by Loriene Roy
The Ojibwa ("oh-jib-wah") are a woodland people of northeastern North America. In the mid-seventeenth century there were approximately 35,000 Ojibwa on the continent. According to the 1990 census, the Ojibwa were the third-largest Native group (with a population of 104,000), after the Cherokee (308,000) and the Navajo (219,000). Federally recognized Ojibwa reservations are found in Minnesota (Fond du Lac, Grand Portage, Leech Lake, Mille Lacs, Nett Lake [Bois Forte Band], Red Lake, and White Earth), Michigan (Bay Mills Indian Community, Grande Traverse, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Saginaw, and Sault Sainte Marie), Wisconsin (Bad River, Lac Courte Oreilles, Lac du Flambeau, Mole Lake or Sokaogan Chippewa Community, Red Cliff, and St. Croix), Montana (Rocky Boy's), and North Dakota (Turtle Mountain). Others have petitioned for federal recognition. While Ojibwa reserves are also found in Ontario and Saskatchewan, this account stresses their history in the United States.
The Ojibwa call themselves the Anishinabeg (also spelled Anishinaabeg, or if singular, Anishinabe) for "first" or "original people." In the eighteenth century the French called Ojibwa living near the eastern shore of Lake Superior Salteaux or Salteurs, "People of the Falls." These terms now used only in Canada. The Anishinabe acquired the names Ojibwa and Chippewa from French traders. The English preferred to use Chippewa or Chippeway, names typically employed on the treaties with the British government and later with the U.S. government. In 1951, Inez Hilger noted that more than 70 different names were used for Ojibwa in written accounts (M. Inez Hilger, Chippewa Child Life and Its Cultural Background [originally published, 1951; reprinted, St Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1992], p. 2).
There are several explanations for the derivation of the word "Ojibwa." Some say it is related to the word "puckered" and that it refers to a distinctive type of moccasin that high cuffs and a puckered seam. Others say that the French used the word o-jib-i-weg or "pictograph" because the Anishinabe employed a written language based on pictures or symbols. There is no standard spelling in English, and variations include: Ojibwa, Ojibway, Chippewa and Chippeway. Chippewa is the form used by many tribal organizations recognized by the United States. Ojibwa has become the common English language reference for encyclopedias and entries on this group of peoples. As previously noted, the people call themselves Anishinabe. This name, as with other names chosen by the peoples in question, is the preferred term.
Early legends indicate that, 500 years ago, the Ojibwa lived near the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River. About 1660 they migrated westward, guided by a vision of a floating seashell referred to as the sacred miigis. At the Straits of Mackinac, the channel of water connecting Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, the vision ended, and the Anishinabe divided into three groups. One group, the Potawatomi, moved south and settled in the area between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. A second group, the Ottawa, moved north of Lake Huron. A third group, the Ojibwa, settled along the eastern shore of Lake Superior. Because of this early association, the Potawatomi, the Ottawa, and the Ojibwa are known collectively as the Three Fires.
The Ojibwa met non-Native Americans in the 1600s, possibly hearing about Europeans through the Huron people. The first written European accounts about the Ojibwa appeared in Jesuit diaries, published in collected form as the Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents. The Jesuits were followed by French explorers and fur traders, who were succeeded by British fur traders, explorers, and soldiers and later by U.S. government officials and citizens.
Fur trading, especially the exchange of beaver pelts for goods including firearms, flourished until the 1800s. The Ojibwa traded with representatives of fur companies or indirectly through salaried or independent traders called coureurs des bois. In addition to furs, the land around the Great Lakes was rich in copper and iron ore, lumber, and waterpower, all natural resources that were coveted by non-Native Americans. Competition in trading led to intertribal conflict. By the 1700s the Ojibwa, aided with guns, had succeeded in pushing the Fox south into Wisconsin. Ojibwa and Sioux fighting extended over a 100-year period until separate reservations were established.
By the mid-nineteenth century the Ojibwa had enlarged their geographic boundaries and had splintered into four main groups. The Southeastern Ojibwa lived southeast and north of Lake Huron, in present-day Michigan and southern Ontario. The Southwestern Ojibwa lived along the south and north shores of Lake Superior. The Northern Ojibwa lived in northern Ontario. The Plains Ojibwa or Bungi lived in the present-day states and provinces of Montana, North Dakota, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. The Plains Ojibwa adopted a lifestyle that resembled that of other Plains tribes, living in tepees, riding horses, and relying on buffalo for food and clothing.
The history of the contact between non-Native Americans and the Ojibwa dates back more than 350 years. While the Ojibwa did not engage in extended armed conflict with Europeans, the relationship was not always amicable. To the missionaries the Ojibwa were heathens to be converted to Christianity. To the fur traders they were commodities who could be purchased and indentured to company stores through watered-down alcohol and cheaply made goods. To the settlers they were wastrels who did not force the land to release its bounty. To ethnologists the Ojibwa were objects of study. To the government they were impressionable and recalcitrant wards. While there are many people who now value the Ojibwa culture, there are still others who regard the Ojibwa with disinterest or disdain, indicating that long-held stereotypes persist.
Key issues facing the Ojibwa include economic development to reduce unemployment, the defense of the wild rice industry from commercial growers, improved medical treatment to combat illnesses such as diabetes and alcoholism, better management of natural resources, protection of treaty rights and attainment of sovereignty, and increased emphasis on higher education to train specialists and renew cultural ties.
