First Nations Groups in Manitoba: The Anishinaabe

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Did you know that Winnipeg has the largest number of Indigenous language speakers of any city in Canada? Overall, there are 7,060 speakers in Manitoba.
Graph showing number of people who can speak an Indigenous language per Canadian provice

Statistics Canada

Although Anishinaabemowin (the language of the Anishinaabe) is one of the oldest languages in North America, it was never written down until about 40 years ago. The word “Anishinaabe” means “a good person”. You can find out how to say any word in Anishinaabe in this online dictionary.

The Anishinaabe

The ancestral lands of the Anishinaabe went from, what is now called, western Quebec to eastern Saskatchewan and south into the USA.
Ancestral lands of the Anishnaabe on a map
Source: Native Land Digital.Disclaimer: The Native Land map does not represent or intend to represent official or legal boundaries of any Indigenous nations.

The Anishinaabe organize themselves into clans, and each clan is given the name of an animal. You are assigned a clan based on your father, and different clans had different roles in society. Often Loons would be diplomats and Cranes would be leaders. The clan system prevented relatives from marrying.

Graphic showing Anishinaabe clans

Image by Atikameksheng Anishnawbek, Anishinaabe Dodemag. Used by permission.


Traditional Life

The Anishinaabe group includes the Ojibwe, the Chippewa, and the Saulteaux. These three Indigenous groups speak a language in the Algonquian language family.

The Anishinaabe fed themselves by harvesting wild rice and both gathering wild plants and gardening. They collected maple sap and made maple syrup. They hunted bear, deer, moose, and birds. They fished using spears and hooks and participated in ice fishing in the winter. They used birch bark canoes.

The Anishinaabe were unique for how they combined Christianity and their traditional beliefs rather than replacing their traditional beliefs with Christianity. Song and dance are very important in Anishinaabe religion as is the importance of bimaadiziwin – the ongoing circle of life. Both men and woman could join the Midewiwin – Grand Medicine Society. The members were believed to have supernatural powers and had prestige in their communities.

Petroforms in the Whiteshell

There is a fascinating example of ancient Indigenous culture just outside of Winnipeg in the Whiteshell Provincial Park. Take a virtual tour of these ancient rock formations, the Bannock Point Petroforms, from the video below:

Bannock Point Petroforms – an ancient sacred site, Travel Manitoba

The Petroforms are prehistoric, so the makers are unknown, but it is believed they were made for ceremony by Indigenous peoples in the Algonquian language group.

Amazing Anishinaabe People

Photos of Nahanni Fontaine, Adam Beach, and Kyle EdwardsImage of Nahanni Fontaine from The Legislative Assembly of Manitoba; Photo of Adam Beach by nickon from Flickr, CC-BY-SA; Photo of Kyle Edwards from, permission requested.

Nahanni Fontaine

Nahanni Fontaine is a politician in the NDP (New Democratic Party). She grew up in the St. Johns neighbourhood of Winnipeg (the North End), and is a member of Sagkeeng First Nation (north east of Winnipeg). In 2023, she became the Minister for Families in Manitoba. She, and Bernadette Smith, became the first Indigenous women to be in the Cabinet. She is a MMIWG2S+ advocate, a talented baker, a fashionista, and an animal lover. Follow her on Instagram.

Adam Beach

Adam Beach was born in Lake Manitoba First Nation and spent the end of his childhood in Winnipeg. He attended Gordon Bell High School and was interested in drama. He has gone on to have a successful career in both TV and movies. His first big role was in “Smoke Signals”. He also played a Navajo in World War II working as a code talker in “Windtalkers”.

Windtalkers Official Trailer #1 – Nicolas Cage Movie (2002) HD, Rotten Tomatoes Classic Trailers

Kyle Edwards

Kyle Edwards is an award-winning journalist from Ebb and Flow First Nation. He identifies as Anishinaabe more than Canadian. He has written about current Indigenous issues in Canada, and is currently completing a project at Harvard University about how COVID-19 affected Indigenous people. Here he is talking about his life experiences:

I’m Canadian but Anishinaabe first, Toronto Star
By Nastashya Wall
Sources: Statistics Canada: Indigenous Language Across Canada; Government of Manitoba: Aboriginal Identity Claimers; The Canadian Encyclopedia; The Encyclopedia Britannica; Manitoba Historical Society; CBC News. Accessed March, 2024.

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