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by Lorene 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.

Acculturation and Assimilation


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 lodgingthe 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 Native American groups, share concerns over poor health. There are high incidences of chemical dependency, diabetes, fetal alcohol syndrome, obesity, suicide, and accidental death.

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!

Family and Community Dynamics

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 boardsrectangular wooden frames with a backrest or curved headboard to protect the baby's head, and a footrest. Dream catcherswillow hoops encircling woven animal-sinew designs that resembled spider websand 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 objectssuch as stonesthat 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.

Employment and Economic Traditions

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.

Politics and Government

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. Eldersolder and respected tribe membersplayed 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 rulethe 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.

Individual and Group Contributions

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).



The Circle.

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.

E-mail: [email protected]

Organizations and Associations

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.

E-mail: [email protected]

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.

Museums and Research Centers

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.

Sources for Additional Study

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).

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ALTERNATE NAMES: Chippewa; Ojibway; Anishinabe
LOCATION: United States; Canada (Great Lakes area, especially around Lake Superior)
POPULATION: Over 150,000
LANGUAGE: English; Ojibwa
RELIGION: Traditional Ojibwa, based on spirits; Christianity
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 2: Native North Americans


The Ojibwa, or Chippewa, are descended from the ancient Anishinabe, a name that means "original people." Their neighbors called them "Ojibwe," which is probably a mispronunciation of kamaziniibiiegaewad, "picture-makers" (for pictographs they made). Others believe the name refers to the unusual puckered seams on their moccasins. Europeans further distorted their name to become "Chippewa." Today, both "Chippewa" and "Ojibwa" (or "Ojibway") are used to designate these people. Many Ojibwa still prefer to call themselves Anishinabe.

The Ojibwa migrated from the northern Atlantic coast, around the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, to the eastern shores of Lake Superior (which they called Kitchigamiing) between ad 1000 and 1400. The Ottawas (who also sometimes refer to themselves today as Anishinabe) and Potawatomis migrated with the Ojibwa. Together they were known as the Three Fires Council. The Three Fires peoples split up when they reached the shores of Lake Huron. The Ottawas settled along the northern shores of Lake Huron; the Potawatomis settled in what is now Michigan; and the Ojibwa continued northwest to Lake Superior. The final Ojibwa homeland became all the lands surrounding Lake Superior (stretching west into what is now Minnesota and the Dakotas, south into Wisconsin and Michigan, and north into Canada).

The Ojibwa became arch enemies of the neighboring Iroquois Confederacy nations because of conflicts over land and competition for the fur trade. The Ojibwa began trading furs for European goods (such as knives, hatchets, fish-hooks, and needles) in the early 1600s, first with friendly eastern Native North American tribes who had already obtained goods from the Europeans and then with the Europeans themselves as the Europeans moved west. The Ojibwa's first contact with Europeans was probably at a Feast of the Dead at a Huron camp in September 1641. Several Ojibwa and a number of French missionaries were guests at the feast. A few weeks later, Father Charles Raymbault and Father Isaac Jogues arrived in Pawatigoong ("the place at the falls"), one of the Ojibwa's main villages, which the French named Sault Sainte Marie (Saint Mary's Rapids). The French called the Ojibwa "Saulters" (People of the Rapids). Other French missionaries soon followed, but the Ojibwa were not very interested in Christianity. They just wanted European trade goods.

In 1659 two French traders, Pierre Esprit Radisson and Medard Chouart des Groseilliers, were guided by the Ojibwa from Quebec down the St. Lawrence River through the Great Lakes to Lake Superior. They visited many Ojibwa camps during the winter and traded goods for furs. When they returned to Quebec with loads of furs in their boats, other traders decided to follow suit. The Ojibwa village at Chequamegon Bay soon be-came a trading center for French and Native North American peoples. Many of these French traders married Ojibwa women and lived part-time in Ojibwa villages. They adopted Ojibwa clothing and learned the Ojibwa language and Ojibwa customs and skills. These traders came to be known as voyageurs because of the long journeys they made along the fur-trade routes. They were also called coureurs de bois, or "runners of the woods."

The Ojibwa soon became dependent on European goods and lost their traditional skills, such as making knives and needles from bone (rather than the steel ones provided by the Europeans). The formerly semi-nomadic Ojibwa now settled in permanent villages near trading posts. They hunted for profit, not just survival, and animals that had been their main source of food became scarce because the Ojibwa (and other Native North Americans) now killed more than they could eat for the furs and hides, thus upsetting the balance of nature.

Warfare, between European powers who wanted to control the trade routes and Native North Americans over the use of hunting grounds, increased. Native North American use of guns obtained in trade from Europeans (instead of traditional bows and arrows) increased the death toll in warfare. Europeans also brought diseases for which Native North Americans had no immunities or treatments. Between war and disease, Native North American populations, including the Ojibwa, were decimated.

By the late 1600s, the Ojibwa had spread throughout the Great Lakes area, as far east as the modern-day Toronto area. (They fought with the Iroquois for control of this territory and eventually drove the Iroquois to the south.) Other Ojibwa bands moved south into Wisconsin and drove out the Fox tribe to gain control of those lands. Some Ojibwa moved west into eastern Minnesota and fought Sioux tribes for lands there.

The British had begun their own fur trade in North America by the mid-1600s and the French made a treaty with the Native North Americans around Lake Superior, including the Ojibwa, to trade only with the French. In the late 1600s, however, the French decided the fur market was glutted and stopped buying furs from the Native North Americans for a time. The Ojibwa had become dependent on the fur trade by this time and had no other way to support themselves. When the French reopened trade in 1718, they found the Ojibwa nearly starving.

In 1736, the Sioux attacked French trading posts and became enemies of the Ojibwa, who were allies of the French. The Sioux then launched a series of quick raids on the Ojibwa, which the Ojibwa usually won because they had more European weapons and were better woodsmen than the Sioux. The Ojibwa eventually drove the Sioux entirely out of Wisconsin and northeastern Minnesota.

The French and Indian War between the French and British began in 1761, while the Ojibwa were warring with the Sioux. The Ojibwa sided mostly with the French. Britain won the war in 1763 and took control of the Great Lakes fur trade. The balance of power in the Great Lakes area shifted. To make matters worse for the Ojibwa, the British wanted furs and control of the land.

