Nogojiwanong: The Place at the Foot of the Rapids


The settler-colonial name for the area of land located just south of Trent University is Peterborough, named after a white English man named Peter Robinson who brought settlers to the area. Part of the process of colonization of lands is the renaming after colonizers who claimed to “discover” them. The real name for this land, in Nishnaabebowin, (the language of the Michi Saagig Nishnaabeg) is Nogojiwanong, which means “the place at the foot of the rapids” (Simpson, 2008, p. 205). In precolonial times, this area was a gathering place on the shores of the Odenabe (now also known as the Otonabee River), which means “river that beats like a heart” (Simpson, 2011, p. 94).

Where Peterborough has imposed itself today, there was a tall grass prairie which was maintained by the Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg through controlled burns, mimicking a natural process of renewal (Simpson,  2011, p. 14). Chi’Nbiish, meaning “big water” (Occupy Talks: Indigenous Perspectives – Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, 2012), which is also known as Lake Ontario, was once home to schools of salmon which traveled annually up the Odenabe all the way to Stony Lake.

When genocide, violence, and colonization were inflicted upon the Michi Saagiig nation by European colonizers, the land was greatly altered and colonized. The Odenabe and other rivers were damned, the salmon could no longer travel up the river, and the natural flood plain was transformed into a series of dams and locks. Local Anishnaabekwe writer, scholar, and spoken word artist Leanne Simpson describes the creation of the Trent Severn Waterway and the Peterborough lift locks, which are the largest in the world:

“To us, the Trent Severn Waterway meant the loss of territory, as the natural flow of the water was artificially altered. It meant the flooding of cemeteries and sacred sites, and it meant the destruction of our rice beds. Today, the lift locks act like a system of dams constricting and constraining and controlling what the river can do. The lift locks block and disrupt the power of that flowing water with handcuffs and shackles, interfering with the cleansing, with bringing forth new life, and with the river’s responsibility of sustaining the territory. When the construction of the lift locks colonized an ancient travel route, it also colonized the lifeblood of our first mother.” – Leanne Simpson, Lighting the Eighth Fire (Simpson, 2008, p. 206-207).

Sustainable Trent is an organization committed to decolonization and healing of the land and its peoples. We are located on the shores of the Odenabe and in Nogojiwanong. Acknowledging the history of this land and and the original peoples who inhabit it is a fundamental first step in this process. We seek connection and relationships with this land and its peoples. Throughout this website, we describe this location as Nogojiwanong, the original name which stems from history and connection to land and water.


Occupy Talks: Indigenous Perspectives – Leanne Betasamosake Simpson [Video file]. (2012, January 26). Retrieved April 2nd from

Simpson, L. (2008). Lighting the eighth fire.
Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring  Publishing.

Simpson, L. (2011). Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back: Nishnaabeg Re-Creation, Resurgence and a New Emergence, Arbeiter Ring Publishing: Winnipeg, MB.


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