The Ojibwa face the same misconceptions and stereotypes applied to other Native peoples. Because they refuse to strip the land of all its bounty, they have been considered lazy and unintelligent. Sports mascots and consumer product labels targeted at the general American public perpetuate Native American stereotypes. Ojibwa have also seen their sacred religious beliefs, such as vision quests, misinterpreted and sold by seekers of New Age thought. Misconceptions about sovereignty are common. Almost all early treaties promised the Ojibwa that they could continue to hunt and fish in ceded land. Yet when the Ojibwa attempt to enforce their treaty rights, conflicts arise with non-Native outdoors enthusiasts and tourists. From 1989 to 1991 anti-treaty organizations such as Stop Treaty Abuse staged protests against spearfishing that led to racial slurs, verbal threats, stoning, and gunfire aimed at Ojibwa. Two widely publicized antitreaty group slogans were, "Save a Deer, Shoot an Indian," and "Save a Fish, Spear a Squaw." The relationship between the Ojibwa and the federal government is often perceived not as a legal entitlement but as a special privilege; many non-Native Americans have been falsely persuaded that the Ojibwa receive extraordinary benefits.
Cultural values such as generosity, honesty, strength of character, endurance, and wisdom were instilled through education, religious practice, and by example within the tribe. The Ojibwa counted time by 24-hour intervals (nights), months (moons), and years (winters). Each month had a name, denoting some natural feature or event. For example, the month of September, when tribes harvested wild rice along the lake shores, was called manoominikegiizis, or "ricing moon." October was "falling leaves moon." Time was sometimes reckoned by making notches on sticks.
Precontact culture was heavily influenced by the natural terrain as the Ojibwa adapted their lifestyle to survive in a heavily forested land traversed by a network of lakes and rivers. The Ojibwa lived a seminomadic life, moving a number of times each year in order to be close to food sources. Except for the Plains Ojibwa, who rode horses, they traveled on land by foot and wore snowshoes during the winter, transporting goods on dog sleds. The portability of Ojibwa lodging—the wigwam— enabled such moves to be made quickly and easily. Wigwams could be built in a day by bending peeled green ironwood saplings into arches; lashing the arches into a circular or oval shape with basswood fiber; and weaving birch bark strips or rush, cedar bark, or cattail mats around the saplings. The dwelling had two openings, a door and a hole on top to emit smoke from the cooking fire located directly below. When they moved to another camp, the Ojibwa left the frame, taking the lightweight birch bark strips and rush mats. During warm months the Ojibwa slept on cedar bough mattresses, each person wrapped in a bearskin or deerskin robe.
Ojibwa lived in hunting camps in late fall and winter. In winter, men trapped and hunted. Families could become isolated during the winter months, and women occupied their time by tanning hides and sewing, while families engaged in storytelling. Many tales centered on Nanabush, a half-human, half-spirit trickster, who was often entangled in humorous scrapes and brought innovations, such as medicine, to humankind from the spirits (Nanabush went by many other names: Naanabozho, Nanibush, Nenabozho, Manabozho, Minabozho, Waynaboozhoo, Wenabozho, Wenabozhoo, Wenebojo, Winabojo, or Winneboshoo). Gambling was another popular pastime. In the moccasin game, players on different teams guessed the location of a marked bullet or metal ball hidden under a moccasin. Gambling was a social event often accompanied by drumming and singing.
Before the Ojibwa began to trade with Europeans and Americans, they wore clothing made from animal hides, primarily from tanned deerskin. The women wore deerskin dresses, leggings, moccasins, and petticoats made of woven nettle or thistle fibers. The men wore leggings, breechcloths, and moccasins. Girls and women decorated the clothing in geometric designs with bones, feathers, dyed porcupine quills, shells, and stones, using bone or thorn needles and thread made from nettles or animal sinew. Jewelry was made from animal bones, claws, or teeth strung into necklaces. After European contact, the Ojibwa began to wear woven clothing. Europeans introduced the Ojibwa to glass beads inspired by the designs in calico cloth. Both men and women wove and mended fish nets.
Birch bark was a versatile natural product from which the Ojibwa created many items, including canoes, toboggans, and storage containers. The Ojibwa built canoe frames from wood and covered the frame with sewn birch bark strips, sealing the seams with pine or spruce gum. Each canoe weighed from 65 to 125 pounds and was typically 16 feet long, 18 inches deep, and three feet wide across the midpoint. Toboggans also had curved wooden frames covered with birch bark. The Ojibwa decorated birch bark baskets with porcupine quills, sweet grass, birch bark cutouts, or bitten designs that were created by folding thin pieces of birch bark in half and biting them. The dents made dark impressions on the light background. Birch bark torches were fashioned by rolling the bark into tubes and covering the tube with pitch. The Ojibwa also carved wooden objects such as arrows, bowls, boxes, drums, paddles, rattles, spoons, shuttles for weaving fish nets, and war clubs.
Traditional life was altered through contact with non-Native Americans. Fur trading resulted in the Ojibwa becoming reliant on traded goods rather than the clothing, utensils, and weapons they had constructed. The establishment of reservations restricted Ojibwa seasonal travel, the formalized educational system removed children from their families, and the government's relocation policies dispersed tribe members. By the late 1880s many Ojibwa lived in one-room log cabins, frame cabins, or tar paper shacks rather than in wigwams. Wigwam construction incorporated new materials: other forms of tree bark were more easily available than long strips of birch bark; blankets covered wigwam doors instead of animal skins; calico, cardboard, and tar paper replaced the rush matting. The rate of acculturation varied by reservation. By the mid-1940s, only the elderly were bilingual, and most Ojibwa had adopted modern clothing. Birch bark canoes were largely replaced by wooden and later aluminum boats. Few Ojibwa practiced their traditional religion.
Ojibwa culture is currently experiencing a renaissance as natives and non-natives are studying Ojibwa botany, crafts, myths, and religion. Wild ricing by canoe is still a valued, even sacred, part of the culture, despite the fact that the once bountiful harvest has been reduced and the Ojibwa must now compete with commercial growers. Making maple sugar is still popular as well, although the sap may be collected in plastic bags rather than in birch bark baskets. Communal festivities such as the "Honor the Earth" powwows held every July at Lac Courte Oreilles have become a focal point of modern day Ojibwa culture and hundreds of dancers of all ages participate.