From the mid-1760s to 1770s, the Ojibwa traded peacefully with the British. The Ojibwa tried to stay neutral during the American Revolution (1775–83) so as not to offend either side and be on good terms with whoever won (avoiding a repeat of their difficult situation at the end of the French and Indian War). When the American colonists won, the fur trade came under the control of the newly established United States of America. The new Americans solidified their control by defeating the British in the War of 1812.

The Ojibwa found that American goods were often inferior to European goods, and American settlers were greedy for land. Some Ojibwa moved to Canada to resume trade with the British. In the 1820s and 1830s, the U.S. fur trade was run mostly by the American Fur Company, owned by John Jacob Astor. Astor wanted to maintain Native North American culture and lands to keep the fur trade going. Settlers, loggers, and miners, however, wanted the Ojibwa's land, so they put pressure on them to move west of the Mississippi River. The Ojibwa were eventually forced to move to reservations established on their homelands in the United States and Canada. Nearly all Ojibwa were living on reservations by 1854.

There was not enough land on the reservations to support the Ojibwa's traditional life of hunting, fishing, and gathering food. The U.S. government expected them to become farmers, but the land was not good enough (and the growing season was too short) to grow enough food to sustain everyone throughout the year. The General Allotment Act of 1887, which divided up reservation lands into individually owned 160-acre plots, made the situation even worse. In that northern climate, 160 acres was not enough land on which to grow food for an entire household. The Ojibwa of Red Lake Reservation managed to prevent the government from dividing up their land; it is still owned communally by the tribe.

On the reservations, the Ojibwa were given government housing and Western clothing to wear. Their children were forced to attend European American schools, many of them boarding schools far from home, where their traditional culture was denigrated and denied in an attempt to "civilize" them. There was little opportunity for employment on reservations and the U.S. government built dams that destroyed thousands of acres of wild rice, the Ojibwa's staple food. The Ojibwa fell into poverty and despair.

The Battle of Leech Lake was triggered in 1898 when an Ojibwa leader named Bugonegijig ("Hole-in-the-Day") escaped from custody and refused to cooperate with European American law officers. Bugonegijig had been arrested on a trumped-up liquor charge (common treatment at the time because law officers were paid for every arrest they made) and then released for lack of witnesses. He refused to cooperate when subpoenaed as a witness in another case and was arrested, released, and arrested again. This time he escaped, and the U.S. War Department sent about 500 troops into the Leech Lake Reservation. During their lunch break, one of the soldiers' guns accidentally went off. Ojibwa who were hiding in the woods nearby thought the soldiers were shooting at them and fired on the troops in return. The commanding army officer and five soldiers were killed. The government then sent over 1,000 more troops to Leech Lake in preparation for a major battle. Fortunately, both sides agreed to a peaceful settlement before any more fighting occurred. The Ojibwa expressed deep regret for the deaths of the soldiers, and no one else was killed. Several Ojibwa were fined and sent to jail for periods of up to 10 months.

Poverty continued to be a painful reality for the Ojibwa into the 1930s. President Franklin Roosevelt included programs in his New Deal to improve the situation of Native North Americans throughout the United States. World War II (1941–45) provided some war-related jobs for Ojibwa, and several hundred served in the U.S. armed forces. After World War II, many Ojibwas left their reservations to live in cities and try to find work there. Some did, but unfortunately many merely found a new sort of poverty because they lacked the skills and cultural background to succeed in the European-dominated urban world.

Despite their many difficulties since the Europeans arrived on the continent, the Ojibwa still live on their ancestral tribal lands and have survived as a tribe and a distinct people. Modern battles are fought in court for land-use, water-use, and other rights. In 1983, two Ojibwa spearfishers were arrested for fishing in waters outside their reservation in northern Wisconsin. A federal court (in what came to be known as the Voigt Decision) upheld the Ojibwa's right to fish in traditional ways on any ancestral tribal lands, whether those lands are currently included in an Ojibwa reservation. The Voigt Decision also gave tribal councils responsibility for regulating Native North American fishing in terms of health, safety, and conservation. In light of this decision, 13 Ojibwa reservations in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota joined together to form the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Controversy still rages over fishing rights in off-reservation waters. Extremist European American opposition organizations, supported by white supremacist groups, bombed a boat landing, capsized Ojibwa boats, physically attacked Ojibwa fishers and verbally abused Ojibwa women in 1989 and 1990.


The Ojibwa live in the Great Lakes area of the United States and Canada, mostly around Lake Superior. The climate of the northern Great Lakes region is subarctic with long, cold, snowy winters and short summers. One of most important early Ojibwa villages on the shore of Lake Superior was Bowating, now called Sault Sainte Marie. The population of Bowating at the beginning of the 17th century was probably between 250 and 500. There are between 70,000 and 104,000 Ojibwa in the United States as of 2008, living mostly on reservations in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. A similar number of Ojibwa live in Canada, mostly on reservations in Manitoba and Ontario. Many Ojibwas left the reservations in both the United States and Canada after World War II (1941–45) and moved to cities to try to find work. Toronto, Ontario; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Winnipeg, Manitoba all have sizable Ojibwa populations.

The Ojibwa describe months and seasons with "moons." Spring begins with Crust on the Snow Moon (March), and sap begins running in the sugar maple trees. During this "moon," the Ojibwa traditionally moved from their winter hunting grounds to the maple groves. Maple sugaring continues through Moon of Boiling Sap (April). Flowering Moon (May) traditionally signaled the time to move to summer camps. Summer lasts through Strawberry Moon (June), Midsummer Moon (July), and Blueberry Moon (August). Fall begins with Wild Rice Moon (September), when the Ojibwa traditionally moved to the shores of lakes where wild rice grew. Falling Leaves Moon (October) is the time for Ojibwas to prepare for winter. They had traditionally headed for winter hunting grounds by time of Freezing Moon (November). Winter lasts through Spirit Moon (December), Great Spirit Moon (January), and Sucker Fish Moon (February). Then the cycle of the year is completed when the Crust on the Snow Moon appears once again in the sky and the sap begins to run again in the trees.


