Pimicikamak [pımətʃıkəmæk: IPA] is the name [Strictly, "Pimicikamak" is the Anglicized version of its collective name, in Roman orthography.] of one of the Cree-speaking aboriginal peoples of Canada. [It is also referred to erroneously as Pimicikamak Cree Nation.] Pimicikamak is "a people of rivers and lakes. The traditional territory of Pimicikamak is around Sipiwesk Lake in the heart of the boreal forest, five hundred kilometres north of [Winnipeg, Manitoba] . Flowing through our land is Kichi Sipi, the Great River." [John Miswagon, "A Government of our Own", Frontier Centre for Public Policy, 21 April 2005, http://www.fcpp.org/main/publication_detail.php?PubID=1043, accessed 24 September 2008.] Pimicikamak's traditional territory also is known as Pimicikamak. [Used in this sense it connotes the rocks, trees, animals, water, humans, etc. as distinct from a purely geographic meaning.]

Pimicikamak is related to but appears to be culturally and linguistically distinct from neighboring Swampy Cree and Rock or Rocky Cree peoples of the boreal forest. [About whom see: James G.E. Smith, "Western Woods Cree" in "Handbook of North American Indians", vol. 6, June Helm, ed., Smithsonian Institution, Washington (1981), p. 256: "Western Woods Cree ... encompasses ... the Rocky Cree, the Western Swampy Cree, and Strongwoods or Bois Fort Cree."] There is less than complete consensus about these and other such anthropological definitions that may have been confused by changing fashions in colonial naming. [For example, James Smith, in "Handbook of North American Indians", says " [I] t was apparent merely that the name Cree that was [in the late 18th century] extended westward to apply to these divisions, previously known by generic terms...".] The existence of distinct peoples in Canada, though constitutionally entrenched, [See: "Constitution Act, 1982", s. 35, Schedule B to the Canada Act, 1982 (U.K.) c. 11.] is controversial by reason of perceived implications for Quebec separatism. [See, e.g.: Lucien Bouchard, "A Visage Découvert", Lés Editions du Boréal, Montréal (1992); and see: "Reference Re Quebec Secession", [1998] 2 S.C.R. 217 (Can.).] The identities and roles of aboriginal peoples in Canada continue to be clarified. [John Borrows, "Uncertain Citizens: Aboriginal Peoples and the Supreme Court", (2001) 80 Can. Bar Rev., 15.]


Etymologically, the name "Pimicikamak" and related terms were understood as connoting "flowing across" [Archives of Manitoba/Hudson's Bay Company Archives, Post Histories, Post Cross Lake; the Post History is annotated "Cree name: PEMICHIKAMOW – 'flowing across'", possibly by the first Hudson's Bay Company archivist Richard Leveson Gower in 1934; see also D.A. Simmons, ‘Custodians of a Great Inheritance: An Account of the Making of the Hudson's Bay Company Archives, 1920 – 1974’, thesis, University of Manitoba/University of Winnipeg, 19 May, 1994, at p. 73.] . This is widely presumed to be the origin of the name of Cross Lake in Pimicikamak territory. [Note that there was another Cross Lake, now flooded, that was upstream of Grand Rapids, Manitoba, on the Saskatchewan River.] "Pimicikamak" is the collective singular name for the whole people [The singular noun is Pimicikamowinew; its plural is Pimicikamowinewuk.] and also the collective name for its traditional territory. The name "Cree" is not Cree; it was French slang [David Thompson recorded "The French Canadians...call them 'Krees', a name which none of the Indians can pronounce...", "Life with the Nahathaways" in "David Thompson: Travels in Western North America 1784-1812", Victor G. Hopwood, ed., Macmillan of Canada, Toronto (1971), p. 109.] , and has become part of the English language. Crees generally referred to themselves as Nahathaway [" [T] heir native name", see "David Thompson: Travels in Western North America 1784-1812".] (those who speak our language) or Ininiwi (real people); they called themselves "Cree" only when speaking English or French. [David Pentland, "Synonymy", in "Handbook of North American Indians", vol. 6, June Helm, ed., Smithsonian Institution, Washington (1981), 227.] Canada's history of suppressing indigenous languages, including aboriginal peoples' use of their own names such as "Pimicikamak", was controversial until 2008, when Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper publicly acknowledged and apologized for this policy. [Hansard, Wednesday, June 11, 2008, Stephen Harper, "Apology to Former Students of Indian Residential Schools", http://www2.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?DocId=3568890&Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=39&Ses=2, accessed 1 August 2008.] The name "Pimicikamak" appears to have entered into English-language usage by Cree-speakers in the 1990s. "The Pimicikamak Cree Nation" is a polyglot [See http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/polyglot, accessed 4 September 2008.] and imprecise description of Pimicikamak, not a name. It is also known in English as "the Cross Lake Band", a description that may be confused with the Cross lake Band of Indians (now known as the Cross Lake First Nation). [See, for example: "Cross Lake Band", http://crosslakeband.ca/, accessed 4 September 2008.]

