Donio-King and her niece Tanesha Donio in the background. Michelle is holding a pickerel she caught in Sioux Lookout. | MICHELLE DONIO-KING
Michelle Donio-King’s most defining feature is her laugh. It accents her playful charm and is the key to understanding her adventurous and giving spirit.
Born in Toronto, around age two Donio-King and her family moved to Northwestern Ontario, just outside of Jellicoe. She was the youngest of three children. Her mother Ann was the executive director of the Thunderbird Friendship Centre for many years, and was the first Aboriginal woman in the province of Ontario to become a Justice of the Peace.
Raised in a remote area, Donio-King spent a lot of time studying her surroundings. She learned what cloud formations meant a storm was coming, what kind of plant helped her grandmother’s arthritis, and what berries were safe to eat. Donio-King loved to pick wild flowers for her mother. Ann was allergic to them, but not wanting to discourage her daughter’s curiosity for the natural world, she’d keep them in the house. Many of Donio-King’s childhood companions were her male cousins. They nicknamed her “boxer,” because she could hold her own in physical matches with them. Donio-King shared, it was all about proving herself. Something she learned from her hardworking mother.
Donio-King jokingly spoke about the time her mother taught her how to shoot a pellet gun. Around nine years old, she’d sighted a partridge and just pulled the trigger, when Ann accidentally ran in front of the gun. Hit in the arm, the lead pellet had to be surgically removed because it was close to her bone. For many years after, Ann kept it in her purse as a souvenir.
Another significant role model in Donio-King’s life was her grandfather.
“Baba was a quiet man, so when he did talk, I listened,” she said.
He told her she should never hunt or fish for something she didn’t intend to eat. She learned from her uncles, that whenever a wild animal is harvested, it is to be shared with the rest of the family.
These childhood lessons have stayed with her, and as a member of the Robinson-Superior Treaty, she has the option of netting fish. But not wanting to take more than what she needs for herself and her family, Donio-King prefers fishing with a rod and reel.
“There’s no sport to netting,” she said.
Donio-King presently resides in Thunder Bay. She is a victim witness liaison worker for an agency that assists Aboriginal victims and witnesses in the criminal courts. She loves helping people and has found that the best way to destress from the demanding work is by fishing. Every weekend, during the warmer months, she and her family return to the Jellicoe area. Donio-King won’t name the lakes where they go fishing—what she will freely disclose is that “fishing is good for the soul.”
Too humble to boast about her skill level as an angler, it is through Donio-King’s engaging stories that it quickly becomes obvious she has acquired a lot of knowledge about fishing. Several years ago, a friend taught her how to make spinners. It takes Donio-King an hour to make a dozen of them. Each one involves two complicated knots, 10-pound test line, a spinner, clevis, assorted plastic beads and a hook. She also knows which color spinner work best in sunny or overcast conditions. Donio-King explained that the reason spinners are so attractive to the fish, is because of the noise they make as they travel through the water.
Donio-King prefers pickerel (walleye) and will only catch pike in the cooler months, provided they don’t have spots on their stomachs. She’d been taught this meant they weren’t well. And the only way Donio-King will eat pike is if it’s been prepared into patties, a recipe her grandmother created and perfected.
The biggest pickerel that Donio-King caught was in the Atikokan area. It was so large that the only way it would fit in the cooler was by folding it in half. Then there was the time she was sitting in the boat, just offshore, waiting for her fiancé to come back. Every time she cast her line in the shallow water, she’d reel in a fish. By the time José returned, she’d landed five.
The story Donio-King loves to share the most is when she took her granddaughter fishing. Three years old at the time, Crystal caught her first fish with one of Donio-King’s customized spinners. It was a deeply connective moment, to be able to share her love of the outdoors with the next generation.
Donio-King blissfully confided, “We are truly blessed to live where we are.”
By Kim Casey