The Ojibwa language belongs to the Algonquian family of Native North American languages. In contrast to most Native North American peoples, the Ojibwa did have a system of writing. The ancient Anishinabe and their Ojibwa descendants painted pictographs (pictures used to record information) on birch bark.

Anishinabe and Ojibwa pictographs are considered to be the best example of written records left by any Native North American group north of Mexico.

In the native Ojibwa language, days are counted in terms of "sleeps"; the word "night" is not used by some Ojibwa. Niizhotibikut means "two sleeps."

Children were named at birth after a dream or vision. Friends and relatives rarely addressed children by their birth names.. Instead, the Ojibwa generally addressed each other by their relationship to the other (such as "daughter," "grandfather," "sister," etc.). Ojibwa children were also given a secret name that only their parents knew. This was done to prevent anyone from casting a spell on them, because spells only work if the spellcaster has a person's true name.


According to the Ojibwa, Kitchi Manido (Great Spirit) created the universe. First he made the four basic elements: rock, fire, wind, and water; then he made the sun, stars, earth, and everything on it (including humans) from those elements. Kitchi Manido then organized the universe by the Four Directions: Waubanoong (east), Shawanoong (south), Nangabianoong (west), and Keewatinoong (north). Two more sacred directions were also included: Sky above and Earth below. After a while, there was a great flood on the Earth and the seas covered the land. Various animals dove down under the waters to find land but were not successful. Finally, Muskrat dove deep and after a long while came up nearly dead with a bit of mud in his paw, from which Earth was re-created.

Kitchi Manido gave everything in creation a spirit and a purpose in the Circle of Life. He also created Winebozho (First Man), also called Nanabush, born of an Earth Mother and Father Sun. Winebozho is a trickster figure and acts as an intermediary between humans and the spirit world. The Anishinabe were born of Winebozho. The Ojibwa have many Winebozho stories, including teaching stories, stories of how different elements of Ojibwa life were created, and others.


As is true for all Native North American peoples, religion is an integral part of the Ojibwa's daily life. The Ojibwa believe that all creation is interconnected and that all things in creation are equally important. Everything in nature is occupied by a manido, or spirit. There are lesser and greater spirits, some of whom are evil, though most are good. The one Great Spirit is called Kitchi Manido. Ojibwa must please the spirits to have good health and success. Bad luck, illness, and injury result from angering the spirits. The best way to please the spirits is with a tobacco offering, which is an offering of thanksgiving. Each time an animal is killed, thanks are offered. Before harvesting wild rice or peeling the bark from birch trees, an offering is made. Ojibwa give thanks for all gifts from Kitchi Manido and the spirits of creation.

All Ojibwa ceremonies begin by smoking the Pipe of Peace. Many Ojibwa converted to Christianity during the 19th and 20th centuries. Others are nominal Christians yet continue to follow traditional religious ways. Some never gave up their ancestral beliefs, and still others are returning to those beliefs and traditions as they strive to reclaim their Native North American identity in this last decade of the 20th century.


The Ojibwa hold seasonal celebrations, such as the Harvest Feast in autumn after the wild rice harvest. The Feast of the Dead is held each autumn in remembrance of all those who died during the previous year. Among traditional Ojibwa, each family who has suffered the death of one of their members during the past year holds a banquet for the entire village. The food is not necessarily placed on the table, but in an open area outside. A place is set for the deceased, whose spirit remains with the family.


Traditionally, when a boy killed his first large animal in a hunt, his family held a celebration because he was learning to provide for his family. Boys were not considered true hunters until they had killed a bear and one other large animal (such as a moose or deer).

At puberty, boys go on Vision Quest. They spend several days alone in the woods without food and wait for their guardian spirit to appear and give them instructions for their adult life. When they return from their Vision Quest, they are treated as men.

The Ojibwa believe that girls are given a gift from the Creator at the time of their first menstruation that is not given to men. To receive this gift, girls are kept isolated in a special shelter away from the village for the duration of their first menstruation. During their seclusion, the girls fast and see only their mothers and grandmothers. When they return to the village, they are henceforth treated as women.

A ceremony is held to initiate a Mide apprentice into the Midewiwin society. The most important part of the ceremony is the ritual "death" and "rebirth" of the initiate. He or she is "shot" with a sacred shell, or megis, then "revived" with the breath of life from the presiding Mide leader.

When an Ojibwa dies, his or her body is placed on a platform for four days, the time it is believed to take for the person's spirit to journey into the next world. The body is then wrapped in birch bark and buried with the feet pointing southward (the direction of the next world). Food and tools for the journey to the next world are buried with the deceased. Small buildings are sometimes constructed over the grave to shelter the spirit.


The Ojibwa tribe was originally made up of many small, autonomous bands, each with its own leader. That sense of autonomy and division into separate bands is still evident among Ojibwa of different reservations. Ojibwa tribal chiefs were devoted to keeping the peace throughout their history.


The Ojibwa traditionally lived in wigwams, dome-shaped structures built from saplings cut (by men) and placed in the ground in an oval measuring about 14 by 20 feet. The tops were then tied together to form the dome. Several lighter-weight poles were then tied horizontally to the first poles around the circle to complete the frame. Woven grass mats and strips of birch bark were laid over the frame by the women. Heavy poles were sometimes laid over the mats and bark to hold them in place. A fire burned continually in a central firepit inside the wigwam, the smoke escaping through a hole in the center of the roof. The floor was covered with mats woven by the women from bulrushes, and the door was covered with a piece of animal hide. Low benches and mats were placed around the inside edges of the wigwam for sleeping and sitting, and baskets held the family's belongings. The Ojibwa used deer or bearskin blankets as bedcovers. Each wigwam housed an extended family of parents, grandparents, and children.

A wigwam could be built in less than a day. When the Ojibwa moved to another campground, they would simply roll up the bark and hide covering of the wigwam and take it with them, leaving the pole frame behind. Or they might make the poles into a travois, a sort of sled, and pack their belongings on it. They either pulled the travois by hand or harnessed it to dogs.