Many Ojibwa are concerned about the degradation of the environment by industry and mismanagement. Wild rice harvesting has suffered from changing water levels, housing construction, water pollution, boat traffic, and the incursions of alien species of plants and animals. Logging enterprises have destroyed traditional maple sugar camps, and fish caught in freshwater lakes are contaminated with mercury. It is still common for Ojibwa to hunt, trap, and fish. The Mide religion has been revived as well, and traditional importance is still afforded to visions and dreams. Ojibwa gatherings often begin with a prayer and a ritual offering of tobacco as an expression of gratitude and respect to the Heavenly Spirit. Powwows, the modern equivalent of multiband gatherings, are now elaborately staged competitions were costumed dancers perform to the accompaniment of vocalists who sing in Ojibwa while beating on bass drums with padded drumsticks. Clan and band affiliation still exists, and many Ojibwa seek to reclaim lands once tribally owned. If they are non-reservation dwellers, they often maintain ties to reservations, especially if they are enrolled or official members. Tribal newsletters are a means for members to stay abreast of local news, issues, and politics.
Native cuisine was closely influenced by the seasons, as the Ojibwa changed camps in seminomadic pattern to locate themselves closer to food sources. For example, because the Ojibwa used maple sugar or maple syrup as a seasoning, during the late spring they lived near maple sugar trees. Each family or group of families returned to a traditional location where they had stored utensils and had marked with an ax cut the trees they would tap. A typical sugar camp or sugar bush encompassed an area of some 900 taps or cuttings, with up to three taps made per tree. The Ojibwa collected maple sap in birch bark containers and poured it into vats made of moose hide, wood, or bark, and later into brass kettles, where it was boiled until it became syrup. The syrup was strained, reheated, thickened, and stirred in shallow troughs until it formed granulated sugar. Birch bark cones were packed with sugar, tied together, and hung from the ceiling of the wigwam or storage building. The Ojibwa also poured the sap into wooden molds or directly into snow to form maple sugar candy. Camps were moved in the summer to be close to gardens and wild berry patches. The Ojibwa cultivated gardens of corn, pumpkins, and squash. Dried berries, vegetables, and seeds were stored in underground pits. They drank teas boiled from plants and herbs and sweetened with maple sugar. The Ojibwa fished throughout the year, using hooks, nets, spears, and traps. Fish and meat were dried and smoked so they could be stored.
In late summer the Ojibwa moved again to be near wild rice fields. Wild rice (in Ojibwa, mahnomin, manomin, or manoomin ) is a grain that grows on long grasses in shallow lakes or along streams. As the edible rice seeds began to mature, families marked the area they would harvest by tying the rice stalks together, using knots or dyed rope that would distinguish their claim. The rice harvest was a time of community celebration, starting with the announcement by an annually appointed rice chief or elder that the fields were ready. One team member stood in the canoe pushing a long forked pole to guide the canoe through the grasses. The other team member sat in the canoe, reaching to bend the grass over the canoe and hitting the grass with wooden stocks called beaters in order to shake the wild rice seeds from the grass without permanently injuring the plant. On shore, the rice was dried in the sun, and then parched in a kettle to loosen the hull. A person in clean moccasins then "danced the rice" treading on it to remove the hull and then tossing it into the air to winnow the chaff. A medicine man blessed the first rice harvested, and each ricing pair donated rice to a communal fund to feed the poor. Rice was often boiled and sweetened with maple sugar or flavored with venison or duck broth. Up to one-third of the annual harvest was stored, usually in birch bark baskets. The rice season lasted from ten days to three weeks. Ricers often poled through their sections every few days as the rice seeds matured at differing rates. They were also deliberately inefficient, leaving plenty of rice to seed the beds for the following year.
During their first contact with non-Native peoples, the Ojibwa were exposed to a number of diseases and suffered through epidemics of smallpox and other illnesses. The transition from traditional living to permanent settlement in villages led to a reduced lifestyle and to a high incidence of communicable diseases including tuberculosis and trachoma. When the Ojibwa ceded land they often did so in exchange for health care, indicating an early concern for health issues. These rights are still in effect, and Ojibwa living on or maintaining social ties with reservations may have access to federally funded programs including Indian Health Service clinics or hospitals. The Ojibwa, along with other
Today the Ojibwa use a blend of traditional and modern treatment methods to improve health. Alcohol consumption and chemical dependency is discouraged. Alcohol and drugs are banned from powwow sites, and some powwows are organized to celebrate sobriety. Mash-Ka-Wisen ("Be strong, accept help"), the oldest Native-owned and operated chemical treatment center, on the Fond du Lac Reservation, incorporates elements of Ojibwa culture into its services for its clients. The Minneapolis American Indian Center provides an array of social services, including programs on chemical dependency, developmental disabilities, and rehabilitation.
Traditional herbal cures include sumac fruit made into tea with crushed roots to stop bleeding, blackberry roots boiled and drunk to stop diarrhea or prevent miscarriage, wild onions cooked and sweetened with maple sugar to treat children's colds, yarrow roots mashed into creams for treating blemishes, strawberry roots boiled and eaten to treat stomach aches, and plantain leaves chopped and used as a poultice for bruises, rheumatism, and snake bites.
