The Chippewa, also known as the Anishinaabe, Ojibway, and Ojibwe, are one of the largest and most powerful nations in North America. They have almost 150 separate bands across Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and southern Canada, especially Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. Their headquarters were likely in Sault Saint Marie, Michigan around 1640. In 1642, Charles Raymbaut and Isaac Jogues found them in Sault Saint Marie and at battle with a group to the west, likely the Sioux. Isolated from the frontier, the Chippewa had a minor role in early colonial warfare. The Chippewa played a modest role in early colonial hostilities due to their seclusion from the border.
Northern tribal members were less likely to go to battle than southern tribe members. Southern brethren called them “the rabbits” because they were calm and pleasant. The tribe’s members were called “men of the dense forests” and “swamp people” in the north due to the region they resided in. Every Ojibwa tribe had migratory bands. Families gathered in the summer, usually in fishing sites, and dispersed to hunting areas in the fall. The Ojibwa depended on wild rice and corn for food. Canoes, wigwams, and utensils were fashioned of birch bark.
The Algonquian-speaking Ojibwa (sometimes written Ojibwe or Ojibway), also known as the Chippewa and the Anishinaabe, inhabited the region spanning Ontario and Manitoba in Canada, and North Dakota and Minnesota in the United States, from Lake Huron westward onto the Plains. The literal meaning of their name is “original people.” When referring to the Ojibwa who lived to the west of Lake Winnipeg in Canada, are often referred to as the Saulteaux.
The Ojibway term for “to cook till puckered up” comes from the puckered seams on their moccasins. Northern North Dakota, the Turtle Mountains of Minnesota, and the Great Lakes Huron and Superior shores were all historically part of the tribe’s homeland. Even though they lived throughout a sizable territory, the Chippewa were never a major player in colonial conflicts because they were cut off from the rest of the world by a fortified border. Together, the Ottawa and Potawatomi were originally one unified Algonquian people before splitting in two at Mackinaw, Michigan, during their westward expansion.
The Ojibwe, in contrast to several tribes in the Great Plains, was a social tribe that tended to stay in one place throughout their lives. The women grew many varieties of squash and corn and gathered wild rice, while the males went hunting and fishing. The Native Americans’ customary dwelling was the wigwam, a dome- or point-shaped lodge crafted from grass mats, bark, and willow saplings. The Chippewa, along with other Northwest tribes, took part in all clashes with frontier settlers until the end of the War of 1812.
After signing a treaty with the federal government in 1815, indigenous people in Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin were able to settle down and farm the land that had been allotted to them or live in relative tranquility on reservations. As a result of many of these wars, the Ojibwa lost or sold reservation rights in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin to the federal government through a series of treaties, such as one signed in 1854 that established permanent Ojibwa reservations in those three states.
As late as 1736, they finally got a foothold west of Lake Superior. While most of the tribe was busy gaining land to the west, a minor group lived on the peninsula between Lakes Huron and Erie, which the Iroquois had claimed. Once the Iroquois were driven out, the territory was ruled over by bands of Chippewa people, among whom the majority adopted the name Mississauga. It was believed that there was a total of 25,000 of them in 1764.
About 175,000 people of Ojibwa descent existed in the United States and Canada in the early 21st century, making the Ojibwa among the largest indigenous North American communities. They represent one of the greatest indigenous populations found north of the Rio Grande. As of 2010, an estimated 170,742 Ojibwe lived in the United States, while another 160,000 called Canada home.
They share a similar creation story with the Algonquians of the north, and like other indigenous communities, they think that everything, from people to rocks, has some sort of latent spiritual energy. During the summer, manitus are extremely perceptive and quick to react to any situation, while during the winter, they mirror sleeping after snowfalls. The Chippewa people consider dreams to be divine revelations, and they often appoint dream symbols as spiritual guardians. The Chippewa once was dominated by a powerful group called the Midewiwin, or a huge medicine society, which created a severe obstacle to the growth of Christianity.
The Ojibwe gained notoriety early on for their skill in commerce and copper mining, as well as for the creation of maple syrup and wild rice. The Midewiwin Society is well-known for preserving complex scrolls that include not only written records but also oral history, music, maps, anecdotes, stories, geometry, and arithmetic. Some Chippewa tribes, particularly any on La Pointe Island in Wisconsin, were rumored to engage in cannibalism. Ojibwe was known to use scalping as a weapon, but this was apparently rare and only a form of torture chosen towards certain enemies. Similarly, to other Great Lakes warrior cultures, ritual cannibalism of the dead bodies of enemies was rumored to be practiced. The Pillager tribe in Minnesota practiced ceremonial cannibalism on a regular basis. This was said to be condemned by the rest of the tribes.
However, the name “Anishinaabe Owin” also can refer to a language used by various Indigenous peoples of North America and is not limited to the Ojibwe language. Although Anishinaabe Owin and Ojibwe Owin are sometimes used interchangeably, the former name is used to refer expressly to the Ojibwe language. The five most common varieties of Ojibwe are northern, eastern, and western Ojibwe (Severn Ojibwe, Oji-Cree), Southern Ojibwe (Minnesota Ojibwe, Chippewa), and Ottawa Ojibwe (Odawa or Odaawa). Among the five spoken languages, Ottawa is the most widely understood.
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The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/gstraub
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- The History Junkie, Available here: https://thehistoryjunkie.com/chippewa-tribe-facts/
- , Available here: https://www.mnhs.org/fortsnelling/learn/native-americans/ojibwe-people
- , Available here: https://project.geo.msu.edu/geogmich/ojibwe.html