Revitalizing our Biigtigong dialect of Nishnaabemwin

Chief Duncan Michano Jr. – Reclaiming Our Place Names

That Elder told us, “If you let them name that mountain in another language, and you don’t know the name of that mountain in your own language, then they’ve already taken it from you, because you no longer know that mountain in your language.”

Chief duncan Michano Jr.

This blog post was written by Chief Duncan Michano Jr. on April 30, 2017

There was an Elder, one time, who told a group of us that if we let people take from us the name of… the example this Elder gave was a mountain…

“Then,” he said, “do you now know the name of that mountain in your language?”

That Elder told us, “If you let them name that mountain in another language, and you don’t know the name of that mountain in your own language, then they’ve already taken it from you, because you no longer know that mountain in your language.”

I think the whole idea of name reclamation is important in trying to reclaim our identity in relationship to the land and to our territory.

I thought a lot about this last Summer when I was canoeing down the Biigtig Ziibii (the Pic River), and a lot of those place names are in English. So, I was thinking about trying to get that entire river renamed with all the portages and all the rapids renamed back into our Nishnaabe language. And trying to find out what those Nishnaabe names are. Because I think it’s important. The whole idea of place names in our Nishnaabe language, I think, is really important.

I think the whole idea of name reclamation is important in trying to reclaim our identity in relationship to the land and to our territory.

I remember my dad, in our traditional trapping area around Jack Fish, telling us, and telling me in particular, all the names of the lakes and the mountains that are around Jack Fish. You don’t see very many Nishnaabe names left in there; they’re all English names. So, my dad said, “Well, this is not the name of this lake; the real name of this lake here is Nmegos Zaaghigan (Trout Lake). And, that’s not the name of that other lake there; that lake there is really called Wjiw Zaaghigan (Mountain Lake).” Things like that. So my dad gave me those names in our Nishnaabe language.

I think we have to create a map of our own, with all these Nishnaabe names on the map.

As part of my efforts to rename all the rapids and portages on the Biigtig Ziibii (the Pic River), I am trying to figure out what the real name of the mountain directly across the river is. Not the hill farther back. The hill right by the river where offerings were made.

I used to hear it called Zhiishiigwewaabik, or something like that.

I know what I heard it being called when I was young but would like others’ feedback as well.

I think we have to create a map of our own, with all these Nishnaabe names on the map. And then at some point we make a petition through the government in Canada to get those names changed.

If you’d like to share anything about the place names you remember, please let us know by typing a bit in the ‘Leave a Reply’ comment box below.


[added May 31, 2017: Miigwech to all of you who have shared with me your knowledge and your memories of the old names in our traditional territory. I’d like to especially thank those of you who were too shy to post your stories/comments here on the website, but still shared that information with me in person. I appreciate you taking the time to educate me.

Today, we are closing the comments for this blog post.

After we organize all of the information and place names that all of you shared with me, we will make available to you, here on the Biigtigong Language Project website, an online map containing the Nishnaabe names of all of those places.

I am available in the community if you remember anymore place names.



  1. JoAnne Michano

    Biitoobiigong is the name that many of our elders have used to reference what is now called Mud Bay/Hattie Cove. We have lots of material confirming this place and name.

    • Duncan Michano Jr.

      What is the meaning of the word?

      • John Paul Montano

        Boozhoo, Duncan –

        “Biitoobiigong” perhaps breaks down like this:
        /biitoo-/ ~ extra layer, in between
        /-biig-/ ~ liquid, water
        /-ong/ ~ [locative ending] in, at, on

        So, “Biitoobiigong” perhaps means something like:
        – “place of the in-between water”, or
        – “place of the in-between shore/beach”, or
        – “place of the shore/beach that is layered between something”

        Also, for anyone who would like to listen to the pronunciation of the the word “Biitoobiigong,” audio recordings of several Biigtigong Elders can be found at:

        • Duncan Michano Jr.

          There is a beach the people still call “halfway beach”.

          • John Paul Montano

            Yes. And, if that’s the beach of “Halfway Lake” (the lake just northwest of Biitoobiigong / Hattie Cove), then Juanita Starr has already provided (via the Biigtigong Lands Department map of place names) the Nishnaabe-language name of that lake:

            Aabta-wnigam Zaaghigan (“Aabita onigam zaagigan”),

            which, perhaps, has a literal meaning similar to “Halfway-portage Lake,” or “Halfway-over-a-portage Lake”.

  2. Cecil Twance

    Bgidhwaagan is the name I heard for that big lake about 30 clicks from here.

    • Duncan Michano Jr.

      Hi Cecil.
      Couple of questions.
      1- 30 clicks north of here?
      2- What’s the meaning of the name?

      • Cecil Twance

        Hi Duncan
        Yes. North of here. It’s off the river.
        The meaning of bgidhwaagan sounds to me like “a place where they set net”.

        • Duncan Michano Jr.

          I know where.

        • Duncan Michano Jr.

          I think we called it Pukatawagan. I think your spelling is right. There are 4 lakes there. Louis Lk is one. Roccain Lk is another and then Beggs Lk.
          They all probably had Nishnaabe names at one time.

  3. Cecil Twance

    I remember they used to call White River – that place, or the town or city or whatever – “Waabshkaa-ziibiing”

    And for the White River – the river – “Waabshkaa-ziibii”

    So I guess whoever named them in English they just got those names from us and put them in English.

    • Duncan Michano Jr.

      Yes I remember Dorothy’s grandmother calling White River that.

      Do you have any idea what they called the first rapids on the Pic River?

      How about the falls at the Black River where the power dam is?