Spoken Ojibwa or Ojibwemowin is an Algonquin language with regional dialectical differences. It is related linguistically to the languages not only of the Ottawa and Potawatomi but also of the Fox, Cree, and Menominee. Since it was a spoken rather than a written language, the spelling of Ojibwa words varies. The Ojibwa language is spoken by between 40,000 to 50,000 people. While once spoken only by elders, there is currently a resurgence of interest in and promotion of the language. Many Ojibwa demonstrate this interest in native identity by preferring to be called Anishinabe. Instruction is available in some public as well as in tribally directed educational settings. Classes and workshops offered at community colleges and state universities are sometimes broadcast to more distant locations. Language texts as well as instructional material in workbooks, bilingual texts, audiotapes, and multimedia formats have also been developed. Tribal newspapers carry regular Ojibwa-language columns.
Common Ojibwa expressions include: Boozhoo ("boo shoo")—Hello, greetings; Miigwech ("mee gwitch")—Thank you; Aaniin ezhi-ayaayan? ("a neen a shay i an")—How are you?; Nimino-ayaa ("nay mi no a yah")—I am fine; Mino-ayaag ! ("minnow a yog")—All of you be well!
In traditional Ojibwa culture, an individual lived in a band and was a member of a clan. Most people from the same clan shared a common ancestor on their father's side of the family. Some clans were matrilineal, and children were affiliated with their mother's clan. People of the same clan claim a common totem ( dodem, do daim, or do dam ), the symbol of a living creature. The seven original clans were the bear, bird, catfish, crane, deer, loon, and marten. Twenty or more clans with additional totems were added later. A totem could denote an attribute such as prowess, leadership, knowledge, healing power, or sustenance. Bands consisted of groups of five to 50 families, up to 400 people, and lived within the same village. Examples are the five large bands of Minnesota: the Superior, Mississippi, Pillager, Red Lake, and Pembina. Bands were formed of people from a number of clans.
Traditionally, Ojibwa behavior was controlled by taboos that governed actions during pregnancy, birth, illness, death, and mourning. For example, bereaved relatives were not allowed to participate in food gathering until someone fed them the first wild rice or maple sugar of the season. Within families, Ojibwa humor was expressed through teasing.
Before contact with non-Native Americans, the Ojibwa held annual spring and autumn celebrations at a central location, with singing, dancing, eating, sports competitions, and storytelling. In the early 1700s the celebrations took place in Bowating, near present-day Sault Sainte Marie. In the late 1700s they were held near Lake Superior's Chequamegon Bay and, by the early 1800s, at Fort La Pointe on Madeline Island. These celebrations commemorated significant events in an individual's lifetime: the naming of a child, a boy's first hunt, a girl's first menstrual period, marriage, and death. Music played a central part in these events, as "singers" would perform to the accompaniment of drums, rattles, or, flutes. At the gatherings, men showed off their skill at traditional, fancy, and grass dances, while women joined in the traditional dances and added shawl and jingle dances. Modern costumes for these dancing competitions, which still continue, have incorporated many novel elements; for example, jingle dancers may sew hundreds of snuff can covers onto dresses in place of traditional seashells or bones.
Women were allowed to marry soon after puberty, at age 14 or 15. During a woman's first menstrual period she fasted in a small wigwam from five to ten days. During this time the manitou or spirits were considered a strong spiritual presence in her life. Boys were allowed to marry as soon as they could demonstrate that they could support a family through hunting. During courtship the couple's contact was supervised. If both young people were found acceptable to each other and to their families, the man moved in with the wife's family for a year. There was no formal wedding ceremony. If the marriage proved to be disharmonious or if the wife failed to conceive, then the man returned to his parents. A couple that wished to continue living together after the year would build their own separate dwelling. Marital separation was allowed, and after separation people could remarry. Men who could support more than one family might have more than one wife. Intermarriage was acceptable, and by 1900 most Ojibwa were of mixed heritage, typically French and Ojibwa.
Parents appointed an elder to give the baby its sacred, or dream, name. The parents would also give the child one or more nicknames. Ojibwa babies were wrapped in swaddling until they were one year old, then kept in cradle boards—rectangular wooden frames with a backrest or curved headboard to protect the baby's head, and a footrest. Dream catchers—willow hoops encircling woven animal-sinew designs that resembled spider webs—and toys of bone, birch bark, shells, or feathers hung from the headboard. Dried moss, cattail down, and rabbit skins served as diapers. Grandparents typically had living with them at least one grandchild, including at least one granddaughter. Childhood was divided into two periods: the time before the child walked, and the time from walking to puberty.
Until girls and boys were around seven years of age, they were tended to and taught by their mothers, aunts, and elders. After that age, boys were taught hunting and fishing skills by the men, while girls continued to learn domestic skills from the women and elders. Moral values were taught by example and through storytelling.
If a person died inside a wigwam, the body was removed through a hole made in the west-facing side of the dwelling. The body was wrapped in birch bark and buried with items of special significance. During the next four days the individual's spirit or ghost was said to be walking westward to a place where the soul would dwell after death. Food and beverage were left at the grave site for the spirit's consumption during the walk. Grave sites were marked by erecting gabled wood houses over the length of the grave. Placed at the head of the grave was a wooden marker painted with a pictograph illustrating the individual's achievements and clan affiliation; the totem animal was painted upside down, denoting death. Families mourned for periods of up to one year, with some family members expressing grief by blackening their faces, chests, and hands with charcoal and maintaining an unkempt appearance. A Feast of the Dead service, scheduled each fall, was sponsored by families who had lost members over the previous year. Food continued to be left at the grave site at regular intervals over a period of many years.
Federal policy toward Native education emphasized Native American assimilation into U.S. society. Consequently, instruction in vocational skills was promoted over the teaching of Native traditions. In fact, Native traditions and languages were forbidden in the educational context provided by the government and mission schools. From the 1870s until the 1940s, many Ojibwa children were sent to government day schools, mission schools, or boarding schools (grade schools located as far away as Kansas and Pennsylvania). School attendance for Ojibwa became compulsory in 1893.
