ZHEEWEGONAB (Shewaquonap, Sheawaquanep, meaning duck feather), band leader among the Northern Ojibwas, probably a member of the sturgeon clan; fl. 1780–1805.
Zheewegonab’s father, Nonosecash (known as Assakis prior to the early 1760s), traded regularly at the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Fort Albany (Ont.) between 1761 and 1771. In 1766 his large band numbered 12 canoes, or some 30 persons. He appears to have been murdered in 1772 or 1773, and his brother Shuwescome was killed in 1774. Probably Zheewegonab became leader of the band about this time.
He is first mentioned by John Kipling, chief trader at Gloucester House (Washi Lake, Ont.), who reported in 1780 that Zheewegonab was on his way to Albany with three canoes. Kipling’s later remark that the Indian was pleased with the treatment he received there may indicate that Zheewegonab had been dealing with Montreal-based traders during the 1770s. In 1781 he traded at Gloucester House, but did not appear there again until 1783, when he reported that the smallpox epidemic of 1781–82 had killed a number of his band members, as well as many Indians southwest of Lake St Joseph.
During the summer of 1784 James Sutherland* of the HBC, exploring west of Gloucester House, met captains Zheewegonab and Cannematchie (possibly Zheewegonab’s brother) and their bands, totalling 15 men plus women and children, camped at Pashkokogan Lake just southeast of Lake St Joseph. Zheewegonab told Sutherland that late in the summer of 1783, upon finding Gloucester deserted, he had thrown his furs away. That winter he apparently traded his catch to the men from Montreal. Sutherland made a speech to the Indians to attract them back to Gloucester, and then smoked the sacred calumet with them, aware that “none but he who is or intends to be your real friend will smoak the great Pipe.” The Indians held a dance and a feast involving the eating of a dog. Sutherland’s guide and Zheewegonab then exchanged guns, gift exchanges being important in establishing alliances.
Zheewegonab’s band appears to have hunted in the vicinity of Lake St Joseph, especially near its northwest end. Sutherland’s encounter with them in 1786 occurred near the Crownest River (probably present-day Cat River). After Osnaburgh House was established close to the east end of Lake St Joseph in the summer of 1786, and the Cat Lake outpost two years later, Zheewegonab traded at these two settlements, especially the former. Nevertheless, he dealt with men of the North West Company whenever they offered better bargains. Because of his great influence over the Indians around Lake St Joseph, his business was eagerly sought; he called it his lake, suggesting that his influence determined where the Indians of the area traded. In 1790 he requested the establishment of an HBC outpost some 90 miles west of Osnaburgh House to overcome the attractions offered by the Nor’Westers there. The request was ignored, and the following year Robert Goodwin, chief trader at Osnaburgh, acknowledged that “plainly they will not come to us when they can get better with the Canadians.”
Throughout the 1790s Zheewegonab’s band played off the HBC against the NWC. In 1800 John McKay of Osnaburgh commented that he “as well as his whole Blackguard family are such expensive Indians that I am sure they never brought a skin to this house, since first settled, that ever cleared itself in England.” Nevertheless, Zheewegonab arrived annually at Osnaburgh House with from 6 to 14 canoes and was considered to be “the chief Captain at Osnaburgh” as late as 1805.
Zheewegonab does not appear in the Osnaburgh House records after 1805 and it may be assumed that he either died or was replaced as leader about that time. The band appears to have numbered about 30 to 35 members during the period of his leadership. Some of Zheewegonab’s descendants now belong to the Osnaburgh House treaty band.
PAM, HBCA, B.3/a/50–67; B.30/a/1–6; B.78/a/1–14; B.86/a/1–18; B.155/a/1–36; B.155/e/1–6. C. A. Bishop, The Northern Ojibwa and the fur trade: an historical and ecological study (Toronto and Montreal, 1974).