Traditions and Culture

Favourite Foods

The people of Sandy Lake were hunters and gathers and this tradition of living off the land continues. Wild game is still a staple in the diets of many people. Moose, rabbit, root from the marsh-make into tea/grind into powder/ edible paste.Some of the food that are considered delicacies include moose nose, beaver tail, bannock made with fish eggs, rabbit soup (with rabbit lungs added after preparation), rabbit brain and fish heads. In the past, every part of wild game, big or small, was used - nothing was wasted.Diabetes has ravaged the community in epidemic proportions in the last 35-40 years. Like so many other cultures the process of rapid cultural change has seen a rise in many chronic diseases. The traditional hunter gather lifestyle was an incredibly demanding one requiring superb levels of physical fitness. The traditional diet was very high in protein, very low in fat and carbohydrates. Now, many modern conveniences are available and these have discouraged many of the traditional physical activities that the people were used to in their everyday lives.

Favourite Pastimes and Sports

Today the people of Sandy Lake enjoy games and sports such as hockey, volleyball, softball, tae-kwon-do, golf and other modern sports. The following is a list of the traditional activities and games of the community.

Telling of Legends

Listening to elders telling the Legends was a common activity and one of the most favourite pastime of the people. It was through the telling of legends that knowledge was passed on. This activity was the central focal point of all education, solidarity and entertainment. Legends and stories are an oral history that were passed on from generation to generation. It was not until modern times that these legends were written down. In traditional times the elders could tell stories for two or three days without stopping. Today, the elders can only tell a few stories at a time. Therefore, the legends are rapidly disappearing from people. So believe this could be due to the fact that the legends are in conflict with Christian beliefs or the advances of modern technology. However, others point out that there are many similarities between the legends and the teachings of Christianity. While others feel the legends are sacred because they tell of our spiritual world and our understanding of creation.

Traditional Superstitions

1. If a toddler looks behind his/herself between his/her legs, that toddler is looking for their younger sibling meaning a baby is on the way!

2. If a female child uses a slingshot, her bosom will stretch and droop.

3. If you wear your shoes the wrong way, you will meet up with a bear.  (Alternatively, you could meet up with David Day who will pinch your cheek)

4. While on a boat on Finger Lake, you cannot point your finger to the rock outcrop, otherwise you will get caught on the lake on your way back home while the wind picks up drastically and big waves (white caps) form.  Hence the reason many native people prefer to point with their lips!

5. A child crying in the night will attract a geengongay (wolverine) which will take that child away.

6. If you kill a spider, it will start raining.  If you kill a frog, it will rain and you will get a chee-chee-gum.

7. If you hear a crow or raven at night, it is a bad omen.

8. If you hear a dog crying, it has to be put down, otherwise someone will die.

9. If you have a bad dream about someone, you must tell someone about it, otherwise it will come true.

10. If your eye twitches: upper - good sign, lower - bad omen.

11. If a Whiskeyjack (bird) makes an odd sound (weeyass), it means you will kill a moose.

12. If a bird crashes into your window, it's a bad sign (more so for the bird).

13. If there is a ring around the sun/moon: overcast and rain or snow is coming.

14. If you cut up a moose and the hind leg socket pops, that means another moose soon.

15. If you see a bear with three cubs, that's a bad sign.

16. If you dream of killing a moose, it's a good sign.

17. If a fish sticks it's head out of the water, it's a bad sign.

18. Where there's lightning, cover your mirrors, otherwise lightning could strike them.

19. If you stare at the moon for too long, it will pull you to it.

20. As a child, if you wear a pot or bowl as a hat, it will stunt your growth.

21. If a female goes on a swing, she will start menstruating.

22. The deeper the groove at the back of your neck, the stingier you are.

23. If your fingernails are white at the base (gih-min-da-weh), it means that you don't like it that you don't get enough of whatever it is you are given.

24. If a bird flies into your house, it is a bad omen.

25. Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) indicate strong winds the next day.

26. At a family dinner, no one eats until after grace is said then afterwards, if someone passes gas, that person must leave for the rest of the dinner.

