Windigo (1964) Norval Morrisseau

Windigo
Norval Morrisseau
1964, 62″ x 32″

When a trader reported rumours of a wendigo killing to a Northwest Mounted Police officer who, in turn, told his superiors, a formal investigation was launched. A patrol was sent out to Sandy Lake and an RCMP constable questioned the local Sucker clan of the area.

The Sucker clan was part of the Anishinaabe nation (the Sucker fish was their totem or doodem). Despite a long history of dealing with traders, the band had little real experience with the Canadian legal system or the RCMP and freely admitted that their “ogema” (a term for shaman or medicine man) had killed a wendigo in the previous year. Zhauwuno-geezhigo-gaubow (more commonly known as Jack Fiddler) had been the medicine man of the Sucker people for decades.

Not only was he their chief negotiator with nearby tribes, but he was legendary for his ability to confront wendigos and protect his people from harm. The incident that brought him to the RCMP’s attention occured when his brother’s daughter-in-law Wahsakapeequay (wife of his nephew Thomas) became delirious and needed to be restrained. Since delirium was one of the signs of wendigo possession, Jack Fiddler and his brother Pesequan (Joseph Fiddler) strangled her with a cord while others held her down.

The members of the Sucker clan were devastated when the NWMP took Joseph and Jack Fiddler into custody on June 15, 1907. It probably didn’t help that none of them spoke English and that the police also ordered the group to abandon their practice of taking multiple wives as well. Both men were taken to the Norway House detachment and the constables became increasingly confused about what should be done with them. The Toronto Globe ran a headline titled “Dark Deeds of Keewatin Indians – They Strangle and Burn Sick Friends” but a senior NWMP superintendent recommended that the entire prosecution be dropped. Not only were both men elderly but Jack Fiddler was in poor health and his condition began to deteriorate in custody.

On September 30, after 15 weeks in custody, Jack Fiddler walked away from the detachment and entered the bush. He was later found dead after he hanged himself in the woods.

Romeo Vitelli
Hunting The Wendigo

Windigo
Norval Morrisseau
22 x 30, ink on paper, c. 1990s

Wikipedia historical information….

When the HBC returned toward the end of the 19th century, they assigned family names to each of the clans. The Pelican clan became the Meekis family after their patriarch Meekis (Shell). The Sucker clan became the Fiddlers and later the Quills). Many members of the Caribou and Sturgeon clans were given the surname Rae, while other Sturgeons were designated Mamakeesic after their patriarch. The Cranes were either Kakegamic or Kakepetum after their leaders, two brothers known by those names. At this time, these names were only used in trading, but they would later become official with census records and are now the most common surnames found in Deer Lake. By 1900, the people of the area were among the last Indigenous peoples in North America living with virtually no colonial influences. Christianity, which by that time had come to most Oji-Cree communities, and Canadian law had almost no influence in the communities. Under Jack Fiddler a powerful ogema (chief and shaman) of the Sucker doodem, the people survived in the traditional way. This, however, began to change.

Jack Fiddler took five wives: Kakakwesic, Nakwasasive, Nocome, Kaopasanakitiyat, and Kayakatopicicikec and had 13 children. Polygamy was common, out of necessity if for no other reason, as young men died often in the dangers of the times.

Like his father before him, Jack Fiddler became a famous shaman for his alleged ability to conjure animals and protect his people from spells. Most importantly to the people of the region, he could allegedly successfully defeat the windigo, a cannibalistic spirit that would possess people during all-too-frequent bouts of famine and disease. In his life, Jack Fiddler claimed to have defeated fourteen windigos. Apparently some were sent against his people by enemy shamans, and others were members of his own band who were taken with an insatiable, incurable desire to eat human flesh. In the latter case, Fiddler was usually asked by family members to kill a very-sick loved one before they turned windigo. In some cases, the “windigo” him or herself would ask to be euthanized according to the necessary rites. Fiddler’s own brother, Peter Flett, was killed after turning windigo when the food ran out on a trading expedition.

HBC traders and Cree and white missionaries were well aware of the windigo legend, though they often explained it as mental illness or superstition. Regardless, several incidents of people turning windigo and eating human flesh are documented in the records of the company. Jack Fiddler’s reputation also grew, among these groups, and he was approached multiple times by Cree ministers at Island Lake and asked to bring Christianity to his people. Though he respectfully heard their requests, Fiddler did not convert. By the beginning of the 20th century, the Sucker people were among the only Indigenous people in North America living in a traditional manner with almost no white imposition on legal and religious matters.

The arrival of North-West Mounted Police officers in 1906 to arrest Fiddler and his brother Joseph marked the first time most Deer Lakers had ever seen a white person. The elderly Fiddler brothers were charged with murder for killing a windigo (an evil cannibalistic spirit that possesses a person during times of famine) and taken away.

Angus Rae, the eyewitness, testified that Wahsakapeequay was killed while in deep pain and incurably sick according to the custom of the people who were not aware of Canadian law. Pressed on the windigo issue, Rae admitted that it was a belief among his people and that Jack and Joseph were the ones who were usually asked to euthanize the very sick and prevent windigos. Despite some other unreliable testimony from Rae, and the pleas of missionaries and HBC traders, Joseph was convicted and sentenced to death by Aylesworth Perry, the stipendary magistrate.

Most of the descendants of Jack Fiddler live in the Sandy Lake First Nation with others at the Deer Lake First Nation, and North Spirit Lake First Nation in Ontario, and the three reserves at Island Lake in Manitoba

Today the Sandy Lake First Nation is governed by an elected Chief, a Deputy Chief and (8) eight councilors. The current Chief is Adam Fiddler, and the Deputy Chief is Bart Meekis. The Head Councillor is Robert Kakegamic; the other seven Councillors are Bob Linklater, Russell Kakepetum, Harvey Kakegamic, Teri Fiddler, Joe Kakegamic, Frankie Crowe and Sidney Fiddler.