• Tanya Talaga illustration by Mary McPherson

    Illustration: Mary McPherson/Canadian Geographic

From the top of Mount McKay — known as Animikii-wajiw in the Ojibwa language — you can see the Kaministiquia River, which starts north of Thunder Bay and winds its way over Kakabeka Falls and then wraps around the mountain. From up there, you can see the grain elevators that stand alongside the river and the Sleeping Giant, Nanabijou, sticking out into Gichigami, or Lake Superior, that moody wild beast of a lake, where it can be sunny, bright and beautiful one minute and all rolling clouds, gusts of wind and torrential rain the next.

The whole area has been a meeting place for Indigenous Peoples for a very long time, before the city of Thunder Bay existed and before the country of Canada existed. My family still goes back for powwows held on the mountain.

My mother grew up nearby in Raith, on the traditional territory of Fort William First Nation, my grandmother’s reserve. There, it’s all about water. It’s a remarkable place that you can feel more than you can see because it’s the Arctic watershed, the place on Turtle Island where things split and all the water goes north to Hudson Bay or south to the city. The rivers are the highways of the past, so when I’m there I’m reminded of that. It’s magical.

I don’t remember the first time I went to the mountain — I would have been really young. But seeing my kids there when they were smaller, seeing them running around on top through the tall grass, reminded me of the generations that have been there and will continue to be there. It’s a place of spiritual significance for the Ojibwa. It’s a place that means a lot to my family. It’s a place that absolutely touches me; it makes me feel peaceful when I’m there — I feel very happy and whole.

— As told to Jensen Edwards