27. If you look into your wallet and it is empty, it's a bad sign (alright this one belongs in the Joke-Sah-Weh section).

Traditional Games

The following are brief descriptions of some of out traditional games that were played by young and old alike. Jooshiman was a piece of wood carved into a type of bat or torpedo shape. It was thrown underhand into the snow, made to glide quite a distance. The person who throws the jooshiman the furthest would claim victory. In English terms, it is called "snow snake" although it is not a direct translation. While dogsledding was a form of transportation it was viewed as a form of fun when travelling by great distances to visit neighbouring camps. One of the traditional games has some similarities to modern day baseball. Two sticks were staked in the ground about 30 feet apart. A ball was thrown to the batter standing at one of the stakes, who would hit the ball then run, with the bat in hand, to try and hit the other stake in the ground while trying to avoid being hit with the ball. Other players would try to catch the ball and hit the running player with the ball before the player can hit the stake in the ground. Another game was "Jaa-wee". The objective of this game was to get to the closest to the target. One utilized plain sticks. Players would alternately throw a stick towards a target, usually a similar type stick, perhaps one stripped of its bark to identify it. The player who threw it closest would win. A variation of this game used bows and arrows.

Festivals and Gatherings

Treaty Days is an annual event to mark the communities signing of the Treaty. On this day the Chief receives $25.00, Councillors $15.00 and all registered band members receive $5.00. Traditionally activities and events were held when representatives of the Department of Indian Affairs came to the community and disburse treaty money. June 9, 2010 will be the Centennial of Sandy Lake Band's signing.

The Muddy Water Music Festival is an annual event that began in 1983 that occurs during the summer. This festival is a celebration and showcase of the aboriginal music talent of Sandy Lake and other surrounding remote communities. Other celebrity performers are also welcome to perform at the festival to provide the younger and inexperienced performers with the confidence and self-esteem to perform in front of a crowd on the same stage.

Traditional Social Gatherings

These social gatherings are traditional ceremonies that still very much alive today. These ceremonies have been passed on from generation to generation and continue to follow the principles, ideals and philosophy on which they are based.


The Wabinowin ceremony is conducted in a longhouse that is called a wabinowigumick. It is held in the autumn to celebrate the completion of another cycle of life. Traditionally this was an opportunity for the different clans to gather together to celebrate many things that have happened throughout the year. During the Wabinowin, the Weekwindowin and the Ogeemezhowin are also conducted.


The Weekwindowin, is performed four times per year, once for every season. The Weekwindowin ceremony is begun with a review of the past events, hope for a good future, a prayer and then the smoking of the pipe carried out by the heads of the clan. These ceremonies are held in mid-winter and mid-summer in order to bring together peoples various medicines and combine their healing powers for revitalization. Each weekwindowin is a celebration to give thanks, show happiness and respect to the Creator. It is customary to share the first kill of the season during the Weekwindowin. This would show the Creator our thanks and also ask for a blessing for the coming hunt, harvest and season.


Ogeemehzowin is the naming ceremony for a newborn child. The mother picks an elder who will name her child. The naming elder (geemehz) or godfather then picks an Indian name for the child that relates to the earth and people. After he says the Indian name, the child is passed around for everyone to kiss. All invited guests gather around with all the food placed on the floor in the middle. The pipe is passed around. This gives the child a sense of belonging and pride. After this, the feast starts and everyone enjoys the food that is available. The child is expected to offer tobacco to show respect. The naming elder is considered a guardian to the child. He gives the child advice and shares his wisdom throughout his life.

Baby's Feast

The Baby's Feast is conducted shortly after the child is born to celebrate the arrival of this child to this world. The ceremony begins with opening remarks about why there is a gathering from a host elder that has been selected by the parents. Other elders may join in with their comments on the occasion. When this is done, the host elder will pick up the child and talk to him/her about the world s/he has entered, the difficulties s/he must face and the joys of life. When the host elder has finished talking to the child about everything s/he must know to live her/his life in this world, the feasting then begins to celebrate this occasion.

