OJIBWE reside throughout the western Great Lakes region. The French made the first recorded European contact with the Ojibwe in the early 1600s, in Sault Sainte Marie, at the outlet of Lake Superior. Their name was recorded as the "Outchibous," though its meaning was never given. Consequently, translations range from "Roast Until Puckered Up" to "Those Who Make Pictographs" (a reference to their writing on birch bark).
Further confusion arises from the use of the tribal appellation "Chippewa," though both names should be considered synonymous. Nevertheless, they call themselves the Anishnaabeg, which has been translated as "The Original People" and "Those Who Intend to Do Well." When combined with their linguistic relatives, the Ottawas and the Potawatomis, they are referred to as the Three Fires Confederacy.
Oral tradition of these people places them originally on the Atlantic shore, but they were compelled to travel west to escape some unrecorded disaster. Their migration,
directed by elements of the spirit world, was completed when they reached Sault Sainte Marie. There, the three groups split into their current divisions and geographic distribution, with the Potawatomis migrating to the southern Great Lakes region, the Ojibwes spreading across the north, while the Ottawas distributed themselves throughout the central Great Lakes.
While generally enjoying peaceful and productive relations with French fur traders, after the defeat of the French by the British in 1760, the Ojibwes and their Great Lakes Native neighbors joined in the misnamed "Pontiac Rebellion" to resist British control. After the American Revolution, the Ojibwes also resisted American colonists coming into their territory and joined forces with the Shawnee leader Tecumseh and most of the Great Lakes tribes in their struggle to retain control over the "Old Northwest."
After the defeat of Tecumseh and his Native and British allies in the War of 1812, the Ojibwes continued to resist American control until they finally signed a major treaty in 1820 in Sault Sainte Marie. Later, the nineteenth century saw the Ojibwes ceding land all across the Upper Great Lakes. The first of these cessions took place in 1836, when the Chippewas ceded, roughly, the northern third of Michigan's Lower Peninsula, along with the eastern third of the Upper Peninsula. In the U.S., this land cession pattern moved west, culminating in northern Minnesota in 1867. In many of these Upper Great Lakes treaties, the Ojibwes retained hunting rights and "other usual privileges of occupancy" on the ceded lands and adjoining waters, until the land was given over to settlers. This retention of rights to the natural resources of the region has been affirmed since then by U.S. Federal Court decisions.
The Ojibwes of northern Ontario signed two land cession treaties with Canadian authorities in 1850 and incorporated many of the "rights of occupancy" found in the 1836 U.S. treaty. This is not surprising, since there were Ojibwe individuals who signed treaties with both U.S. and Canadian governments. This pattern of having one person sign treaties with both governments has given the Ojibwes a sense of international sovereignty not enjoyed by many other tribes. The last of the major Ojibwe land cession treaties was not signed until 1923. This treaty with the Canadian government covered a huge expanse of land west of the Georgian Bay and south, along the northern shore of Lake Ontario.
Because of the Removal Act of 1830, the 1836 Michigan treaty contained a clause that said the Ojibwes would be removed "when the Indians wish it." Armed with this language, the Ojibwes and other Anishnaabegs resisted removal, and their resistance resulted in large numbers of Ojibwe-Chippewas remaining in the Upper Great Lakes region. Unlike their U.S. counterparts, the Ojibwes of Canada were not subject to a removal policy. Thus, the Ojibwes remain on their ancestral land throughout the Upper Great Lakes, from Québec in the east to North Dakota in the west, with other reservations scattered as far as Canada's Northwest Territories.
In the United States, the Ojibwes live on twenty-two Reservations in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota. The 2000 U.S. census showed about 105,000 Ojibwe-Chippewa tribal members, making them the third largest tribe in the United States. Although the
numbers are harder to verify, in 2000 about 70,000 Ojibwes lived in Canada on more than 125 reserves.
Several Ojibwe tribes in the U.S. operate casinos, which has brought economic prosperity to those tribes able to lure patrons to their remote locations. Some tribes operate casinos in larger Midwest cities, notably the Sault Sainte Marie Tribe of Chippewas, with one in Detroit. In Canada, the Chippewas of Mnjikaning operate Casino Rama in northern Ontario. By agreement with the Ontario government, they contribute sixty-five percent of the casino's revenue to the other 134 First Nations Reserves in Ontario.
Along with their continuing struggle to maintain rights to the natural resources of the region, the Ojibwes also struggle to maintain their sovereign status as "nations" within the context of both U.S. and Canadian society. They assert their treaty rights and, in Canada, their "aboriginal rights," as guaranteed by the Canadian Constitution, including the rights of self-government, self-determination, and cross-border movement and trade. They have also revitalized Ojibwe culture through a renewed interest in their language and religion.
Clifton, James A., George L. Cornell, and James M. McClurken. People of the Three Fires: the Ottawa, Potawatomi, and Ojibway of Michigan. Grand Rapids: Michigan Indian Press, 1986.
Johnston, Basil. Ojibway Heritage. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990.
Tanner, Helen Hornbeck, et al., eds. Atlas of Great Lakes Indian History. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987.