Traditional territory

Aboriginal concepts of territory are sui generis and do not correspond to those of Western cartography. [" [T] he fact that land occupied a central position in the traditional world did not necessarily mean there was a comprehensive monopolistic concept of power applicable to all matters, to every person and thing within a rigorously laid-out geometric boundary that was unique and fixed in space." Ghislain Otis, "Territoriality, Personality, and the Promotion of Aboriginal Legal Traditions", in "Indigenous Legal Traditions", ed. Law Commission of Canada, UBC Press, Vancouver (2007), p. 146.]

Pimicikamak's traditional territory is reported to have been the watershed [Typically, river basins were reported to be the basis of distinct peoples' territories in the region; see: Victor P. Lytwyn, "Muskekowuck Athinuwick: Original People of the Great Swampy Land", University of Manitoba Press , Winnipeg (2000), pp. 12 - 13.] of the upper Nelson River. [Margaret Anne Lindsay & Jennifer S.H. Brown, "The History of the Pimicikamak People to the Treaty Five Period", The Centre for Rupert's Land Studies at The University of Winnipeg (2008); this is consistent with the difference between the intended and actual boundaries of Treaty 5 in 1875.] It is located within the boreal forest or taiga of Canada. Like other indigenous peoples, Pimicikamak sees its spiritual relationship with the land as fundamental to its identity. [Ronald Niezen, "Defending the Land: Sovereignty and Forest Life in James Bay Cree Society", Allyn and Bacon, Boston (1998); and see Ghislain Otis, "Territoriality, Personality, and the Promotion of Aboriginal Legal Traditions", in "Indigenous Legal Traditions", ed. Law Commission of Canada, UBC Press, Vancouver (2007), p. 145, emphasizing "the importance of the material and cultural connection with the land that was often a sacred space and the very foundation of communal life."] Displacing indigenous spirituality through Christian missions was said to be "one of the most effective tools of assimilation" leading to "conformity within newly prescribed territorial limits." [Ronald Niezen, "Spirit Wars: Native North American Religions in the Age of Nation Building", University of California Press, Berkeley (2000), pp. 222-3.] Canadian law continues to recognize relationships of aboriginal peoples with their traditional (c.f., treaty) territories. [E.g., "Mikisew v. Canada", [2005] 3 S.C.R. 388 (Can.), http://csc.lexum.umontreal.ca/en/2005/2005scc69/2005scc69.html, accessed 18 August 2008.]


Oral history passed down by Pimicikamak elders says that Pimicikamak existed since time immemorial. Anthropological and archaeological evidence places aboriginal occupation of Pimicikamak after the last ice age "sometime before 4000 B.C.E." [Lindsay & Brown, History of the Pimicikamak People to the Treaty Five Period, p. 1.] European documentary records date back at least to 1768, when a map showed Pemichicomo Lake in the area known as Rupert's Land. [Andrew Graham, “A Plan of Part of Hudson’s Bay and Rivers Communicating with the Principal Settlements”, (1768) in John Warkentin & Richard Ruggles, "Historical Atlas of Manitoba", The Historical and Scientific Society of Manitoba, Winnipeg (1970), p. 95.] In 1770, Thomas Hutchins included the Pemmichi-ke-mè-u people on a list of tribes trading into Hudson Bay. [Sir John Richardson, "Arctic Searching Expedition: A Journal of a Boat-voyage through Rupert’s Land and the Arctic Sea, in Search of the Discovery Ships under Command of Sir John Franklin", v. 2, Harper, New York (1851), p. 37.] Famed explorer and geographer David Thompson overwintered on Sipiwesk Lake in 1792. [Joseph Burr Tyrrell, in "David Thompson's Narrative of his Explorations in Western America, 1784-1812", Champlain Society, Toronto (1916), lxvi-lxvii.] Peter Fidler charted the upper Nelson River through Pimicikamak in 1809. [Archives of Manitoba/Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, Journals of Exploration and Survey (1809), E.3/4, ff. 4 – 7; .] Pimicikamak made treaty (Treaty 5) with the Crown in 1875. In 1977 it was party to an amendment [An agreement with Canada, Manitoba and Manitoba Hydro dated December 16, 1977, informally known as the Northern Flood Agreement.] to address effects of the Nelson River Hydroelectric Project operations on its Treaty 5 rights.