Memorial Feasts

When a person dies the entire community mourns that person's passing. On the first anniversairy of the death, a feast is prepared by the family to commemorate the person. All community members are invited to sit at the table prepared to mark this occasion. This helps the people remember the person who is mourned and provide some closure to the loss of the loved one.


During Christmas, a banquet is prepared on the floor in the middle of the largest room in the house. Plates are filled with natural foods, wild game foods, candies, cookies, nuts and other foods. Each plate is set to commemorate a loved one who has gone to the spirit world in years past and they are welcomed back to visit the living for one week. Plates filled with crackers were often used as a first offering to commemorate a loved one who had passed away within the same year.

On New Year's Night, a similar banquet is prepared on the floor in the middle of the largest room to bid our loved ones who have visited us for one week farewell for another year.


One of the new traditions as a result of the tradition of Christmas, every year, starting at about the 18th to the 21st of December, the community starts an array of feasts at a rate of about 2 - 3 per day or more. Almost every household takes part by having a feast during the two weeks of the festive season. The feasting stops shortly after the New Year. This feasting complements the spirit of Christmas in Sandy Lake.

The following Social Gatherings are some ceremonies that are not as evident in the community but still have significance with our heritage and culture.

The Drum

The drum is very sacred tool in our culture and heritage. It has strong powers and can be used for good or for bad purposes. So only the elders are permitted to use such a powerful tool. It is not used as regularly as it used to be. On a rare occasion, an elder will perform a song with a drum.


This ceremony involved only women who took a piece of wood out to the bushes to offer it to the Creator, and brought something back as well. This ceremony represented the woman's vital place in the household as a homemaker whom asked for the Creator's blessing so that the home would be safe and warm.

Shaking Tent

This ceremony was performed by a shaman or spiritual person, whom erected a tent with dimensions approximately 3'L x 3'W x 6'H. The shaman would enter the tent to conjure spirits and speak beyond this world.


This ceremony is a form of weekwindowin that was conducted by trappers and gatherers. Trappers would get together to ask for a blessing from the Creator for a plentiful trapping season.


This ceremony involves fasting and a vision quest performed by young virgin man. The young man would venture out into the wilderness, possibly on an island, somewhere he can be isolated. This ceremony provides a young man with strong character, self-sustenance, spiritualism, humility, pride and respect for all things.


This ceremony is conducted for young women who are having their first menstruation. During this time, the young woman cannot see any males and must live outside the community in seclusion for it is a very important time for the young woman to figure out her place in life.

Famous People (Local Heroes)

Thomas Fiddler was the last traditional hereditary chief and a patriarch to the people of Sandy Lake. Chief Thomas Fiddler was born on the south shore of Big Sandy Lake, Ontario, in the year 1904, the fifth son of Robert Fiddler. Thomas Fiddler became Chief on October 15th, 1939, assuming responsibilities of Chief after his father's death, elected in 1940 until 1968. He carried a strong wisdom throughout his term as Chief travelling to distant towns and cities advocating for his people and the lifestyle of the north. He was bestowed with numerous awards and citations for his advocacy and participation in the development of governing structures in Northern Ontario. Chief Thomas Fiddler died February 5, 1987. James Linklater also known as The Marten or Wabizhesh, was a great shaman and conjurer of spirits. He was known to use the "Shaking Tent" to make a connection to the spirit world to heal people from illness, speak to spirits, ask for guidance and assist in the various problems of the people. Locally, he was a well-respected man with abilities to cure. Sandy Lake is renowned for supplying great native artists significant in the development of a genre of aboriginal art known as Woodland Cree. Carl Rae, born January 18, 1943 - September 26, 1978, was a prominent native artist who travelled to large urban areas to display his art. His artwork was appreciated and renowned by the international art community. There were many native artists from the Sandy Lake area to enter into this genre, to name a few there was "late" Joshim Kakegamic,"late" Norval Morriseau, Goyce Kakegamic, Robert Kakegamic, Bart Meekis, Gordon Fiddler, Lloyd Kakepetum, Roy Kakegamic, Roger Kakepetum, and many others.


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