Traditional healing is done by medicine men and women, called Mide. Most are a combination of priest and doctor. Mide have a special relationship with the spirit world and also have a wide knowledge of the medicinal uses of plants. They combine herbal medicine with spiritual ceremonies involving song, dance, and prayer. Many Mide become members of the Midewiwin society after a long apprenticeship. There are four degrees of Mide instruction today; in earlier times, there were as many as eight. Most of the ancient birch bark scrolls with Mide songs and history are gone, however, and much of the knowledge of herbal medicine is lost as well.

The Ojibwa became masters of the birch bark canoe. Each canoe weighed between 65 and 125 pounds (29–45 kg). Working together, men and women spent about two weeks building one. Every family had several canoes. In the winter, Ojibwa used (and still use today) snowshoes to travel about in the deep, soft snows. They also used flat, lightweight wooden sleds called nabagidabanaakoog (mispronounced as "toboggans" by Europeans).


Ojibwa men traditionally did the hunting, while the women cooked the food, prepared the animal skins, and sewed clothing from them.

Babies are strapped to a cradleboard for most of the first year of their life. A cradleboard is a flat board with a footrest at the bottom and a hoop to protect the baby's head at the top. The baby is placed on a cushion of moss and feathers, then covered with a piece of animal hide or fur. A leather strap is wrapped around the baby and cradleboard to hold the baby in place. The cradleboard can be strapped to the mother's back for carrying or propped against the wigwam (or house) or a tree when the mother is working.

Each Ojibwa household is made up of an extended family: parents, grandparents, and children. The clan system is very strong; clans are patrilineal (inherited through the father) and exogamous (one cannot marry a member of one's own clan). The major Ojibwa clans in earlier days were Crane, Fish, Loon, Bear, Martin, Deer, and Bird. More clans have since been added. Each clan traditionally had certain responsibilities to the community; for example, Fish clan members were responsible for settling disputes between other clans.

Elders are very important in Ojibwa society. They advise adults on the wisest course of action and teach children the ways of the Ojibwa.


Ojibwa today wear Western-style clothing for everyday purposes. At ceremonial dances, they will dress in the traditional way.

Traditional Ojibwa clothing is made from animal skins, mostly deerskin. Men and boys wear a breechcloth (a strip of hide passed between the legs and over a belt to hang down in the front and back). Thigh-high leggings are attached to the belt with a leather thong. In cold weather, fur or animal skin is wrapped around the shoulders.

Women and girls wear a dress made from two pieces of deerskin sewn together at the shoulders and down the sides. They usually wear knee-high leggings tied at the knees with a leather band.

Children's clothes have a similar design to adults' but are made from smaller skins or furs, such as beaver, fawn, squirrel, or rabbit.

All Ojibwas wear leather moccasins with soft soles, traditionally so they could walk quietly in the woods. Men and women both oil and braid their hair. Sometimes they stick feathers and porcupine quills in their hair for decoration. Both men and women also paint their faces; wear earrings, necklaces, and bracelets; and decorate their clothing with quills, feathers, and beadwork. (Beads were first made from shells; stones; animal teeth, claws, and hooves; nuts; berries; and seeds. Later, the Europeans traded glass beads for furs. Because glass beads were smaller, more durable, and easier to work with, designs became more intricate. Ojibwa women expanded from simple geometric patterns to elaborate floral motifs.) Traditional dyes are made from roots, nuts, bark, and berries.

The snowshoes worn in winter were traditionally made from a piece of flexible ash wood fastened in a bow shape with strips of hide from a deer or moose, then strung with rawhide.


The main traditional foods of the Ojibwa were berries, nuts, leeks, corn, squash, wild potatoes, wild rice, maple sugar, large and small game, and fish. Many of these foods still figure largely in the modern Ojibwa diet.

Wild rice is a type of grass native to North America that grows in very watery areas. It is called manomin, or "good berry," by the Ojibwa and was their staple food. It is harvested in the fall by work teams of two people in a canoe. One poles the canoe through the waters; one bends the tops of the grass stalks over the canoe with a stick and knocks the grains off into the bottom of the canoe with another stick. Grains that fall in the water seed next year's crop. The rice is then dried in a large pot over a fire (stirred constantly to prevent burning). After it is dry, it is threshed (the husk is removed from the kernel) by putting the rice in a sack and beating the sack with a club. Threshing can also be done by putting the rice in a hole in the ground lined with hide and dancing on it. Finally, the rice is winnowed (the kernels sifted from the loosened husks) by putting it on a bark tray and gently shaking the tray so that the husks blow away in the wind, leaving only the edible kernels behind. Today, Wabigoon in northwestern Ontario has a wild rice processing plant.

Ojibwa Wild Rice

1 cup wild rice, washed in cold water
½ teaspoon pepper
2¼ cups water
2 tablespoon minced chives
1¼ teaspoon salt
Bacon drippings plus enough melted butter or margarine to equal ⅓ cup
4 strips bacon cut into narrow strips
6 eggs

Place the wild rice, water, and 1 teaspoon of the salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat as low as possible and simmer, uncovered, until all the water is absorbed. Brown the bacon in a large, heavy skillet. Remove bacon from skillet, and drain on paper towels. Save the bacon drippings from the skillet. Beat the eggs with ¼ teaspoon of the salt, and the pepper, until light. Pour the beaten eggs into the skillet in which you browned the bacon, and brown the eggs lightly. Turn them over gently, and brown on the other side. When the eggs are firm, cut them into narrow strips. Lightly toss the bacon, egg strips, chives, bacon drippings (plus melted butter or margarine) with the rice. Serve hot. Makes 4 servings.

(Adapted from Yeffe Kimball and Jean Anderson, The Art of American Indian Cooking. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1965, p. 107.)


Although traditional Ojibwa education has always been important, the Ojibwa are very concerned with Western education today. They want to give their children the skills they need to succeed in the modern Western world and also teach them the traditional ways so that they maintain their Ojibwa culture and identity. Though dropout rates among Ojibwa students fell significantly in the 1970s, over 10% still do not make it through high school. Attendance rates for students under the age of 25 in 1990 were as follows:


Of a sample of Ojibwas 25 years old and older in 1990, 9.8% had less than a ninth grade education; 69.7% had at least a high school diploma (68.6% of men, 70.6% of women); 37.8% had some college; and 8.2% had a Bachelor of Arts degree or higher (8.5% of men, 8.0% of women).

