Exploring New Land and Building Indigenous Relationships

This object story is focused on language and land. And, it begins with my family. I come from a family of fluent Anishinaabemowin speakers, my uncles in particular have helped me understand that language and land are in a relationship with one another. Embedded in the teachings of the Anishinaabe is a belief that language and land are interconnected. Land extends beyond just geography, and the ground that we walk on.

Poster that hangs in Recollet family home. It was purchased at the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation, M’Chigeeng Ontario. Photo credit: Anita Recollet

As described by H Carlson “[…] land is the entire multidimensional web of beings that occupies James Bay: people, animals, plants, earth. So, their story is one of place but also one of the complicated relationships – physical and metaphysical, human and other-than-human – that have shaped land and people together.”[1] When we give a name to a person or place; it is an acknowledgment of their spirit. The naming of a place indicates that a relationship has been made between the land and the people who occupied the area.

I was reminded of this relationship when I glanced upon the following map. If you look closely at the map, you will notice there are place names and landmarks that are written in a language that is not English. Can you spot some of the words?

A section of the hand drawn map done by John Galbraith in 1881 of his summer canoe trip. Showing the journey from Camp #29 to Camp #36. Photo credit: Naomi Recollet. Source: Galbraith, J. fonds. University of Toronto Archives and Records Management Services, Item No. B1987-0061

These words name the rivers and landmarks, written in a mixed dialect of James Bay Cree and Northern Ojibwa peoples. This is an important feature, because historical maps have rarely supported a First Nation presence, nor their knowledge systems. The map becomes a valuable tool for community members, allowing them to reconnect and remember their history; reflecting on past knowledge systems and past relationships with the land.<

The Map-Maker

John Galbraith (b.1846 – d.1914) was the maker of this object-story map, while on his summer vacation canoeing the rivers of Northern Quebec. On July 25, 1881, he left Rupert’s House which is the fur-trading post located on the eastern part of James Bay and headed towards Lake Mistassini. Galbraith comes from a family of Scottish immigrants and French-Canadians. He was a land surveyor; a civil engineer; and was the First Dean of Applied and Science and Engineering at the University of Toronto.

Throughout his career as a land surveyor, Galbraith was committed to learning the Ojibwa and Cree language from the guides he frequently hired. He carried a notebook with him, to record phrases, words, and grammar as taught by the hired Ojibwa and Cree guides. Galbraith seemed to understand that spending time on the land was the way to learn these languages.

It is now 135 years after the map was created, and it is finally being seen by today’s Cree people. Through the connections I made with the Aanischaaukamikw: Cree Cultural Institute the map has found its way to Eeyou Istchee (Land of the Cree). This was the most rewarding aspect of the object-story project. In respect, I leave any remaining stories for the Cree people to tell.


Naomi Recollet is an Anishinaabe-kwe (Odawa/ Ojibwe) from the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, located on Manitoulin Island. She is currently completing her second year at the University of Toronto pursuing a double graduate degree in Museum Studies and Information Studies. Naomi’s work has been focussed on connecting First Nation communities with their objects that are stored in museums; helping to access information at archival institutions; and exploring the meaning of reconciliation through these activities.

[1] <Carlson, H.M. (2008). Introduction. In Home is the Hunter: The James Bay Cree and their Land. Vancouver, UBC Press. (p.11)

The map becomes a valuable tool for community members, allowing them to reconnect and remember their history; reflecting on past knowledge systems and past relationships with the land.