The language of the original descendants of the current community is Cree from the Algonquian language family. The story of the language is one of how migrating south from original homelands has moved it from a thriving language to one of being endangered. It is at stage 8 in Fishman’s Intergenerational Disruption Scale (click here to view).
Families from our community lived in unorganized family groupings during the 1800s (and from time immemorial) trading their furs at the Hudson’s Bay Company below the forks of the Albany and Kenogami Rivers (English River Post). They came from the James and Hudson Bay Coast and settled near the post at Mammamatawa (some stayed there permanently, during the summer months, or before spring break-up). Their families are those who currently reside around James and Hudson Bay including Kashechewan and Fort Albany. Often, they travelled on the Albany River to Pledger Lake, to Pitukupi Lake to get to the post. Other families took different routes to travel and settle there, becoming part of the community. As one example, some travelled from Nagagamisis Lake to English River/Mammamatawa on the Nagagami River. This is when Cree began to be mixed with Ojibway and Oji-Cree dialects. Our mother tongues were the primary means of communication (all three dialects were able to understand and speak to each other).
Original descendants of today’s Constance Lake First Nation were the 85 people who were recorded by a Canadian Census of Unorganized Territories in 1901 as living at English River (and nearby Mammamatawa). The Church Missionary Society reported that there were 100 people at that location. In 1930, English River No. 66 was recognized as a separate band. During the time that the James Bay Treaty No. 9 commissioners visit on July 27, 1905, they were considered an “off-shoot” of the Albany Band and did not sign the Treaty. In 1921, an election was held at English River and John Faries was elected the first Chief.
Our community’s mother tongue began to be influenced the most when families moved south to Pagwa from English River (and nearby Mammamatawa) throughout the 1920s – 1930s. Families travelled by canoe down the Pagwachuan River to get to Pagwa village. May moved in order to find employment in freighting or the fur trade. The Revillons Freres Trading Company had a post at Pagwa and encouraged English River traders to bring their fur there. This was the first migration. For the first time in our history, our people lived amongst English speaking people from the CN railway (which was constructed in 1913) and a general surveillance radar station controlled by the United States Air Force and the Royal Canadian Airforce that existed there from 1950 – 1966 (click here to view). This was also the first time the community existed closer to nearby Hearst, Ontario, a town incorporated in 1922 with a population made up of a majority of French speaking people from Quebec. Families were continuously denied reserve status in Pagwa as they had land set aside as a reserve in English River in 1912.
The second and final migration took place around 1944 from Pagwa River village to the current location, Constance Lake First Nation. The Cree name for this place was ᐁᒋᑲᓐ (ah-chee-kah-meh) loosely translating to “a place where you can bring your canoe to this lake but you cannot get out as it isn’t connected to the rivers.” The Constance Lake Day School, run by the Church of England, was in operation in Constance Lake First Nation from October 1, 1944 – September 1, 1993. In 2004, the Mamawmatawa Holistic Education Centre (MHEC), a community-owned school, was built (prior to that–children were bussed to nearby Hearst, Ontario between 1994 – 2004).