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A Source of Sustenance

Before starting our descent, let’s focus for a moment on the Haute-Mauricie, where the river takes its source. Before the Gouin Dam was built, between 1916 and 1917, creating the reservoir behind it, there were huge lakes here.

Indigenous people are sitting in five canoes filled with belongings on the river

Departure for the winter settlement in 1921

The first signs of human presence date back approximately 6,000 years. This vast, wild land may seem inhospitable to us, but Indigenous nomadic hunter-gatherers were resourceful enough to find ways to meet their own needs, thanks in part to the river. Their traditional lifestyle revolved around the Saint-Maurice.

Geographical map illustrating the very dense hydrographic network and the main inhabited places of Haute-Mauricie: La Tuque, Rapide Blanc, Windigo, Wemotaci and the Gouin Dam to the north. We also can see the location of Atikamekw meeting points: Kokac and Oskisketak

Map of Haute-Mauricie in 1957

Living in Sync With the Seasons

The Atikamekw annual lifestyle, based on the seasonal forest cycle, consists in moving away from and then returning to the Tapiskwan Sipi (the Saint-Maurice River). It is divided into six seasons.

In the fall, the Atikamekw would form small groups and go deep into the forest to hunt. They also devoted considerable time to preparing meats and pelts and setting up camps.

Indigenous people of all ages pose in the snow amidst rudimentary tents in the forest

Winter settlement near the Saint-Maurice around 1900

In the late fall and winter, they would go trapping or shelter in birchbark teepees to make snowshoes and knives. When the ice began to melt in the spring, they would harvest maple sap and then return to a site near the river.

Indigenous people of all ages pose in the midst of rudimentary tents surrounded by tall coniferous trees.

Summer settlement near the Saint-Maurice around 1900

Summers were spent along the Tapiskwan Sipi, catching fish using hooks and lines. They were also a time to travel for social gatherings and trade. On the banks of the river, new alliances were formed, and goods were traded. Traditional ceremonies, such as weddings, were also organized. Then, when fall came, the Atikamekw would go back into the forest.

A group of people are standing on a beach. Behind them are modest wooden houses across the land.

Opitciwan in 1933

The First Inhabitants

Nitaskinan, the ancestral homeland of the Atikamekw Nehirowisiw Nation, takes in the whole of the Tapiskwan Sipi. It was the Algonquin who used the term Atikamekw, meaning “the people of the white fish,” in reference to the whitefish in the Saint-Maurice River.

However, the region’s Indigenous people refer to themselves as Nehirowisiwok, “autonomous beings,” who live in harmony with their environment. Before the arrival of Europeans, they were the ones who permanently occupied the territory along the river.

Today, the Atikamekw Nation has approximately 7,000 members spread across the communities of Manawan, Opitciwan and Wemotaci, as well as in the cities of La Tuque, Shawinigan and Trois-Rivières.

Indigenous people in traditional dress perform a traditional dance in front of packed bleachers.

Pow-wow in Manawan, 2016

For a detailed description of traditional activities taking place during the six Atikamekw seasons (this link is external):