A significant step toward Native American education occurred with the passage of the Johnson O'Malley Act in 1934, authorizing states and territories to contract with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) for services including education. Public schools were encouraged to incorporate information on Native cultures into their curricula.
Today Ojibwa children living off reservations attend public or private schools. Private schools include those operated by Native American organizations, such as the Red School House in St. Paul and the Heart of the Earth Survival School in Minneapolis. Since 1989 public school curricula in Wisconsin are required by law to incorporate lessons on Native American cultures; by 1994 similar legislation was being considered in Minnesota. Ojibwa living on or near reservations may also be taught in tribally run schools or BIA contract schools. Some academic institutions offer degree programs specializing in Ojibwa culture. In addition, four of the 24 tribal colleges in the United States are located on Ojibwa reservations: Bay Mills Community College (Brimley, Michigan), Fond du Lac Community College (Cloquet, Minnesota), Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College (Hayward, Wisconsin), and Turtle Mountain Community College (Belcourt, North Dakota). These institutions offer associate degrees and, in their roles as community centers, serve as focal points of Ojibwa culture.
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education (Volume 60, No. 1, August 25, 1993, pp. 13, 15), as of fall 1992, 114,000 (0.8 percent) of 14,359,000 college students in the United States were Native Americans. As with other Native peoples, fewer Ojibwa complete high school and postsecondary education than do other population groups. The composite of Ojibwa students in higher education often differs significantly from that of non-Native American students: they generally are older, drop out or stop out at higher rates, take longer to complete their degrees, and often are married with children. These students face many obstacles including culturally rooted learning differences and homesickness if they relocate. Students requesting financial aid from their tribe may be channeled into certain fields of study such as education, social work, or medicine.
While some aspects of religious observance were communal, traditional Ojibwa religious practice was focused on inward personal experience. There was a belief in spirits, called manitou or manidoo . The creator was referred to as Gitchie Manitou. Manjimanidoo or evil spirits existed; windigos were especially terrifying spirits who dwelled within lakes and practiced cannibalism. Animate and inanimate objects possessed spiritual power, and the Ojibwa considered themselves one element of nature, no greater or less significant than any other living being. The cardinal directions were invested with sacred power and were associated with certain colors: white for the north, red or black for the south, yellow for the east, blue for the west. The Ojibwa recognized three additional directions: heaven, earth, and the position where an individual stands. Tobacco was considered sacred and was smoked in pipes or scattered on lakes to bless a crossing, a harvest, or a herd or to seal agreements between peoples of different tribes.
Dreams carried great significance and were sought through fasting or other purgative ceremonies. Dream catchers were used to capture good dreams. The name "dreamer" was reserved for tribal visionaries who would dream of certain powerful objects—such as stones—that they would then seek on waking. Dreamers might also experience prophetic dreams that they would convey to others to forestall danger. At an early age young boys and girls fasted in order to obtain a vision of how to conduct their future. Some visions provided complete messages and songs; others were incomplete and were revealed in their entirety only with the fullness of time. Visions could come during sleep. Since it was difficult to adhere to the advice imparted by visions, men and women went on annual fasts or retreats to renew the vision and reflect on their lives.
Sweat lodges were used to cure illness or to procure dreams. These were wigwams in which steam was created by pouring water over heated rocks and sealing the entrances. Bark and pine boughs might be added to the steam. Fasting was used to cure sickness and, like sweating, was thought to cleanse the body.
The Ojibwa developed a Grand Medicine Society or Midewiwin ( Mitewiwin ) religion. Abbreviated Mide, Midewiwin most likely means "goodhearted" or "resonant," in reference to the belief that the Mide priest worked for the betterment of others and employed special sacred drums. The Mide culture is a hierarchical priesthood of four to eight degrees, or orders, with each level representing the attainment of certain skills or knowledge. Women as well as men, children as well as adults, could be priests (also referred to as medicine men or women). As many as 20 years of study might be required to progress to the highest degree. After one year of training, an apprentice was initiated as a first-level Mide priest and was allowed to perform certain duties. Initiations were held during an annual Grand Medicine Dance in the spring or early fall and lasted from one to five days. Conducted in large wigwams, the ceremonies incorporated the use of a sacred drum and sacred pipe, both of which were guarded by caretakers. Initiates offered gifts such as blankets, cooking utensils, and wild rice. Feasting included wild rice, fresh or dried blueberries, maple sugar, and dog meat. Subsequent training required learning herbology for treating sickness or for acquiring personal power, a skill used much in the way that charms are used. Mide priests, therefore, acquired the role of healer. Mide members were also reputed to use "bad medicine" to cause sickness or death. Mide priests carried personal medicine bundles, cloth squares, or cloth or yarn bags enclosing one or more decorated animal skins called medicine bags. Specific types of skins were associated with each of the Mide degrees. At the first level, the Mide priest would have a medicine bag made from the skin of an otter, marten, mink, or weasel. Objects found in medicine bags included shells, bear claws decorated with ribbons, glass beads, kinikinik (native tobacco), carved figures, dried roots, and herbs. Mide songs and instructions were recorded on birch bark scrolls that were placed under the care of an appointed guardian priest.
In the early nineteenth century, many Ojibwa became followers of the Shawnee Prophet and his multitribe Shawano cult whose members advocated a return to traditional living and replacing Mide rites with new ceremonies. The Prophet was also known as Lalawethika (Laulewasika) or Tenskwatawa and was the brother of the Shawnee warrior Tecumseh. The Shawano cult lost favor and the Mide regained strength after the Prophet's followers failed to defeat the U.S. Army troops in 1811 at the battle of Tippecanoe.
