Community Profile

   Sandy Lake First Nation - Community Profile

Sandy Lake - Present Day

Sandy Lake, Ontario is an isolated reserve with a land base of approximately 17 sq. miles and a population of 2057. Neh gaaw saga'igan is the local translation of Sandy Lake. The name Wabitiquayang, which refers to the short narrow river between Sandy Lake and Finger Lake, was used in the mid 1900's.}

Political Structure

Sandy Lake First Nation, an independent First Nation, is governed by an elected Chief, a Deputy Chief and (8) eight councilors. An appointed Elder's Council regularly attend the First Nation Band Council meetings to witness and advise on decisions and resolutions of all matters and issues encountered and dealt with by the elected First Nation Band Council.
We are not affiliated with any Tribal Councils. Although independent Sandy Lake is affiliated with Nishnawbe Aski Nation, a political native organization representing a majority of Northern Ontario First Nations.

Community Resources

Sandy Lake currently has two new schools, an elementary school and high school with an annual enrolment of approximately 600 students. There is an adult learning centre providing distant education.

SLHDP Researchers, Dr. Harris and Dr. Zinman, in front of the Sandy Lake Nursing Station

There is Nishnawbe Aski Police Service, Nursing Station, Community Development Services Corporation, six Christian churches, a Radio & TV Station, Fire Hall, Motel, a rehabilitative Children Centre, Tikinagan Child and Family Services, a northern store four general and convenience stores, three gas bars, a community sports complex, a year round hockey arena, several neighbourhood ball fields and a site for the music festival and treaty days.

Geographical Location

Ne gaaw saga' igan (Sandy Lake) is approximately 225 km northeast of Red Lake and approximately 1000 km northwest of Thunderbay. Sandy Lake is remote accessible only by air except for 2-3 months in the winter. There are a number of small carriers that provide scheduled air service. Sandy Lake is accessible by road only in the winter when the winter ice road is completely frozen.

The main community is located on the northwest end of Sandy Lake, on the southern shore of the rivermouth feeding into Finger Lake on Cobham River. Sandy Lake is on the main Severn River system which enters north northwest and exits east leading to Hudson's Bay. There are numerous creeks in the surrounding area that are used as hunting grounds and traplines.

Historical Background

As late as 1897, "Big" Sandy Lake was considered "as inaccessible as the North Pole". It was an area distant from main trade routes, the closest Hudson Bay posts were located at Island Lake to the west and at Big Trout Lake to the east. This vast expanse of lakes and forests were the hunting grounds of the Little Suckers (referring to a type of fish) and Crane Clans, the ancestors of most of the Sandy Lake and Deer Lake people.

In the last decades of the 1800's, the leading man of the Little Suckers was the famous Jake Fiddler, or 'South Wind'. Jake Fiddler was a great medicine man, conjurer and healer of the people. It is known he visited the May-May-quay-shi-wok in the rock cliffs. He cured the whitefish in South Trout of worms and once he brought back the sturgeon to Cobham Falls. The leading man of the Cranes was Papmekeesikquap at this time.

When Jake Fiddler died in 1907, his son Robert Fiddler became Ogemakan (Chief) and in 1910 he signed an adhesion to Treaty Number Five for his people at Deer Lake. The Little Suckers remained at Deer Lake until 1926 when Robert Fiddler decided to establish the reserve for his people at the mouth of Finger Lake at "Big" Sandy Lake. This location was chosen because it was a well forested area and had ground suitable for root crops. When Robert Fiddler and the Little Suckers arrived at Sandy Lake they joined the Cranes, the Harper, Kakegamic, Kakepetum and Linklater families who have been settled on "Big" Sandy Lake since treaty.

When Robert Fiddler passed away in 1939, Thomas Fiddler became Chief until his retirement in 1968. During Thomas Fiddler's years as Chief, children started going out to residential school at MacIntosh and Sioux Lookout. Then in 1957, a day school was built at Sandy Lake and a Nursing Station in 1962.

Clans (Common Family Names)

The Sandy Lake people traditionally used the clan system. The Oji-Cree translation is "dodem". Clans are animals which families associate themselves with. If a member of the sucker clan meets another member of the same clan, even for the first time, they greet each other as brothers and sisters. It is custom that all children inherit the father's clan symbol. The five main clans and their respective surnames in Sandy Lake are:

Suckers Pelicans Cranes Caribou Sturgeon
Fiddler Meekis Kakegamic Linklater Mamakeesic
Goodman Kakepetum Rae


The Sandy Lake people's mother tongue is Oji-Cree, a blend of Ojibway and Cree. English has made its way to this community in the latter part of the 20th century although the dominant language is still Oji-Cree most likely due to the geographical isolation of the community.