  4. Alvina Michano

    Hi Duncan.I remember that little lake around by the S-curve used to be called Wmogkiins Zaaghignens.
    And then all that land there around by that lake they used to always call it Wmogkiinszaaghignens’kaan.
    That’s Little Frog Lake is what those names are saying.

    • Duncan Michano Jr.

      Thx Alvina. Think I remember that also.

      • JoAnne Michano

        I recently heard Bonnie Goodchild make reference to this also. 🙂

  5. JoAnne Michano

    Proddy Goodchild has identified many Nishnaabe place names in the Pukaskwa area. I will ask our Lands Department to post that information.

  6. JoAnne Michano

    I hear lots of people referring to the mouth of the Pic River as Zaagiing.

    Also, we have audio recordings of some of our Elders saying the word Zaagiing:

    A translation of Zaagiing, in this case, is something like “at/from the opening/mouth of a river”. You’ll notice that the Pic River is not specified in the name “Zaagiing”.

    On a map, though, we’ll more than likely want to make sure we specify which river – in this case, the Biigtig (the Pic River) – a particular river mouth is attached to.

    So, a formal map name for the mouth of the Pic River could be Biigtig Zaagiing (“at/from the opening of the Pic River”), instead of the more informal name of Zaagiing (“at/from the opening of a river”).

    • Duncan Michano Jr.

      Yes I used to hear them refer to Zaagiing. Seems to me that’s how I heard them pronounce it.

  7. Juanita Starr

    Here’s some of what our Lands office was able to get from Proddy Goodchild‘s project. There is more but I only listed common/known places for now.

    **All translations provided by Proddy Goodchild when he did a place naming project with Pukaskwa.

    Mkade ziibii – Black River
    Wekwaa don gang – End of the beach (beach located down the Mouth on the map)
    Kewis Caning – Herring place
    Gaginoo wiikwed dowooga – long harbour (Playter Harbour)
    Aabita onigam zaagigan – (Halfway Lake)
    Wiso wikwedon – naming Bay (Oiseau Bay)
    Bii-skikaag sated ziibii – curvy run dry river (Pukaskwa River)
    Ga miiti dawgagama zaagiigan – many sandy beaches Lake (Louis Lake)
    Mishwi-odjiw – the mountain that you can see clearly (Tip Top Mountain)

    • Duncan Michano Jr.

      Yes. Peter Moses confirmed to me one time that our people called Louis Lake “Sand Lake”; and Reverse Creek and Oskabukuta Creek were called “Sand River”. His grandparents Gabriel and Maggie Goodchild told him that.

      When we were trapping on Obatanga Lk long ago with Dorothy’s grandparents I asked them what “Obatanga” meant (they pronounced it “badonga”) “Sandy Lake”. So just wondering about the literal meaning of both Obatonga and Proddy‘s name for Louis Lk.

      • John Paul Montano

        (1) Dorothy’s grandparents’ wmbadaawngaa (“badonga”) is a vii verb (verb inanimate intransitive) which perhaps breaks down like this:

        /wmb-/ ~ upwards
        /-adaawng-/ ~ sand
        /-aa/ ~ in a state of being

        So, its very formal and technical literal meaning could be something like:
        – It is in a state of being upwards sand. Or,
        – It is in a state of being an upwards sandy beach.

        In more-common English, its meaning might be expressed as something like:
        – It is a beach of rising/upwards sand.

        So, Dorothy’s grandparents’ Wmbadaawngaa Zaaghigan could be translated into English as something like:
        – Rising-sand Lake, or
        – Upwards-sandy-beach Lake

        Since an intial “w” (which is the initial “o” when written as “obatanga”) in Biigtigong’s dialect is optional to pronounce for many speakers here, Dorothy’s grandparents’ pronunciation, mbadaawngaa (“badonga”), and their English definition (“Sandy Lake”) are quite accurate, indeed.


        (2) Proddy‘s Gaa-mtidaawngaagmaag (“Ga miiti dawgagama”) perhaps breaks down like this:

        /Gaa-…-g/ ~ [changed conjunct participle] (i.e., “that which is…”)
        /mti-/ ~ bare
        /-daawng-/ ~ sand
        /-aagm-/ ~ body of water
        /-aa-/ ~ in a state of being

        So, a formal English-language translation might be something similar to:
        – that which is in a state of being a bare-sand body of water

        Perhaps, then, Proddy‘s Gaa-mtidaawngaagmaag Zaaghigan (“Ga miiti dawgagama zaagiigan”) could mean:
        – Bare-sandy Lake. Or,
        – Sandy Lake

        • Duncan Michano Jr.


          That sheds some light.

          The beaches on Louis Lk are flat beaches so Proddy’s translation makes sense.

          In regards to Obatanga, I wonder if this is the description for sand dunes. There are no flat sandy areas on Obatanga Lk; but, at the outlet on the north side there are old dunes now covered by jack pine. You see those areas here and there in the bush. Rolling sand dunes now covered with jack pine. The description you gave might very well describe that.

    • Juanita Starr

      I should also mention that the map with the place names in Pukaskwa was also completed with the assistance of Alphonse Moses and Angelique Moses.

      • Duncan Michano Jr.

        Yes, Juanita. Proddy’s and Robin took the initiative. They talked to elders in Biigtigong and Mobert. Not sure which ones in Mobert but Louis Kwissiwa for sure. Robin would know.

  8. Duncan Michano Jr.

    I’m trying to find out if anyone knows the place names of the following places:

    1 – The first rapids up the Pic River. Camp 19 Rapids.

    2 – The first falls on the Black River. Where the power plant is.

    3 – The falls on the Little Black.

    If we could get names for those it would be good.