Christianity was adopted slowly, but most modern Ojibwa are Roman Catholics or Protestant Episcopalians. Conflict arose between full-blooded Ojibwa, who tended to follow a more traditional lifestyle focused on Mide or Episcopalian values, and the mixed-blood progressive Ojibwa, who typically were Roman Catholic and followed a more acculturated lifestyle. The BIA often settled disagreements between the two factions by siding with the progressives who promoted majority culture values such as agronomy and small business enterprises.
Ojibwa culture dictated that excess goods be shared with the less fortunate. With the arrival of the fur trade, the Ojibwa learned to barter for goods that generally could be consumed within a year. They first earned money through the sale of land or timber rights. Since saving money was not a tradition and the amount they received was low, incomes were disposable and might be barely sufficient for a meager living. Often relocated to disadvantaged areas, the Ojibwa faced poverty and bare subsistence through living off the land and/or farming. Reservation life led to reliance on government assistance.
Modern Ojibwa live on reservations and in a variety of nonreservation areas, rural, suburban, and urban. Like other Native peoples, the Ojibwa, particularly those on reservations, have high rates of unemployment. They may support themselves through seasonal work, including forestry, farming, tourism, trapping, and wild ricing. Particularly since the 1970s reservations also support small businesses: bait shops, campgrounds, clothing manufacturing, construction, fish hatcheries, hotels, lumber stores, marinas, restaurants, and service stations.
With the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988, reservations were accorded new employment venues related to gaming, including bingo halls, casinos, and spin-off businesses such as gas stations, hotels, and restaurants. While there is some opposition to gaming, profits have contributed to higher employment levels and income. Tribes have invested gaming income in the purchase of ancestral lands, in road and home construction, and in building new social service buildings and/or extending social services. Some reservations have passed employment rights ordinances requiring employers on reservations to give preference to tribal members in hiring, training, and promotion.
Treaty rights allow modern Ojibwa to hunt, fish, and harvest rice on lands once belonging to their ancestors. The Ojibwa right to use the natural resources of reservation lands ceded to the government was reaffirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in the 1983 Voigt Decision. In 1987 federal judge James Doyle found that these rights extended to the use of traditional methods and that the Ojibwa had the right to use their natural resources to the extent that they could support a modest standard of living.
Federal policy emphasized the assimilation of the Ojibwa into U.S. society. This policy has taken the following forms: treaty making; establishment of reservations and removal; individual allotments; relocation; and self-determination and cultural affirmation.
Until 1871 the Ojibwa tribes were viewed as sovereign nations. As such, the legal relationship between the Ojibwa and national governments and their citizens was largely defined by treaties. Treaties drew boundaries between Ojibwa lands and lands designated for other tribes and/or non-Native Americans, concentrated tribes on reservations, allowed the government to purchase Ojibwa land, or set regulations concerning commerce. A major treaty was signed by Lakota (Sioux) and Ojibwa representatives at Prairie du Chien (in present-day Wisconsin) in 1825 to stop fighting between the two nations and establish boundaries. In 1827 another treaty set the boundary between Ojibwa and Menominee land. The Ojibwa ceded or sold land rights in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin to the federal government in a number of treaties, including one signed in 1854 that established permanent Ojibwa reservations in three states: Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Bands were dispersed geographically, with members spread out in different reservations. In exchange for land or natural resources, the Ojibwa received annuities or annual payments of goods, livestock, food staples, clearance of debt with fur traders or fur company stores, and the services of blacksmiths, physicians, saw millers, and teachers.
Federal and state legislation replaced treaty making in 1871. Later some reservations were created by executive order or by public act. Some reservations closely followed traditional Ojibwa boundaries, while others were established in previously unsettled areas. In the 1860s non-Native Americans put forward a plan to move all Minnesotan Ojibwa to a new reservation in the northwest corner of the state. Members of the four bands living in Minnesota were eventually relocated to the White Earth Reservation, beginning in 1868. The history of White Earth is a particularly disruptive one, with much of the land initially designated for the Ojibwa lost through improper taxation and swindling.
The General Allotment Act of 1887, also known as the Dawes Act, outlined national adherence to allotment, a policy of encouraging assimilation to white culture, primarily through the adoption of agriculture as a means of subsistence, and the allotment or parcelling out of land to individuals rather than to communities, bands, tribes or nations. States also passed their versions of the Dawes Act, such as Minnesota's Nelson Act of 1889. After Ojibwa families took their allotments, unallotted land on reservations was then sold to the public. The Dawes Act not only severely restricted communal lands and traditional cultural patterns, it opened up huge tracts of native lands to white settlement and exploitation. Arguably, this was as much the reason for the Act as the desired assimilation of native peoples.
Rather than converting the Ojibwa to self-sufficient living, the allotment system resulted in the loss of Native-held land. There were also environmental and cultural reasons the Ojibwa did not succeed as farmers. In some reservation areas the land was sandy, rocky, swampy, or heavily wooded, and the weather limited the varieties of crops that could mature during the short growing season. Farming was also resisted by some Ojibwa who perceived gardening as women's work and disliked the permanency that farming required.
All Native Americans, including the Ojibwa, became U.S. citizens in 1924. Until this time, Ojibwa could attain citizenship through marriage to a non-Native American or by serving in World War I.
In 1934 the passage of the Indian Reorganization Act reversed the allotment system, and tribes held elections to decide whether to reorganize their governments. In 1936 six of the seven Minnesota reservations incorporated as the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. Red Lake, which elected not to join the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, is still known for its adherence to traditional culture. The Red Lake Reservation was excluded from the Nelson Act, and, while it did sell some land to the United States, the original tribal areas remained the property of the entire tribe. The six reservations in Wisconsin are governed separately, as are the westernmost Ojibwa in North Dakota and Montana. There are three Ojibwa tribal groups in Michigan. The Sault Sainte Marie band is governed separately as the Bay Mills Indian Community. The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community includes three bands: L'Anse, Lac Vieux Desert, and Ontonagon. The Saginaw Chippewa Tribe comprises the Saginaw, Swan Creek, and Black River bands.