Museums in Ojibwa communities (run by the Ojibwa themselves) help teach their own people and others about Ojibwa history and traditions.


The Ojibwa were known in earlier days as a people who loved to sing. This is still true of traditional Ojibwa today. The Ojibwa have many sacred songs and dances, accompanied by drums and rattles. The flute is the only solo instrument used by the Ojibwa. Young men used to play the flute when they were courting a young woman to let her know they were nearby so that she would come to hear his music.

The Ojibwa of Lac Courte Oreilles run a public radio station that offers both music and information of interest to Ojibwa.

Modern Ojibwa writers who have found success among their own people and the wider world are Gerald Vizenor (1934), John Rodgers, and Maude Kegg. Kegg recorded Ojibwa legends in both English and the Ojibwa language and received the National Heritage Award in 1990 from the National Foundation for the Arts for her work.


Traditionally, Ojibwa men hunted and fished throughout the year, but particularly in the winter when other food was scarce. Women also fished, but mostly they were responsible for gathering and cooking food, preparing animal skins for use as blankets and clothes, sewing the clothes, weaving mats and baskets, and caring for young children. In the summer, all Ojibwa worked in the fields growing what crops they could in the subarctic climate. Autumn was harvest time, both for the field crops and for the wild rice that grew in the watery areas throughout Ojibwa territory.

The children's job was to keep birds and other marauders away from the field crops as they ripened. Girls would stand on tall platforms in the fields and flap blankets in the air and shake gourd rattles to scare away the birds. Boys would play noisy games between the cornstalks to scare away other animals. The girls were also responsible for keeping waterfowl and other birds from eating the wild rice before the people could harvest it. They would paddle their canoes through the marshes, singing and talking loudly and slapping their paddles on the water.

Today the Ojibwa operate many businesses in their communities, including boat marinas, campgrounds, bingo halls, and hotels. They also continue to hunt, fish, and harvest wild rice.


Ojibwa men have played lacrosse for centuries. The games could take all day to finish, and they often got quite rough. Women played a game like field hockey called "shinny," in which they used a curved stick to move a ball made of animal hide over the other team's goal. They also played a version of lacrosse called "double-ball," played with two balls tied together.

Ojibwa children played many games, especially in the winter when there was little else for them to do. One of their favorite winter games was "snow snake." Boys would throw a stick about 6 feet (2 meters) long with a knob at one end, representing a snake (the knob was the snake's head), along a frozen path in the snow to see who could throw it the farthest. The sticks were oiled, polished, and decorated by the players to resemble snakes.

Canoe-racing has long been a favorite sport for Ojibwa of all ages.


The Ojibwa have always enjoyed games of skill and chance. They have turned their love of gambling into a profit-making venture today, with highly successful bingo halls located on their reservations. The Ojibwa also love to tell jokes and poke fun at each other and at outsiders.

Powwows have become a place for Ojibwa both to have fun and to promote their traditional Native North American identity. Nearly every Ojibwa community holds at least one powwow a year.


Two traditional arts that can still be found among the Ojibwa today are basket-weaving and beadwork. Both are considered women's arts.


Ojibwa today suffer from the same cultural conflicts as other Native North Americans trying to survive in the European-dominated society while maintaining their traditional ways. On the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota, the conflict between "full-bloods" (those with pure Ojibwa lineage) and "mixed-bloods" (those whose lineage is Ojibwa mixed with other tribes and races) has been particularly fierce and longstanding. The full-bloods generally want to preserve tradition at the expense of economic development, while the mixed-bloods promote economic development at the expense of tradition.

Conflicts with European Americans over land-and water-use rights go on, both in courtrooms and on the lands and waters themselves.


The Ojibwa have recognized three genders: male, female, and agokwa or women-men. Agokwa were men who went to great lengths to imitate the cultural characteristics of women in Ojibwa society include imitating the female voice and the walk of women with their toes pointed slightly inward. Agokwa occupied themselves with female activities, such as the care and rearing of children, the production and decoration of footwear, and all of the duties of the household.

The Ojibwa women who engaged in men's occupations were not considered a separate gender like the agokwa. Traditional Ojibwa culture left the avenue open for any woman who wanted to shift towards male domains without requiring that she shift her gender or her sexual orientation. However, while a woman was married it was expected that she would pursue feminine occupations and roles. After divorce or the death of her husband, a woman could choose to be a "masculine woman" thereby asserting her independence. Among the Ojibwa, these women were held in high esteem as healers who had extensive medicinal knowledge.

Traditionally, the Ojibwa did not mark the passage to adulthood with any ritual or ceremony. However, when a girl has her first period she is secluded for a brief period of time and instructed in the restrictions that apply to her at this time. Menstruating woman are expected to stay away from the main areas of camp, not to use men's equipment or tools, not to step over game trails, and not to eat certain parts of caribou. As traditional hunting and camping traditions disappear among the Ojibwa, so do many of these prohibitions.

Women's work in traditional Ojibwa society is extensive. Women are responsible for setting up and breaking camp, which includes erecting the skin lodges. They also are required to pull toboggans and carry loads on their backs in moving camp. Women also prepare fires, cook meals, prepare animal hides for clothing, make clothing, care for children, snare small game, and pick berries. Since the bulk of daily subsistence and camp upkeep falls on women's shoulders, men are free to pursue hunting and fishing at their leisure.


Greene, Jacqueline Dembar. The Chippewa. New York: Franklin Watts, 1993.

Kimball, Yeffe, and Jean Anderson. The Art of American Indian Cooking. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1965.

Landes, Ruth. The Ojibwa Woman. New York: Columbia University Press, 1938.

Lang, Sabine. Men as Women, Women as Men: Changing Gender in Native American Cultures. Austin: University of Texas, 1998.

Lucas, Eileen. The Ojibwas: People of the Northern Forests. Brookfield, Connecticut: Millbrook Press, 1994.

Reddy, Marlita A., ed. Statistical Record of Native North Americans. Detroit: Gale Research, 1995.

Tanner, Helen Hornbeck. Indians of North America: The Ojibwa. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1992.

