From time immemorial, Anishinabe people, known as the N’bisiing, “People of the Little Water,” have lived around Lake Nipissing. Like people everywhere in those times, they travelled by canoe using the rivers and lakes as highways. The Anishinabe people could hunt, trap and fish anywhere their canoes took them within their territory. The abundant fish, wildlife, fruits, trees and clean water sustained life. Everything that the Anishinabe people used came from the land, the land represents Anishinabe culture as does the language in this area.
The concept of private land ownership was unknown to the inherent beliefs of the N’bisiing people. Their trading area extended from Georgian Bay in the south, James Bay to the north, west of Sault Ste. Marie and east along the Ottawa River up to Montreal. The N’bisiing’s were key trading partners of the Cree, Huron and Mohawk.
From time to time, a very large gathering was held on Lake Nipissing, called the Great Feast of the Dead. Many tribes from far away attended. The celebration included giveaways, with gifts shared for the benefit of all communities. A Jesuit priest who attended this gathering in 1642 wrote that the gifts given away by the N’bisiing’s alone would have had a large monetary value at the time. Elections, competitive games and elaborate dances involving dozens of participants were held. The bones of deceased relatives were brought to a special grave site and reburied with sacred ceremony.
The N’bisiing people were known for their close relationship with the Hurons, with whom they sometimes wintered. Another interpretation of the name N’bisiing is “Tribe with powerful shamans”. Enemies avoided battles with the N’bisiing because they were believed to have spiritual powers which foretold attacks. These visions were accessed through dreams and a dreamers’ rock existed near the west end of Trout Lake, away from the usual travel routes.
The N’bisiing people fought difficult battles against the Iroquois to defend their trading routes. Two important battles were fought in this area, one near the mouth of Chippewa Creek and the other near the outlet of Lake Talon.
First European contact was with the French traders and missionaries. During this time the N’bisiing people made an integral contribution to the French fur trade in exchange for blankets, cloth, rifles, and metal cooking utensils. Throughout the 1800’s, trapping was an important source of income for N’bisiing people as were the trading posts. Garden Village, in Anishinabe, “Gtigaaning means gardening place,” is the administration centre of Nipissing First Nation today. For the N’bisiing people and those who came later, goodwill and peaceful co-existence have become a way of life for everyone.