In the 1930s Ojibwa men and women were employed in federal conservation, construction, and manufacturing projects organized under the Civil Works Administration and the Civil Conservation Corps, Indian Division. Ojibwa also received vocational training through Works Progress Administration programs. This brought some economic relief to reservation areas hit hard by the depression.
After World War II federal policy toward Native Americans once again promoted assimilation and integration, a setback for the New Deal philosophy encouraging Native culture and autonomy.
In the 1950s the BIA instituted the Indian Relocation Services campaign. Like the allotment system, relocation focused on individual Ojibwa rather than tribal group and Native culture. Ojibwa were encouraged to move off reservations to assimilate with non-Native culture in urban areas in order to reduce the need for federal support. Great Lakes Ojibwa moved to urban centers in Minnesota and Wisconsin, most notably Duluth, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis, St. Paul.
The policy of promoting Native self-sufficiency was termed "self-determination." Under the Johnson administration, the Ojibwa qualified for Office of Economic Opportunity funds to open social programs, such as Head Start, and Native businesses and housing. Federal legislation in the 1970s, most notably the Indian Education Act of 1972, the Indian Self-Determination Act of 1973, and the Education Assistance Act of 1975, provided funding for culturally based education and afforded tribes more direct control of programs once administered by the BIA.
During the late 1960s some urban Ojibwa in Minneapolis formed a Red Power Organization known as the American Indian Movement (AIM). A modern proponent of the Native warrior ethic, AIM supported tribal civil rights through enforced reform rather than legislation. Activism took a different form in the 1980s and the 1990s, with the Ojibwa seeking to enforce treaty rights and working in the legal arena.
Traditional Ojibwa governance followed a multitiered system of elders, civil chiefs, and when necessary war chiefs. Elders—older and respected tribe members—played vital roles in decision making and educating younger members of the band. Civil chiefs could inherit their position or be nominated. Elders met in councils to identify a potential civil chief who would manage day-to-day operations. The nominee, who could be female or male, could accept the invitation to serve as civil chief, though such acceptance was not mandatory. Chiefs had official assistants, including messengers and orators. Civil chiefs could also summon the council of elders to request assistance. Councils of chiefs and elders from a number of bands met to discuss major decisions that would affect more than one band. War chiefs were self-appointed; a war chief was any man who could convince others to join him in battle. Adult men and women were part of the general council, and while votes were not tallied, each individual could join in the discussion at tribal meetings.
Late twentieth-century reservation areas are striving for home rule—the right to set and follow laws of their own making. Ojibwa reservations in Minnesota are each governed by a Reservation Business Council (RBC, also known as a Reservation Tribal Council). There are three districts on each reservation, each of which elects a representative to the RBC. The entire reservation also elects officials: a chairperson and a secretary-treasurer. Members of the RBC serve four-year terms. The RBC discusses approval of loans, petitions requesting enrollment of official membership in the tribe, and issues relating to economic development and sends reports to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. Two members from each of the six reservations comprising the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe also serve on the statewide Tribal Executive Committee (TEC), which meets every three months. While the RBC governs the reservation, the TEC governs the tribe, as constituted by its six member reservations.
The Red Lake Reservation has a tribal council consisting of three officers (chairperson, secretary, and treasurer) elected from the entire tribal membership and eight council members, two elected from each of four districts. Red Lake also maintains traditional governance through an advisory council of descendants of civil chiefs.
Modern versions of intertribal councils also exist. The Four-State Intertribal Assembly represents the interests of over 30 tribes in Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Representatives meet at annual conferences.
The Ojibwa culture has traditionally revered the warrior. The Ojibwa often engaged in battles with and against other Native peoples and joined non-Native Americans in their fighting. During the French and Indian Wars (1754-1763), the Ojibwa sided primarily with the French. Ojibwa also participated in Pontiac's Rebellion (1763-1764), most notably in the capture of the British-held Fort Michilimackinac (in present-day Michigan). Their role during the Revolutionary War (1776-1783) was negligible. During the War of 1812, Ojibwa living west of Lake Superior sided with the Americans, while those living in present-day Michigan sided with the British. During World War I, the Ojibwa responded to the war effort by buying war bonds and donating money to the Red Cross. Ojibwa men also served in active duty. Ojibwa men served during World War II (1941-1945), and both men and women moved to urban areas for employment in war industries. The grand entrance march at many powwows begins with an honor guard of Ojibwa war veterans. Ojibwa may still be awarded eagle feathers in recognition of extraordinary achievement.
The Ojibwa have made a number of significant contributions to American life: they discovered maple sugar and wild rice and invented hammocks, snowshoes, canoeing, and lacrosse. The English language contains a number of Ojibwa words (moccasin, moose) and place-names (Mackinaw, Michigan, Mesabi). Many Ojibwa contributions evolved over centuries, before they could be acknowledged by written record. Notable Ojibwa men and women, primarily those living in the late twentieth century, and their achievements are identified below.
White Earth enrollee Will Antell (1935– ) has served as an educational consultant on Native education for the State of Minnesota. Edward Benton-Banai (1934– ) directs the Heart of the Earth Survival School in Minneapolis and has written a series of coloring books to teach Ojibwa culture to young people. Lester Jack Briggs, Jr., (1948– ) is director of the Fond du Lac Community College, Cloquet, Minnesota. Duane Champagne (1951– ) serves as director of UCLA's American Indian Studies Center where he is also the editor of the American Indian Culture and Research Journal. After completing her Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota, Ojibwa educator Rosemary Ackley Christensen (1939– ) has continued to publish, lecture, and consult on topics related to Native education. Gwendolyn A. Hill (1952– ), of mixed Ojibwa and Cree heritage, is president of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Community College, Sisseton, South Dakota. Modern scholars have increasingly turned to tribal elders, including Maude Kegg (1904– ), for instruction in the Anishinabe culture and language.