—revised by D. Kavanaugh

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ETHNONYMS: Anishinaabe; Ojibway, Ojibwe; Chippewa (United States); Mississauga or Southeastern Ojibwa (southern, central Ontario), Nipissing, Algonquin, Plains Ojibwa (sometimes Bungi); Northern Ojibwa; Saulteaux or Sauteurs (Manitoba); Ojicree or Oji-Cree; Southwestern Chippewa


Identification and Location. The Ojibwa live in numerous communities ranging mainly from southern and northwestern Ontario, northern Michigan and Wisconsin, and Minnesota to North Dakota and southern and central Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The most common explanation of the name "Ojibwa" relates it to a root meaning "puckered up," a reference to a distinct style of moccasin. Ojibwa speakers commonly refer to themselves as anishinaabeg, a term meaning "humans" (as opposed to nonhumans) or "Indians" (as opposed to whites).

Before European contact the Ojibwa homeland extended along the eastern and northern shores of Lake Huron, up the northeastern shore of Lake Superior, and probably into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In the 1600s and 1700s the Ojibwa expanded along fur trade water routes to the north and west. Those with ancient connections to Sault Sainte Marie were referred to as Saulteaux (people of the rapids), a term still widely used in Manitoba. Numerous other local group names have gone out of use or have lost their reference to a specific place. For example, in the 1600s the Mississauga (now an alternative term for the Southeastern Ojibwa) were a band residing near the Mississagi River on the northern shore of Lake Huron.

Demography. Estimates of the Ojibwa population at the time of European contact are speculative. Kroeber (1953) suggested a figure of 30,000 for the Northern Great Lakes, plus 2,000 for the Plains Ojibwa and 3,000 for the Ojibwa in Wisconsin. The Algonkin and Ottawa he grouped separately, at 7,300. By comparison, Rogers (1978) estimated all the Ojibwa-speaking groups in the Great Lakes homeland in the 1600s at about 3,000 to 4,000, while Peers (1994) noted a lack of evidence for an Ojibwa presence on the Plains before the late 1700s. From the 1630s onward smallpox, measles, and influenza epidemics periodically reduced native populations. The combined Canada-United States Ojibwa population in 1912 was reported to be 38,000 to 41,000. In 1986 the U.S. and Canadian populations registered as members of Ojibwa bands (Canada) or tribes (United States) totaled about 80,000. This does not include people categorized as Ottawa or Algonkin or nonstatus Indians or persons of mixed descent who may self-identify as Anishinaabeg. In Canada a governmental act that allows the recovery of Indian status by women who had lost status by marrying out and their children has led to a considerable increase in the numbers of registered Ojibwa.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Ojibwa language is a member of the Algonquian language family. It includes several dialects. Southern Ojibwa speakers include the Ottawas and Chippewas of southern Ontario, Manitoulin Island, and the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. To the east the Nipissing and Algonquin represent another speech community, and western and northern Ojibwa speakers may represent perhaps three dialectal variants. The Northern Ojibwa of the Severn River region (neighbors of the Swampy Cree) speak a dialect increasingly known as Ojicree or Oji-Cree; outsiders have identified these communities as Cree, a label sometimes adopted by those people when speaking English.

History and Cultural Relations

Recorded Ojibwa contacts with Europeans began in the 1640s in the Great Lakes region; French Jesuit missionaries first preached at Sault Sainte Marie in 1641. Iroquois warfare against the Huron and their Algonquian allies led to the destruction of the Huron confederacy in 1649 and to the wide dispersal of those communities. By the 1690s the Mississauga, the Ottawa, and others had defeated the Iroquois in several battles, and Mississauga villages began to occupy old Iroquois sites along the northern shore of Lake Ontario.

French fur traders began actively to pursue contacts with Algonquian communities around and beyond the upper Great Lakes to meet European demand for beaver felt for hats. French trade goods, especially kettles, knives, awls, and axes, drew strong Ojibwa interest for their convenience and durability and tended to replace or supplement bark and pottery containers and stone tools; cloth, trade beads, tobacco, and alcohol were also in demand. Dependency on European goods should not be assumed, however; the guns of the 1600s, for example, were unwieldy, inefficient, and dangerous to their users. The fur trade fostered specialization; Ojibwa winter hunting and trapping began to focus more on securing furs. The Ojibwa increasingly expected French traders to advance goods and provisions as "debts" to support fur production. Ojibwa women were essential as processors of leather and furs; their workload in this sphere increased as the trade grew, although metal tools facilitated many of their customary tasks.

By the late 1700s Ojibwa groups had spread into Manitoba, Minnesota, and beyond. Montreal-based Canadian traders were moving westward to compete with the English Hudson's Bay Company, which was extending its trade into the interior of the vast Hudson Bay watershed known as Rupert's Land, which it had claimed by royal charter since 1670. Many Ojibwa had long associated with the Canadians and frequently intermarried with them "according to the custom of the country." From the Great Lakes to the far Northwest a sizable population of mixed descent had arisen by the mid-1800s. Depending on circumstances, these people might remain with maternal relatives and identify as Ojibwa or might be connected with the growing number of Metis who began in this period to see themselves as ethnically distinct. The rise of the Plains Ojibwa dates to this period.

Ojibwa communities diverged in several other directions by 1850. Those who traveled with the fur trade into the subarctic regions above Lake Superior adopted a lifestyle closer to that of their northern neighbors, the Swampy Cree. Ojibwa communities in southern Ontario were displaced by Loyalists who streamed into the region after the American Revolution and later by thousands of immigrants from the British Isles. Governmental policy oscillated between encouraging Indian reserves and agricultural mission settlements in the south and removing Indians to more northern localities, such as Manitoulin Island.

The Ojibwa communities that spread into Wisconsin and Minnesota by the early 1800s did so largely by means of intermittent warfare with the Dakota and other groups and by allying themselves with Ottawa, Potawatomi, and increasingly Metis associates and relatives. By the 1850s their land base and population had been severely reduced by U.S. removal policies, disease, and pressure from white settlement, especially in more southern areas.


Ojibwa settlements were largest during the summer, when people gathered at choice fishing and trading spots such as Sault Sainte Marie. The more southerly groups established durable villages on lakes and rivers, where they practiced small-scale agriculture, growing corn and other domesticated crops; stands of wild rice and sugar maple trees also attracted seasonal settlement. In the fall smaller kin groups consisting of, for example, two brothers and their wives and children, left the bigger lakes and rivers to canoe and portage inland, setting up winter camps in hunting and trapping lands that their families might have used for generations.