Favourite Foods

The people of Sandy Lake were hunters and gathers and this tradition of living off the land continues. Wild game is still a staple in the diets of many people. Moose, rabbit, root from the marsh-make into tea/grind into powder/ edible paste.

Some of the food that are considered delicacies include moose nose, beaver tail, bannock made with fish eggs, rabbit soup (with rabbit lungs added after preparation), rabbit brain and fish heads. In the past, every part of wild game, big or small, was used - nothing was wasted.

Diabetes has ravaged the community in epidemic proportions in the last 35-40 years. Like so many other cultures the process of rapid cultural change has seen a rise in many chronic diseases. The traditional hunter gather lifestyle was an incredibly demanding one requiring superb levels of physical fitness. The traditional diet was very high in protein, very low in fat and carbohydrates. Now, many modern conveniences are available and these have discouraged many of the traditional physical activities that the people were used to in their everyday lives.

Favourite Pastimes and Sports

Today the people of Sandy Lake enjoy games and sports such as hockey, volleyball, softball, tae-kwon-do, golf and other modern sports. The following is a list of the traditional activities and games of the community.

Telling of Legends
Listening to elders telling the Legends was a common activity and one of the most favourite pastime of the people. It was through the telling of legends that knowledge was passed on. This activity was the central focal point of all education, solidarity and entertainment. Legends and stories are an oral history that were passed on from generation to generation. It was not until modern times that these legends were written down. In traditional times the elders could tell stories for two or three days without stopping. Today, the elders can only tell a few stories at a time. Therefore, the legends are rapidly disappearing from people. So believe this could be due to the fact that the legends are in conflict with Christian beliefs or the advances of modern technology. However, others point out that there are many similarities between the legends and the teachings of Christianity. While others feel the legends are sacred because they tell of our spiritual world and our understanding of creation.

Traditional Games
The following are brief descriptions of some of out traditional games that were played by young and old alike.

Jooshiman was a piece of wood carved into a type of bat or torpedo shape. It was thrown underhand into the snow, made to glide quite a distance. The person who throws the jooshiman the furthest would claim victory. In English terms, it is called "snow snake" although it is not a direct translation.

While dogsledding was a form of transportation it was viewed as a form of fun when travelling by great distances to visit neighbouring camps.

One of the traditional games has some similarities to modern day baseball. Two sticks were staked in the ground about 30 feet apart. A ball was thrown to the batter standing at one of the stakes, who would hit the ball then run, with the bat in hand, to try and hit the other stake in the ground while trying to avoid being hit with the ball. Other players would try to catch the ball and hit the running player with the ball before the player can hit the stake in the ground.

Another game was "Jaa-wee". The objective of this game was to get to the closest to the target. One utilized plain sticks. Players would alternately throw a stick towards a target, usually a similar type stick, perhaps one stripped of its bark to identify it. The player who threw it closest would win. A variation of this game used bows and arrows.

Festivals and Gatherings
Treaty Days is an annual event to mark the communities signing of the Treaty. On this day the Chief receives $25.00, Councillors,s $15.00 and all registered band members receive $5.00. Traditionally activities and events were held when representatives of the Department of Indian Affairs came to the community and disburse treaty money. June 9, 2010 will be the Centennial of Sandy Lake Band's signing.

The Muddy Water Music Festival is an annual event that began in 1983 that occurs during the summer. This festival is a celebration and showcase of the aboriginal music talent of Sandy Lake and other surrounding remote communities. Other celebrity performers are also welcome to perform at the festival to provide the younger and inexperienced performers with the confidence and self-esteem to perform in front of a crowd on the same stage.

Traditional Social Gatherings

These social gatherings are traditional ceremonies that still very much alive today. These ceremonies have been passed on from generation to generation and continue to follow the principles, ideals and philosophy on which they are based.

The Wabinowin ceremony is conducted in a longhouse that is called a wabinowigumick. It is held in the autumn to celebrate the completion of another cycle of life. Traditionally this was an opportunity for the different clans to gather together to celebrate many things that have happened throughout the year. During the Wabinowin, the Weekwindowin and the Ogeemezhowin are also conducted.

The Weekwindowin, is performed four times per year, once for every season. The Weekwindowin ceremony is begun with a review of the past events, hope for a good future, a prayer and then the smoking of the pipe carried out by the heads of the clan. These ceremonies are held in mid-winter and mid-summer in order to bring together peoples various medicines and combine their healing powers for revitalization. Each weekwindowin is a celebration to give thanks, show happiness and respect to the Creator. It is customary to share the first kill of the season during the Weekwindowin. This would show the Creator our thanks and also ask for a blessing for the coming hunt, harvest and season.