Among those credited with organizing AIM are Dennis Banks (1932– ) and Clyde Bellecourt (1939– ). Both were instrumental in organizing events such as the 1972 Trail of Broken Treaties caravan to Washington, D.C., resulting in the takeover of the BIA offices. Banks's recent activities include lecturing and acting in the films The Last of the Mohicans (1992) and Thunderheart (1992). Leonard Peltier (1944– ) took part in the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Convicted of killing two FBI agents, he is imprisoned in Marion, Illinois. His controversial conviction is examined in the 1992 film Incident at Oglala. A number of foreign countries and organizations regard Peltier as a prisoner of conscience.
Author and poet Louise Erdrich (1954– ) is the best-known modern Ojibwa writer. The characters in Erdrich's fiction follow a rich genealogy of Pillager band Ojibwa and non-Native Americans from the nineteenth century to the modern reservation milieu of gaming and competition dancing. Her novels include: Love Medicine (1984), The Beet Queen (1986), Tracks (1988), and The Bingo Palace (1995), The Antelope Wife (1998), and The Crown of Colombus (1999). Poet, novelist, and journalist, Jim Northrup, Jr., (1943– ) writes about modern Anishinabe life on the Fond du Lac Reservation in northeastern Minnesota. A collection of his poems and short stories was published as Walking the Rez Road (1993), and his humorous and often biting commentary appears in a column, "Fond du Lac Follies," published in The Circle and News from Indian Country. Gerald Vizenor (1934– ), a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, is a professor of Native American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. A poet and novelist, his writing centers on traditional culture and includes such works as The Everlasting Sky: New Voices From the People Named Chippewa (1972); The People Named the Chippewa: Narrative Histories (1984); Interior Landscapes: Autobiographical Myths and Metaphors (1990); The Heirs of Columbus (1992); Fugitive Poses: Native American Indian Scenes of Absence and Presence (1998); and Postindian Conversations (1999).
Published by the Minneapolis American Indian Center, this monthly publication provides international, national, and local news relevant to Indian concerns and tracks issues of importance to the Ojibwa.
Contact: Joe Allen, Editor.
Address: 1530 East Franklin Avenue, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404-2136.
Telephone: (612) 871-4749.
Fax: (612) 871-6878.
MASINAIGAN (Talking Paper).
Published by the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC). This 40-page quarterly publication reports on GLIFWC activities and on a broader range of issues of importance to the Ojibwa, including antitreaty activity, treaty support, Indian education, Native culture, Native rights, and major federal legislation.
Contact: Susan Erickson, Editor.
Address: P.O. Box 9, Odanah, Wisconsin 54861.
Telephone: (715) 682-6619.
Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC).
Founded in 1983, the GLWIFC's mission is to assist 13 Ojibwa tribes in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin to better manage their natural resources in off-reservation areas. The Commission comprises five divisions: Biological Services, Enforcement, Planning and Development, Inter-governmental Affairs, and Public Information. It publishes a free quarterly newsletter, MASINAIGAN (Talking Paper).
Contact: James Schlender, Executive Director.
Address: P.O. Box 9, Odanah, Wisconsin 54861.
Telephone: (715) 682-6619.
Fax: (715) 682-9294.
Minnetrista Council for Great Lakes Native American Studies (MCGLNAS).
Founded in 1990, it is an organization with representatives from more than 20 tribes. MCGLNAS promotes the study and preservation of woodland tribal culture and sponsors annual powwows, conferences, and workshops.
Contact: Nicholas Clark, Chairman.
Address: P.O. Box 1527, Muncie, Indiana 47308-1527.
Telephone: (317) 282-4848.
D'Arcy McNickle Center for the History of the American Indian.
Located within the Newberry Library, it provides access to scholarly material in the E. E. Ayer Collection; the Center sponsors seminars, exhibits, summer institutes, and fellowships, and publishes occasional papers, bibliographies, and monographs.
Address: 60 West Walton Street, Chicago, Illinois 60610-3394.
Telephone: (312) 943-9090.
Minnesota History Center.
The headquarters of the Minnesota Historical Society, it includes an extensive research and archival collection on the Native peoples of the state. Among its vast and varied exhibits on the Ojibwa is a detailed exhibit on wild ricing.
Address: 345 Kellogg Boulevard West, St. Paul, Minnesota 55102-1906.
Telephone: (651) 296-6126; or (800) 657-3773.
Broker, Ignatia. Night Flying Women: An Ojibway Narrative. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1983.
Densmore, Frances. How Indians Use Wild Rice Plants for Food, Medicine and Crafts. New York: Dover, 1974 (originally published as Uses of Plants by the Chippewa Indians, 1928).
Hilger, M. Indez. Chippewa Child Life and Its Cultural Background. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1992 (originally published, 1951).
The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents: Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries in New France, 1610-1791, edited by Rubin G. Thwaites. Cleveland: Burrows Brothers Co., 1896-1901.
Johnston, Basil. Ojibway Ceremonies. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990.
——. The Ojibway Heritage. New York: Columbia University Press, 1976.
Summer in the Spring: Anishinabe Lyric Poems and Stories, edited by Gerald Vizenor. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993.
Tanner, Helen Hornbeck. The Ojibway. NewYork: Chelsea House, 1992.
Vennum, Thomas, Jr. Wild Rice and the Ojibway People. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Press, 1988.
Warren, William Whipple. History of the Ojibway People. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1984 (originally published, 1885).