Last Friday afternoon, Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung was deemed what many in the district already knew—a site of national historic significance.
Local MP Robert Nault, the minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, unveiled the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque on behalf of Heritage minister Sheila Copps, who could not attend.
“I’m extremely delighted to be here. It gives me the opportunity to be here as the representative of the Canadian government,” Nault said.
“The Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung site holds deep cultural and spiritual meaning to Ojibway and other First Nation groups across the country,” he added.
“It is a link among the lives of those who created the site in the past, and those who cherish it today.”
Nault noted the importance of the mounds is expressed in the rich ongoing traditions of the Ojibway people.
“Northwestern Ontario has been enriched by the preservation of this important historical site. People from around the world continue to visit in order to learn more about the rich history of the Ojibway people.
“The Government of Canada is proud to be part of their continuing legacy. We should cherish the cultures that came before the Europeans,” Nault stressed.
RCMP Cst. Ron Miller, in full dress, carried the Canadian flag into the tent—set up specifically for the plaque unveiling—to begin the ceremony. The Our Lady of the Way School choir sang the national anthem in Ojibway before Rainy River First Nations elder Annie Wilson said the opening prayer in Ojibway and then gave an English translation.
“We’re praying to the Creator to recognize what we’re doing,” she explained. “We’re not always thanking him for what we have. When I was a child, I had to respect everything.”
Prof. William Neville, a member of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, acted as emcee for the unveiling ceremony.
“We’re here to celebrate the cultural significance [of the mounds],” he remarked, adding the mounds have a central place in history not just for aboriginals but for all Canadians.
Rainy River First Nations Chief Gary Medicine welcomed the more than 200 people on hand for the plaque unveiling.
“It’s a very special day for the Rainy River First Nations community,” he said. “We want to retain our heritage. We worked alongside Emo, Chapple, and the Rainy River District.
“Today is a significant day and I’d like to welcome everyone.”
Chapple Reeve Bill Clink reminisced about the mounds when he was a boy.
“I’d like to commend the Rainy River First Nations for what they’ve done for this area. This area is a very special place,” he said.
“When I was a very young man, there weren’t very many people who visited,” he noted, adding he knew the local flora and fauna was very special.
“What you built here is above and beyond what I ever dreamed of.”
Former Rainy River Chief Willie Wilson translated the plaque inscription from Ojibway after the unveiling. Then the Rainy River First Nations group sang a traditional “Earth Song”—“to honour those words, the spirit of the place, the waters and the sky,” said musician Al Hunter.
Nault also presented Chief Medicine with a book on behalf of the federal government. The event concluded with a traditional closing prayer for the food by Wilson.
The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada is an advisory body to the minister of Canadian Heritage. Created in 1919, it acts as an independent panel in recommending whether persons, places, or events are of national historic importance.
In 1995, Parks Canada gave $1.3 million, through the National Historic Sites of Canada cost-sharing program, towards site protection, interpretive trail development, and construction of the historical centre and the traditional roundhouse.
More than 1,700 people, places, and events across Canada have been designated as having national historical significance.