by David D. Plain
Often people ask me, ‘What is the meaning of the word Aamjiwnaang?’ The answer is that it is an Anishnaabek descriptive noun. It describes a very specific area; the outlet of Lake Huron where it flows into the St. Clair River. Aamjiwnaang was used to denote a gathering place used by First Nations for millennia. Not only was it used as a gathering place for trade but also for celebration and ceremony. It was considered ‘sacred ground,’ so it was also used as a traditional burial ground. The gathering grounds were ceded to the British Colonial government as part of the Huron Tract in 1827. The First Nation on whose traditional lands these grounds are located take this descriptive noun as their name.
In the 1990s thousands of artifacts were unearthed due to the construction of the twin span of the Blue Water Bridge. Ancient burial grounds were also disturbed and so a special relationship between Aamjiwnaang, Blue Water Bridge Canada and the Graves Protection and Repatriation Committee was formed. In a spirit of cooperation the artifacts were catalogued and removed by Mayer Heritage Consultants of London, ON and the remains were repatriated. Today, a part of that gathering place is maintained by the Federal Bridge Corporation Limited in a park-like setting for use by the general public. A memorial was commissioned to commemorate the long history of the gathering of the nations at Aamjiwnaang.
Artist Dennis Henry-Shawnoo of Kettle/ Stoney Point First Nation designed and sculpted The Souls Memorial. On the top of a tall pedestal are a series of faces representing the ancestors and the past.
The whole sculpture was hand carved from a single large block of sandstone imported from Texas. It was Mr. Henry-Shawnoo’s concept that these faces reflect on the past, which will bring us to the present and also point us toward the future.
The Souls Memorial is surrounded by a circular landscape symbolizing the Anishnaabek Medicine Wheel. Anishnaabek traditional medicinal plants populate the beds circling the monument making up the outer landscape. This beautiful, living representation of the Medicine Wheel was designed by landscape architect Wendy Shearer. Embracing the north cardinal point are two arched pedestals displaying plaques outlining traditional Anishnaabek teachings. The teaching of the Medicine Wheel includes the meanings of its four cardinal directions; east, south, west and north and its four sacred medicines: tobacco, sweetgrass, sage and cedar. The meanings of The Seven Grandfather Teachings on wisdom, love, respect, bravery, honesty, humility and truth are explained as well.
The Souls Memorial is located along the beautiful blue waters of the St. Clair River immediately south of the twin spans of the Blue Water Bridge. It was dedicated at an official ceremony by the Honourable James K. Bartleman, 27th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario on June 21, 2003. It is a testament to the ongoing relationship between Aamjiwnaang First Nation and the Federal Bridge Corporation Limited; a relationship based on friendship and mutual respect.