Alex Mathias 3
Photo: Alex Mathias' new cabin on Obabika Lake, 1992

Alex and Mary Carol's cabin. 

Photo: Alex Mathias Collection

When the environmental battle against logging took off in 1985, he agreed with the environmentalists. "The land is to be protected, as my ancestors had done for thousands of years," he says. Other Anishnabai voiced this opinion, but talk wasn't enough for Alex.  In September 1989, with three Bear Island residents, he joined the Temagami Wilderness Society's blockade of the Red Squirrel Road. In November, he was arrested on the road when the Teme-Augama Anishnabai (TAA) finally took a stand.

The TAA was formed to lead the land claim and include all descendants of the original 14 families of Temagami, many of whom had lost their status and weren't members of the Temagami First Nation. After the TAA lost its land claim in court, negotiations with the Ontario government began in earnest in 1990. But Alex didn't agree. "My people don't own the land. We never had the concept of ownership. We are the caretakers."

The negotiations contradicted everything he had been taught by Shimmy. In a sense, they were the catalyst that brought him back to Obabika. On February 2, 1992 Shimmy made him, as the eldest son, head of the lands. In 1993, he moved to the mouth of the Obabika River.

Alex and Mary Carol Hill, while she was alive, made great strides in their lives since the Bear Island days. Alex modestly takes every opportunity to give the credit to Mary Carol. They home schooled their two daughters, not so dissimilar from the correspondence courses by which he was educated. Alone today with daughter Natasha and her partner Brandon, they work Old Misabi's garden, hunt and trap for food, and gather plants for tea and medicine. They have not abandoned the modern diet, but try to rely as much on "country food" as they can by taking a moose a year and some beaver.

Obabika Lake is a different place today than during his youth. There is private road access at the south end, a lodge and cottages with generators and motorboats. Logging has taken a toll on the land, particularly to the south and west of the lake. The house today has amenities absent during his childhood years. There is a generator they run on summer evenings to cool the refrigerator and charge the cell phone. They have a snowmobile and motorboat, and use an abandoned logging road to drive in.

The Goulard Road was built in 1989 to log the old-growth stand north of his place, regarded as one of the largest remaining old-growth red and white pine stands in the world. The road was never used. Instead the ancient trees were added to the Obabika River Provincial Park, and bridges over the Obabika and Wakimika Rivers were removed in 1996. But the road to his place is still there and still passable, though gated near the Wawiagama portage. As an aboriginal trapper he has a gate key.

He is deeply opposed to the logging that has already taken place  and would give up the road in heartbeat to return the land to its former innocence. As he slowly drives up the rough road, the clear-cuts on either side are a reminder of what will be coming northeast of Obabika Lake, an area for which logging plans have been made public. "I am against removing even just one stick," he says.

Alex Broadbent and family visiting in the 1990s. Left to right: Natasha and Carollee (Alex and Mary Carol's daughters), Mary Carol and Alex, Alex Broadbent, Alison Broadbent (in front), Anne Marie Broadbent. 

Photo: Alex Broadbent

Photo: Mathias and Broadbent families on Obabika Lake

 

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