Ogeemehzowin is the naming ceremony for a newborn child. The mother picks an elder who will name her child. The naming elder (geemehz) or godfather then picks an Indian name for the child that relates to the earth and people. After he says the Indian name, the child is passed around for everyone to kiss. All invited guests gather around with all the food placed on the floor in the middle. The pipe is passed around. This gives the child a sense of belonging and pride. After this, the feast starts and everyone enjoys the food that is available. The child is expected to offer tobacco to show respect. The naming elder is considered a guardian to the child. He gives the child advice and shares his wisdom throughout his life.

The Baby's Feast is conducted shortly after the child is born to celebrate the arrival of this child to this world. The ceremony begins with opening remarks about why there is a gathering from a host elder that has been selected by the parents. Other elders may join in with their comments on the occasion. When this is done, the host elder will pick up the child and talk to him/her about the world s/he has entered, the difficulties s/he must face and the joys of life. When the host elder has finished talking to the child about everything s/he must know to live her/his life in this world, the feasting then begins to celebrate this occasion.

When a person dies the entire community mourns that person's passing. On the first anniversairy of the death, a feast is prepared by the family to commemorate the person. All community members are invited to sit at the table prepared to mark this occasion. This helps the people remember the person who is mourned and provide some closure to the loss of the loved one.

During Christmas, a banquet is prepared on the floor in the middle of the largest room in the house. Plates are filled with natural foods, wild game foods, candies, cookies, nuts and other foods. Each plate is set to commemorate a loved one who has gone to the spirit world in years past and they are welcomed back to visit the living for one week. Plates filled with crackers were often used as a first offering to commemorate a loved one who had passed away within the same year.
On New Year's Night, a similar banquet is prepared on the floor in the middle of the largest room to bid our loved ones who have visited us for one week farewell for another year.

One of the new traditions as a result of the tradition of Christmas, every year, starting at about the 18th to the 21st of December, the community starts an array of feasts at a rate of about 2 - 3 per day or more. Almost every household takes part by having a feast during the two weeks of the festive season. The feasting stops shortly after the New Year. This feasting complements the spirit of Christmas in Sandy Lake.

The following Social Gatherings are some ceremonies that are not evident in the community any longer but still have significance with our heritage and culture.

The drum is very sacred tool in our culture and heritage. It has strong powers and can be used for good or for bad purposes. So only the elders are permitted to use such a powerful tool. It is not used as regularly as it used to be. On a rare occasion, an elder will perform a song with a drum.

This ceremony involved only women who took a piece of wood out to the bushes to offer it to the Creator, and brought something back as well. This ceremony represented the woman's vital place in the household as a homemaker whom asked for the Creator's blessing so that the home would be safe and warm.

This ceremony was performed by a shaman or spiritual person, whom erected a tent with dimensions approximately 3'L x 3'W x 6'H. The shaman would enter the tent to conjure spirits and speak beyond this world.

This ceremony is a form of weekwindowin that was conducted by trappers and gatherers. Trappers would get together to ask for a blessing from the Creator for a plentiful trapping season.

This ceremony involves fasting and a vision quest performed by young virgin man. The young man would venture out into the wilderness, possibly on an island, somewhere he can be isolated. This ceremony provides a young man with strong character, self-sustenance, spiritualism, humility, pride and respect for all things.

This ceremony is conducted for young women who are having their first menstruation. During this time, the young woman cannot see any males and must live outside the community in seclusion for it is a very important time for the young woman to figure out her place in life.

Famous People (Local Heroes)

Thomas Fiddler was the last traditional hereditary chief and a patriarch to the people of Sandy Lake. Chief Thomas Fiddler was born on the south shore of Big Sandy Lake, Ontario, in the year 1904, the fifth son of Robert Fiddler. Thomas Fiddler became Chief on October 15th, 1939, assuming responsibilities of Chief after his father's death, elected in 1940 until 1968. He carried a strong wisdom throughout his term as Chief travelling to distant towns and cities advocating for his people and the lifestyle of the north. He was bestowed with numerous awards and citations for his advocacy and participation in the development of governing structures in Northern Ontario. Chief Thomas Fiddler died February 5, 1987.

James Linklater also known as The Marten or Wabizhesh, was a great shaman and conjurer of spirits. He was known to use the "Shaking Tent" to make a connection to the spirit world to heal people from illness, speak to spirits, ask for guidance and assist in the various problems of the people. Locally, he was a well-respected man with abilities to cure.

Sandy Lake is renowned for supplying great native artists significant in the development of a genre of aboriginal art known as Woodland Cree.

Carl Rae, born January 18, 1943 - September 26, 1978, was a prominent native artist who travelled to large urban areas to display his art. His artwork was appreciated and renowned by the international art community.

There were many native artists from the Sandy Lake area to enter into this genre, to name a few there was "late" Joshim Kakegamic, Norval Morriseau, Goyce Kakegamic, Robert Kakegamic, Bart Meekis, Gordon Fiddler, Lloyd Kakepetum, Roy Kakegamic, Roger Kakepetum, and many others.