thunder Bay Inc.
Wequedong Lodge
Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA)
Biidaajiwun Inc (Women’s Local)
Ka Na Chi Hih Solvent Abuse Treatment Centre
Anishnawbek Employment and Training
Mamowenchike Family Development Centre
Dennis Franklin Cromarty School
Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corp.
Regional Multicultural Youth Association
DILICO Anishnawbek Family Care
Seven Generations Education Institute
Matawa First Nations Management/Education Services
Metis Nation of Ontario 
Red Sky Independent Metis Nation
Oshki Pimache O Win Education and Training
Nishnawbe Aski Development Fund
Nishnawbe Aski Legal Services
Union of Ontario Indians
Thunder Bay Police Services
Nishnawbe Aski Nation
LU Aboriginal Initiatives
Negahneewin College of Indigenous Studies
Homelessness Partnering Strategy - Service Canada
Ontario Aboriginal Affairs
City of Thunder Bay
Lakehead Public Schools
TBay District Catholic School Board
Thunder Bay Urban Aboriginal Strategy

Useful Links