A Brief History of Sandy Lake
The area known as Sandy Lake and the vast expanse of lakes and forests to the east, south, west, and north is the traditional territory of the Anishinabeck, the Oji-Cree. As late as 1897, Big Sandy Lake was considered "as inaccessible as the North Pole". It was an area distant from the main trade routes. The closest Hudson Bay posts were located at Island Lake to the west and at Big Trout Lake to the east. Yet, as “inaccessible” as this area was, the ancestors of the Sandy Lake people travelled the lakes, rivers, and portage systems along the Severn River from Lake Winnipeg, Berens River, and Island Manitoba to Fort Severn, Ontario.
The earliest person recorded is Porcupine Standing Sideways. This was before 1823. His ancestors or other people of that generation are not recorded in the fur trade journals. The other person recorded was a hunter by the name of Shell (see Killing The Shaman, a book by Thomas Fiddler and Jim Stevens).
The people at the time of Porcupine lived in small family groups and engaged in traditional pursuits of hunting, trapping, fishing, and gathering. Traditionally, theirs was a nomadic lifestyle following the movements of the animals and the seasons. The elders speak of good times and bad times. The environment can be a blessing or a challenge. There were times when the animals and berries were plenty providing sustenance for all. Other times, there was famine sometimes resulting in starvation for some.
The people were a spiritual people with a strong belief in the Creator. They believed that the land was a gift from the Creator given to them for their survival. They were the keepers of the land and they believed they were put on this land for that purpose. The culture and traditions, a way of life, and nature’s laws was based on this sacred relationship with the land. And they governed themselves accordingly on how life should be conducted.
Porcupine Standing Sideways, the leader of the Sucker clan, had three daughters and three sons. The sons were Jack Fiddler, Peter Flett, and Joseph Fiddler. It is at this time the picture of who’s who becomes a little clearer when the ancestors of the other clans emerged through stories of the elders. There were the five clans of the Sandy Lake area, Sucker (Fiddler, Goodman, and Harper), Pelican (Meekis), Crane (Kakegamic and Kakepetum), Sturgeon (Mamakeesic), and Caribou (Linklater and Rae). There are stories of when life was good, hardships, the beautiful and harsh environment, contact with the outside world, and other pieces of history and origins of where we come from. These can be found in the book Killing the Shaman.
Porcupine died when he was 120 years old. In the last decades of the 1800's, the leading man of the Sucker clan was his son Jack Fiddler, or 'South Wind'. Jack 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. The lives of Porcupine’s three sons ended in tragedy.
When Jack Fiddler died in 1907 his son Robert Fiddler became leader of the Sucker clan.
The following chronicles some of the recent key areas in the history of Sandy Lake:
1909 – Treaty Signing at Island Lake
Some people from the Sandy Lake area are present at the treaty signing in Island Lake, Manitoba. A few people stayed but most declined to be part of this signing and requested to have their own band. Robert Fiddler requested that he and his people want treaty in their traditional land.
1910 – Treaty Signing at Deer Lake
Robert Fiddler, leader of the Sucker clan, signs the Treaty at Deer Lake, Ontario and the Crown formally recognizes the Deer Lake Band. The five clans of the Sandy Lake area become the Deer Lake Band: Sucker (Fiddler, Goodman, and Harper), Pelican (Meekis), Crane (Kakegamic and Kakepetum), Sturgeon (Mamakeesic), and Caribou (Linklater and Rae).
There is a distinction made by the elders between the leader of a clan and chief before and after the signing of the treaty. Before the treaty, each clan had a leader. Robert Fiddler was the leader of the Sucker clan. Upon the signing of the treaty, Robert Fiddler became Chief by election under the Indian Act for all five clans. He was an “Indian Act” Chief for which the role had a different flavor in many ways. There is a famous picture of Chief Robert Fiddler with a flag of the Union Jack draped around him. It symbolizes to this day the King’s protection from enemies. His request to have a Councillor elected was denied because the Department felt one leader for ninety-five (95) people was enough.
There were ninety-five (95) people that received the very first treaty annuity payments on June 9, 1910 at Deer’s Lake East. Today there are close to three thousand (3,000) registered status Indians from Sandy Lake, Ontario.
Chief Robert Fiddler also requested the land be surveyed, but was told it would be too costly. It was never done at that time.
1920’s - Many Deer Lake Band members move to present day Sandy Lake
The Sucker clan 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. Esther Linklater, one of the founders of the community and a respected elder, often told stories of how she accompanied Robert Fiddler and others looking for a place to call home. They travelled by canoe to different parts of the area until they came to a spot in what is now Sandy Lake, Ontario. 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.
Some Deer Lake people remained and never relocated.
1938 – Survey for Reserve
A reserve for Deer Lake Band is surveyed at Sandy Lake.
1939 – Robert Fiddler Passes Away
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 schools at MacIntosh and Sioux Lookout.
1945 – Deer Lake Reserve
35 years after the signing of Treaty 5 Adhesion, Deer Lake Band is confirmed approval by Order-in-Council for reserve land at Sandy Lake.
1957 – Day School
A day school was built at Sandy Lake.
1962 – Nursing Station
A nursing station was built in Sandy Lake.
1977 - Separation
The communities of Sandy Lake, Deer Lake, and North Spirit Lake divide into three separate Bands. Prior to this, they were all considered part of the Deer Lake Band.
1985 – Deer Lake and North Spirit Lake
Deer Lake Band and North Spirit Lake Band are each granted approval for reserve land. As such, each of the three communities of Sandy Lake, Deer Lake, and North Spirit Lake have their own bands.
Some families from Sandy Lake relocate to their traditional lands and are recognized as Keewaywin Band. They settle at Keewaywin and Koochiching.
Keewaywin is granted approval for reserve land.