Whitefish Island – St. Marys River

Looking north past the much-diminished rapids of the St. Marys River from Whitefish Island, a historic Ojibwe fishing station, to the Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge and historic International Sault Ste. Marie International Railway Bridge, with “The Island” of downtown Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, on the opposite bank.

One interesting island story among many about this particular location on the river involves Whitefish Island, a 22-acre island over which the international bridge crosses. This island today belongs to neither the United States nor Canada.

The Batchewana First Nation’s legal rights to Whitefish Island were restored—under an 1850 treaty with Britain—after an 18-year legal battle that began in 1980, leading to a land claim filing in 1982, and continuing with the occupation of the island by Chief Edward James Sayers Nebenaigoching, first with a group of family and friends and then alone, beginning in 1989. The occupation ended when the claim was settled in 1992. Damages of $3.5 million were paid and the island was returned to “Indian reserve” status as the Whitefish Island Reserve of the Batchewana First Nation in 1998.

At one time the island was separated from St. Marys Island (now two islands, North and South St. Marys islands) by the Whitefish Channel, which, since 1855 has primarily dried up due to the construction of the American and Canadian locks and the use of compensating dams to control water levels. Whitefish Island is accessed by new pedestrian bridges from South St. Marys Island.

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