Traditional government

Oral history recorded by elders in the 1990s says that in traditional Pimicikamak government the people were warmed by four fires. These were Kiseyak Otabiwinik (where the Elders sit), Iskweyanak (the women), Opimbatawuk (the runners, or youth) and Okaniskoteyawuk (the hunters & warriors; lit., the keepers of the gate). The first two of these continued through the 20th century. The Council of Elders may have been based on Midewin society practices introduced hundreds of years ago from neighbouring Ojibwa (known to themselves as the Anishinaabeg). Oral history from the Elders provided the continuing source of Pimicikamak temporal or customary law. The Women's Council governed family and community life during winter dispersal and summer gatherings.


Like other indigenous peoples in Turtle Island (the name for North America in many indigenous languages), Pimicikamak was constituted under spiritual law. These were passed down orally through stories and reflected in ceremonies and traditions of the Pimicikamak people. They formed part of the culture that enabled it to survive as a people in a harsh environment. [See: "Köppen climate classification", sub-arctic climate Dfc, Tom L. McKnight & Darrell Hess, "Climate Zones and Types: The Köppen System", in "Physical Geography: A Landscape Appreciation", Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ (2000).] Treaty 5, signed by the British Crown and by Tepastenam and two others on Pimicikamak's behalf in 1875, clearly were intended to and did amend this customary constitution. In 1996, Pimicikamak enacted its First Written Law which began the adaptation of its constitution to modern circumstances. [See: Galit A. Safarty, "International Norm Diffusion in the Pimicikamak Cree Nation: A Model of Legal Mediation", (2007) 48 Harvard International Law Journal 441, at p. 473."Based on ... inherent jurisdiction, the Cree ratified The First Written Law ... which laid the foundation for their adaptation of customary practices. ... It outlines the constitutional powers of the Pimicikamak Cree Nation..."] Since the 1990s Pimicikamak has made other written laws with constitutional effect in the English language, including a citizenship law and an election law. These are based on consensus. [Pimicikamak, "The First Written Law, 1996", http://pimicikamak.ca/html%20pages/Laws/Pimicikamak/First%20Law.html.] The government of Canada has doubted the validity of the First Written Law and written laws made pursuant to it but accepted the validity of one such law ["The Pimicikamak Election Law, 1999".] on other grounds.

The Winnipeg Treaty

In 1875, the Ministry of the Interior determined to extend the Crown's treaty relations to the peoples east and west but not north of Lake Winnipeg. [Privy Council Minutes, (1875) R.G. 2, Ser. 1, Vol. III, Minister David Laird, 2 July 1875, LAC, Privy Council Office, OIC 1875-0707, vol. 335, reel C-3312, access code 90, series A-1-d, vol. 2755.] In September, 1875, with Privy Council authority, Treaty Commissioners Alexander Morris [Lieutenant-Governor of Keewatin and the North West Territories.] and James McKay embarked on the Hudson's Bay Company steamer to several destinations on Lake Winnipeg to make a treaty whose terms, boundaries and signatories were essentially predetermined. [Alexander Morris, "The Treaties of Canada with the Indians", Belfords , Clarke & Co., Toronto (1880), pp. 145 et seq.; Morris named it the Winnipeg Treaty.] The York boat trade via the Hayes River and York Factory on Hudson Bay having collapsed in competition with trade via the Mississipi river, Indians living at Norway House "whose occupation was gone, owing to supplies being brought in by way of the Red River of the North, desired to migrate to the western shore of Lake Winnipeg ...". [Alexander Morris, "The Treaties of Canada with the Indians", Belfords , Clarke & Co., Toronto (1880).] Morris tells that upon arriving at Norway House, "We found that there were two distinct bands of Indians, the Christian Indians of Norway House, and the Wood or Pagan Indians of Cross Lake." The latter were represented by Tepastenam. Pimicikamak evidently persuaded the Commissioners to include it in Treaty 5, signed on 24 September 1875. [Lindsay & Brown, The History of the Pimicikamak People to the Treaty Five Period”, p. 87; J. Johnston, Map of Part of the North West Territory, including the Province of Manitoba, Exhibiting the several Tracts of Country ceded by the Indian Treaties 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 (1877), from Early Canadiana Online: http://canadiana.org/ECO.] Treaty rights are collective, not individual. Under Canadian law, aboriginal peoples may have treaty rights, bands do not. [Vickers, J.: "While band level organization may have meaning to a Canadian federal bureaucracy, it is without any meaning in the resolution of Aboriginal title and rights for Tsilhqot’in people." Tsilhqot'in Nation v. British Columbia, 2007 BCSC 1700, at p. 148, http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/Jdb-txt/SC/07/17/2007BCSC1700.pdf, accessed 27 August 2008.]

