Alex Mathias 2
Photo: Alex Mathias with lead dog, Obabika Lake, 1960

Alex (above) with lead dog of the Missabie team, on Obabika Lake in 1960 at 12 years of age. Alex and Shimmy were heading to Bear Island Hudson's Bay Company Post with furs. 

Photos: Alex Mathias Collection

The family heads were responsible for the land and the life on it. If you wanted to hunt or live on a family's territory you needed permission from the head of the family. That person knew what the land could sustain and made decisions accordingly. Peter, Old Misabi's son, became head after he died around 1917. Peter's sons Moses and Shimandee (Shimmy) followed in succession.  Shimmy and his wife Tillie had no children, and in 1952, they adopted Alex Mathias at four years of age. His own parents were going through a separation and hard times. He was brought to the Missabie's (by this time the spelling was changed) cabin, which was now about a kilometer south of the Obabika River on Fry Point. And life continued in many ways similar to that of Old Misabi's.

Shimmy was not a Christian and taught Alex Ojibway customs and myths, and how to live on the land. They traveled by snowshoe and dog team in the winter, and by canoe in the summer. "Those were the best years of my life, but I didn't know it at the time," says Alex.

Photo: Shimmy Misabi and Adam Commanda skinning a bear on Obabika Lake in 1955

Shimmy (right) and Adam Commanda skinning a bear on Obabika Lake in 1955. 

Though there were no longer habitable buildings at the old site by the river, the Missabies still worked Old Misabi's garden. By the late 1950s,  it was no longer maintained, because the family was spending more of the summer at Bear Island. In 1965, an aging Shimmy decided life would be easier on Bear Island and they moved. "I remember walking over the portage to Lake Temagami that last time with Shimmy. I was sad and he was trying to cheer me up," says Alex. "I knew then that I would return one day." 

They were not good years for Alex on Bear Island. Although he worked as a contractor, and eventually set up his own contracting business in the 1980s, he had too many scrapes with the law and drank too much. "The money was good but my life wasn't. I dreamt of returning all the time." The Ojibway language was dying on Bear Island. Fewer and fewer people were trapping. Bear Island was drinking, poverty, bitterness, indignities, violence, crime. The spirit of his people was dying and so was Alex.



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