Dwellings varied seasonally. Conical or dome-shaped structures made of saplings bound together and covered with birch or elm bark or hides (depending on the region), later supplemented by canvas, were standard. Polygynous men and their families might occupy a peaked-roof long lodge with doors at both ends. Log or frame houses became common in more southern areas during the 1800s, but indigenous dwelling types were common along inland rivers and lakes in northern Ontario and Manitoba through the 1930s.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities.

The Ojibwa economy was mixed, combining the seasonal harvesting of wild resources (fish, game, birchbark, berries, plant medicines, and other local products) with gardening (in the south) and trade. Management of these resources by fire and other methods enhanced productivity; wild rice, for example, was reseeded where old beds had declined and was introduced to new locations where conditions were promising. The rise of the fur trade brought an increased emphasis on beaver, muskrat, and other pelts and encouraged the production of maple sugar and wild rice for trade. Fish, notably whitefish, and more specialized products such as sturgeon isinglass acquired commercial value, leading to competition in several areas between Ojibwa groups and outside entrepreneurs; overfishing by those entrepreneurs led to massive depletions in several areas by 1900. The Plains Ojibwa turned more to bison hunting, although they maintained mixed seasonal use of other resources and did not become as oriented to horses as did other Plains groups.

Industrial Arts. The processing of leather, bark, plant fibers, wood, stone, clay, and to a lesser degree native copper from around Lake Superior yielded a diverse material culture; for the Ojibwa of the Plains the bison furnished hides, pemmican, and other useful products. On arrival, European traders in the Northeast and the subarctic region found canoes, snowshoes, and moccasins essential to travel and increased the demand for these goods. The metal goods they introduced greatly facilitated woodcutting, cooking, and sewing, and glass trade beads, silk thread, and recycled materials such as snuffbox lids made into tinkling cones augmented traditional decorative materials such as porcupine quills. By the later 1800s basketry and beadwork became a significant source of income for Ojibwa women in areas frequented by tourists, sports fishermen, and cottagers.

Trade. The Europeans found the Ojibwa already engaged in trade with the Huron to the south and the Cree to the north; goods such as cornmeal and Iroquoian pottery moved north, while furs for winter clothing traveled south along old trade routes that reached from the southern Great Lakes to James Bay. The French fur trade cast Ojibwa, Nipissing, and Algonquin groups into middleman roles as conveyors of high-quality Cree beaver pelts to Montreal and Quebec. By the 1700s French forts and missions on the Great Lakes became magnets for trade and to some extent settlement, fostering the rise of an Ojibwa-Metis population. In the north trapping remained important through the middle of the twentieth century, and it still augments income from other sources.

Division of Labor. Most hunting, trapping, and trading was done by men; women's work centered on child care, gathering firewood and berries and other plants, and processing leather, clothing, and food. Older men assumed the most prominent leadership and ceremonial roles.

Land Tenure. Land tenure was established by continued use and habitation of village sites and by local consensus about which family groups frequented specific lakeshores and streams in the winter hunting season. Patterns of water travel and watersheds shaped land use in most areas, and concepts of trespass and respect for occupancy rights reinforced the stability of use patterns except when disruptive rivalry with other groups occurred, as in the upper Midwest "debatable zone" between the Ojibwa and the Dakota in the late 1700s and early 1800s. By the late 1800s land cessions and the creation of reservations, along with fish, game, and migratory bird laws, the damming of rivers, and other changes, had undermined Ojibwa land use patterns in all but the most northerly communities.


Kin Groups and Descent. Patrilineal exogamous clans structured Ojibwa kin relations in most areas, though clan solidarity and functions were more visible in southern regions. The Southwestern Ojibwa of Minnesota had twenty-three clans, while fifteen or twenty were reported for the Lake Superior Chippewa in the 1800s. Among the Berens River Ojibwa in the 1930s seven clans were reported. The Northern Ojibwa, in contrast, developed regional bands traceable to a remote genealogical ancestor, such as the Cranes in the area of Weagamow and Big Trout lakes.

Kinship Terminology. Ojibwa kinship follows a bifurcate collateral pattern with Iroquois-type cousin terminology, distinguishing cross cousins from parallel cousins, aunts, and uncles and merging parallel cousins with siblings.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Although parents commonly arranged the marriages of their children, liberal courtship customs allowed eligible mates (ideally classificatory cross cousins) to form relationships that were sanctioned as marriages. A man's presentation of gifts to the woman's parents and their acceptance allowed a marriage to go forward. Temporary matrilocal residence was common and might be lasting if the wife's parents lacked other male hunters. Polygyny was not usual, but men who achieved power and prestige might have two or three wives or, rarely, more. Divorce was permitted, as was remarriage after divorce or the death of a spouse.

Domestic Unit. Residential units consisted of long lodges occupied by extended families that often included three generations or, in the summer, clusters of smaller dwellings occupied by related families that dispersed into smaller groups for winter hunting. By the early 1900s log and frame nuclear-family housing prevailed in most areas. Nuclear family units, however, still often house one or more grandparents as well as children adopted or fostered because they need a home, because the home needs children, or both.

Inheritance. Clear gender roles led to women's property being passed down to female descendants, and men's down to males. Ceremonial properties, religious powers, and leadership roles usually passed down the male line but also were legitimated by appropriate vision experiences and the demonstration of suitable personal qualities.

Socialization. Children learned gender and adult roles largely by experience, observation, example, and stories and legends rather than through formal teaching or discipline. Boys at puberty sought gifts and blessings from dream visitors by fasting in isolation for several days. Thunderbirds or other beings might bestow powers that helped men throughout life if they were respected and obeyed. Girls at first menstruation were secluded, but vision experiences, while they might occur and confer special powers, were not sought or needed by females to the same degree. Women after puberty observed various taboos on the handling of men's tools and products of the hunt, and all children learned customary patterns of respect, avoidance, or joking relationships toward different classes of relatives.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Ojibwa communities consisted of local autonomous bands of interrelated families that often were known by a name reflecting a geographic feature of their territory, such as rapids or a river mouth. More southerly bands ranged up to several hundred people; those living on the Canadian Shield had perhaps 50 to 150 persons. By the late 1800s many bands, especially on the Plains, consisted of an ethnic mix of Ojibwa, Ottawa, Cree, Metis, and Dakota or others.

