The Ojibwa, or Chippewa Tribe

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The largest and most important tribe of the Algonquian stock, formerly holding an extensive territory about the upper Great Lakes, in Michigan, Minnesota, Ontario, Manitoba, and adjacent regions, and now gathered upon a number of reservations with the same area. The name is from a root signifying "puckered," or "drawn up," said by some authorities to refer to the peculiar sewing of the tribal moccasin, although this derivation is disputed. They call themselves usually Anishinabeg, "spontaneous men," were known to the French as Ojibois, or Saulteurs, from their residence about Sault Saint Marie, and were commonly known to the English as Ojibwa, or in its corrupted form, Chippewa.

Although the Ojibwa are the largest tribe north of Mexico, yet, owing to their looseness of organization and remoteness from the settlement frontier, they were not proportionately conspicuous during the colonial period. According to their tradition they emigrated from the Saint Lawrence region in the east, in company with the Ottawa and Potawatami, the three tribes separating at Mackinaw, the two others going southward, while the Ojibwa spread westward along both shores of Lake Superior. The Cree, Maskegon, and Missisaga are claimed by the Ojibwa as later offshoots from their own tribe, and are sometimes so closely affiliated that they are hardly distinguished from he Ojibwa. The Ojibwa, Ottawa, and Potawatami, though differing in language, also formed a sort of loose confederacy, and were sometimes for this reason designated in Indian councils as the "Three Fires." When first known, about the year 1650, the Ojibwa were confined to a comparatively narrow area close along the shore of Lake Superior, hemmed in by the hostile Sioux and Foxes on the west and south.

On procuring firearms from the traders, however, they became aggressive and soon drove out the Foxes from northern Wisconsin, compelling them to take refuge with the Sauk farther south. They then turned their attention to the Sioux, driving them from the headwaters of the Mississippi and continuing their victorious westward march until they had occupied the upper Red River country and established their frontier band in the Turtle Mountains, on the boundary between Dakota and Manitoba. In the meantime other bands of the tribe had overrun the Ontario peninsula, formerly conquered by the Iroquois from the Huron and others. These bands later became known as Missisaga. The Ojibwa first turned the westward tide of Iroquois invasion by inflicting upon them a disastrous defeat at the place thereafter known to the Indians as "The Place of Iroquois Bones," now Point Iroquois, near Sault Sainte Marie.

Throughout the colonial wars they adhered to the French side and later to Pontiac, but took sides with the English and Tecumseh against the Americans in the Revolution and War of 1812,joining with other tribes in the general treaty of peace in 1815. Since then they have been at peace with the whites. By a general treaty of 1825 for the adjustment of intertribal boundaries in the Northwest the Government made an end to the hereditary war between the Ojibwa and the Sioux. By other treaties, on both sides of the line, they have sold the greater part of their former territory, retaining only their present reservations.

Scattered over such an immense region, extending hundreds of miles from east to west, the Ojibwa had a large number of bands and divisions, some of which were hardly known to the others more remote, as well as a large number of clans which were not at all represented in the same section. According to Warren, they themselves recognized ten principal divisions, including three on the Canadian side of the boundary. Among these the Makandwe, or Pillagers, about Leech Lake, Minn., are perhaps the best known. The number of clans is variously stated from eleven to twenty-three, Warren making it twenty-one, grouped into five prairies representing original clans, one of which claimed the hereditary chieftainship, while another claimed precedence in the war councils. In their general habit they resembled the other northern Algonquian tribes. Living in a cold country, they gave little or no attention to agriculture, but depended for subsistence upon hunting, fishing, and the gathering of wild fruits and seeds, particularly the abundant wild rice of the lake region, with the sugar which they had learned to extract from he maple. Their houses were framed in wigwam or tipi shape, covered usually with birch bark, from which also they made their light canoes, their bowls and boxes, and upon which they scratched their simple pictograph records.

They made no pottery, but were skillful mat-weavers. They had an elaborate mythology and ritual, chiefly in the keeping of the secret Mide Society. Despite missionary effort and contact with civilization, the primitive culture of the Ojibwa is little modified. The principal works in the Ojibwa language are Baraga's Dictionary, Belcourt's Grammar, and the shorter treatises of Schoolcraft. Of myths, the best collection is Schoolcraft, Algic Researches, upon which Longfellow based his Hiawatha. In ritual mythology and general description the best work is Hoffman, "Midewiwin of the Ojibwa," in Seventh Report of the Bureau of Ethnology. On traditional and later history the most satisfactory is Warren, "History of the Ojibwa," in fifth volume of Minnesota Historical Society Collections, after which come Copway, History of the Ojibway Indians, and Jones, History of the Ojebway Indians, all three authors being of mixed Ojibwa blood. In special research may be noted Jenk, "Wild Rice Gatherers," in Nineteenth Report of the Bureau of Ethnology.

The Ojibwas was estimated in 1764 at about 25,000; in 1783, at 15,000; in 1843, at 30,000; in 1851, at 28,000. They number now about 30,000, divided between the United States and Canada as follows: United States__Minnesota (chiefly at Leech Lake, Red Lake, and White Earth), 8130; Wisconsin (chiefly at Lac Court Oreille, Lac de Flambeau, and La Pointe), 5100; North Dakota (Turtle Mountain), 2460; Michigan, 700 on upper peninsula, with 5600 scattered Chippewa and Ottawa on lower peninsula; Kansas, mixed Munsee and Chippewa, 90. Canada, all in Ontario Province, on numerous small reservations, and variously designated as "Chippewas," "Ojibbewas," and "Saulteaux," 10,760, besides Ojibbewas and Ottawas of Manitoulin and Cockburn islands, 1950.


Website: The History
Article Name: The Ojibwa, or Chippewa Tribe
Researcher/Preparer/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: From my Collection of Books: The New International Encyclopedia; Dodd, Mead & Company-New York 1902-1905. Total of 21 Volumes.
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