Other Treaties with the Crown

Pimicikamak and the government of Manitoba [See, e.g.,: http://www.gov.mb.ca/hansard/hansard/2nd-37th/vol_051b/h051b.html, accessed 5 August 2008.] both regard a 16 December 1977 agreement [http://nfa-arb.org/agmt/, accessed 18 August 2008.] with Canada and Manitoba Hydro [Known colloquially as the Northern Flood Agreement.] as a modern-day treaty. [Warren Allmand, the Minister of the government of Canada responsible for its approval of the agreement has publicly expressed the same view; see: Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, Evidence, Warren Allmand, March 9, 1999, http://cmte.parl.gc.ca/cmte/committeepublication.aspx?sourceid=51970, accessed 30 November 2006; see also: Report of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba, Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission, November, 1999, http://www.ajic.mb.ca/volumel/chapter5.html#24; accessed 5 August 2008.] Pimicikamak regards an 8 May 1998 document signed by representatives of Canada, Manitoba and Manitoba Hydro as a treaty. From the colonial perspective, some treaties with aboriginal peoples have been termed "a different method of expropriation". [Patricia Seed, "Three Treaty Nations Compared: Economic and Political Consequences for Indigenous People in Canada, the United States and New Zealand", in "Natives & Settlers - Now & Then", Paul W. DePasquale, ed., University of Alberta Press (2007), p. 17.]


Pimicikamak has a beautiful national flag. [Recent oral history tells that this flag appeared to the Secretary to the Pimicikamak Councils in a dream.]


Like other indigenous peoples that have existed for a long time, Pimicikamak has a body of oral customary law. [In "R. v Secretary of State For Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs", [1982] 2 All E.R. 118 (U.K.), Lord Denning said, "These customary laws are not written down. They are handed down by tradition from one generation to another. Yet beyond doubt they are well established and have the force of law within the community." In "Campbell v. British Columbia", 2000 BCSC 1123 (Can.), http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/sc/00/11/s00-1123.htm, Justice Williamson said, "such rules, whether they result from custom, tradition, agreement, or some other decision making process, are 'laws' in the Dicey constitutional sense."] Since 1995, Pimicikamak has made several customary written laws. [They are in English, with the apparent objective that they be understood by non-Cree-speakers.]


Although Pimicikamak has four councils, [I.e., the Womens' Council, the Council of Elders, the Youth Council and the Executive Council.] Pimicikamak government is, like that of Switzerland, inseparable from the people, with strong elements of direct democracy. Its First Written Law provides for modern customary laws in writing to be accepted by consensus of a general assembly of the Pimicikamak public. [Pimicikamak, "The First Written Law, 1996", http://pimicikamak.ca/html%20pages/Laws/Pimicikamak/First%20Law.html, accessed 4 September 2008.] National policy is established by consensus of the Four Councils. [The Four Councils is a single entity comprised of the membership of each of the four councils.] The Executive Council [Until 1999, Chief and Council of the Band acted as the Executive Council "ex officio".] is responsible for giving effect to national policy. ["The Pimicikamak Election Law, 1999", s. 15 & s. 23, http://www.pimicikamak.ca/law/LAWoELEf_cor.DOC, accessed 6 August 2008.]

Women's Council

Historically, women appear to have had higher status in Cree societies than that accorded by contemporaneous European and some other aboriginal civilizations. "Cree women enjoyed a degree of autonomy that confounded European men who married Aboriginal women." [Lindsay & Brown, The History of the Pimicikamak People to the Treaty Five Period”, p. 53.] "Crees viewed with contempt what they conceived as harsh treatment of women by Chipewyan males." [Robert Brightman, "Grateful Prey, Rock Cree Human-Animal Relationships", Canadian Plains research Center, Regina (2002); citing Victor G. Hopwood, ed., "David Thompson: Travels in Western North America 1784-1812", Macmillan, Toronto (1971), see p. 131.] In the Pimicikamak world view, women are symbolically associated with water, life, the direction west, and the color red. ["Women are water people because we are life-givers. We are part of the creation, we look after our communities and children. Water is the lifeblood of Mother Earth, flowing through her veins, the rivers and lakes." Eugenie Mercredi, in "Power Struggles: Hydro Development and First Nations in Manitoba and Quebec", Thibault Martin & Steven M. Hoffman, eds., University of Manitoba Press, Winnipeg (2008), p. 97.] The Women's Council is viewed by some as first in precedence of the Pimicikamak councils. [Pimicikamak as a society seems in another sense to deny the idea of precedence.] The reason given is that all members of the Councils received the gift of life from women, beginning the circle of life. ["Contra": they also received that gift, so the circle has no beginning.] Consistent with their historical status, the Women's Council has key roles [Sarfaty attributes these roles to the influence of international human rights norms: Galit A. Sarfaty, "International Norm Diffusion in the Pimicikamak Cree Nation: A Model of Legal Mediation", (2007) 48 Harv. Int. Law J. 441, at p. 475, http://www.harvardilj.org/print/124.] in Pimicikamak government including control of elections ["The Pimicikamak Election Law, 1999", http://www.pimicikamak.ca/law/LAWoELEf_cor.DOC, accessed 6 August 2008.] and a veto over written laws. [Pimicikamak, "The First Written Law, 1996", ss. 6 - 11, (as am. by "The Pimicikamak Election Law, 1999", s. 123), http://pimicikamak.ca/html%20pages/Laws/Pimicikamak/First%20Law.html, accessed 22 August 2008; women also participate in the other three councils: Galit A. Sarfaty, "International Norm Diffusion in the Pimicikamak Cree Nation: A Model of Legal Mediation", (2007) 48 Harv. Int. Law J. 441, n. 178 at p. 476, http://www.harvardilj.org/print/124, accessed 18 August 2008.]

Council of Elders

Traditionally, elders were viewed as the lawyers or law-givers of Pimicikamak. They were the repository of the wisdom that enabled the Pimicikamak people to survive. Consistent with the traditional role, the Council of Elders must approve written laws by consensus. In recent times the fallout of the residential school system may have imposed difficulty on this role.

Youth Council

The Youth Council took on constitutional responsibilities in the 1990s. [Pimicikamak, "The First Written Law, 1996", s. 13, http://pimicikamak.ca/html%20pages/Laws/Pimicikamak/First%20Law.html, accessed 4 September 2008; Galit A. Sarfaty, "International Norm Diffusion in the Pimicikamak Cree Nation: A Model of Legal Mediation", (2007) 48 Harv. Int. Law J. 441, at p. 476, http://www.harvardilj.org/print/124, accessed 18 August 2008.] It appears to be regarded as a traditional council. [While not explicit "de jure" as for the other traditional councils, the Youth Council also may exercise a "de facto" veto over written laws; see the effect of: Pimicikamak, "The First Written Law, 1996", ss. 15 - 19; http://pimicikamak.ca/html%20pages/Laws/Pimicikamak/First%20Law.html, accessed 4 September 2008.]


The largest community in Pimicikamak is Cross Lake, now connected to the western part of its traditional territory by the Kichi Sipi Bridge. Thicket Portage, Pikwitonei and Wabowden are also largely Pimicikamak communities in the west and north of Pimicikamak traditional territory. [Many of their residents are descended from those Pimicikamak who did not take up residence at Cross Lake after 1875.] Non-Pimicikamak Canadian residents have rights under Treaty 5.


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