Political Organization. Leadership in Ojibwa bands commonly passed down the male lines of large, successful families. The men and, more rarely, women who gained leadership were respected for their abilities, knowledge, and evidence of spiritual powers in hunting, healing, or other domains. Younger leaders might be successful warriors, and older men might demonstrate shamanic powers that attracted allegiance from members of their families or communities but appeared frightening and evil to outsiders such as missionaries, who became their rivals in some respects, or to potential enemies. By the late 1800s outside pressures fostered more formalized chiefly roles, especially in Canada, where the Indian Act of 1876 required the election of chiefs and councils. Elections and majority rule at least nominally replaced older, more consensual political processes. Tensions between young and old, Christian and nonconverted, and "progressive" and "conservative" grew; while generational and civilchief/warrior rivalries were not new, factionalism was exacerbated by social and economic stress.

Social Control. Ridicule, gossip, and ostracism were the principal means of social control. Persons who manifested the threatening behavior of a cannibalistic wiindigoo or a "bearwalker" who pursued others with bad medicine might be executed. It was expected that wrongdoers and breakers of taboos would bring penalties from offended spiritual beings upon themselves or their children (onjinewin, punishment for a moral wrong), obviating need for human intervention.

Conflict. Strong sanctions controlled overt expressions of conflict and anger. Direct conflict usually was deflected through avoidance or silence; if it was not defused, antagonists might resort to indirect warfare, "throwing bad medicine" through sorcery. The introduction of alcohol evidently decreased inhibitions on physical abuse and violence. Stresses in modern reservation communities have exacerbated generational conflicts. Old mechanisms of control have broken down, and high youth suicide rates in northern Ontario testify to widespread problems in parent-child communications and to drastic changes in values related to individual behavior, agency, and responsibility.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Ojibwa cosmology, reinforced by language, presents a universe filled with beings and forces conceived of as animate and capable of interacting with human beings. To speak of thunder, for example, is to speak of the Thunderers or Thunderbirds (animikiig or pinesiwag ), beings who require respect and offerings and may help humans and visit them in dreams. Objects and animals may not be what they seem; certain stones may speak and have powers, or a seemingly ordinary creature may be a spirit visitor in human or animal form. Debate exists over whether the Ojibwa had a pre-Christian concept of a supreme god (gichi-manidoo, Great Spirit), but along the Berens River non-Christians spoke of a remote, ungendered unseen power, gaa-dibendjiged from whom powers emanated to all other beings in varying degrees. Animals, plants, the four winds, and other natural phenomena had spiritual "owners" or "bosses" who appeared in myths and dreams and controlled human relationships with the entities they represented.

In the nineteenth century intensive missionization by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, and others began, particularly in the more southern regions. The results varied widely. Churches and schools built within Ojibwa communities allowed children a degree of familial continuity and contact with elders and gave the Ojibwa opportunities to assimilate aspects of Christianity on their own terms. When, in the late 1800s, perhaps a third to a half of the rising generation was sent to distant boarding schools, old belief systems were lost in many instances. Since the late 1900s Ojibwa traditionalists have tried to revive religious beliefs of the past in a framework of a broader pan-Indian spirituality, while Christians commonly turn to the evangelical and Pentecostal churches active on many reservations.

Religious Practitioners. Young people who received special gifts on their vision quests and support and teaching from powerful older relatives became shamans with various specialties, such as healing or divining future or distant events through the use of the shaking tent (a small structure in which the operator communed with visiting spirit beings and received answers to questions and problems) or conducting Midewiwin (Grand Medicine Society) ceremonies.

Ceremonies. The Midewiwin, which was prominent among most southern and central Ojibwa until Christianization and other forces diminished its practice and then was revived in the late 1900s, was the most prominent ceremony. Held in spring and/or fall in a long lodge built for that purpose, it was an occasion for reciting origin and migration myths, healing, and initiating new members. More generally, individual and group ceremonies infused everyday life; the harvesting of game or roots, the naming of a child, or the passing of a thunderstorm were occasions for prayers and offerings. Innovations occurred through dream messages that individual recipients received and promulgated. In the late 1800s, for example, a Dream Dance involving the use of a large drum and the transmission of an elaborate song cycle spread across Minnesota and Wisconsin and eventually to the Berens River in Manitoba.

Arts. Musical instruments included rattles, flutes, water drums, and large drums such as those of the Dream Dance and those used more recently in powwows. Individuals received songs from dream visitors who conferred powers to heal, secure success in hunting, or conduct certain ceremonies. Inscribed and painted arts included migration stories and song notations on birchbark Midewiwin scrolls and pictographs on rock faces above water, as at Agawa on Lake Superior. In the 1960s Ojibwa artists led by Norval Morrisseau created the pictographic or "Woodland" school of native painting. Using leather and cloth, Ojibwa women have a long tradition of porcupine quillwork, silkwork, and beadwork, most commonly using floral motifs; birchbark basketry is also a widely used medium for quillwork.

Medicine. Serious illness was ascribed to personalized causes: retaliation from offended spirit beings or sorcery for improper behavior or for having done wrong to an animal or a person. Curing could involve a specialist's use of medicinal plant remedies, the sweat lodge, the Midewiwin ceremony, and a shaman's aid in soliciting the victim's confession of past taboo breaches or other acts that might have brought about the ailment.

Death and Afterlife. The deceased were dressed in fine clothes, wrapped in bark, and buried (or in older times when the ground was frozen, placed on high scaffolds) with the goods needed on the journey to the afterworld. Southern Ojibwa groups placed the land of the dead or of ghosts (jiibayag ) to the west; Berens River Ojibwa placed it in the south. A small log house or picket fence was placed over the grave, and relatives left offerings such as tea or tobacco for the deceased or for the use of others who might visit to pay their respects. Reincarnation was seen as possible though rare; clues would be a few gray hairs on a baby's head or a person's recollection of experiences while in the womb or before.

For the original article on the Ojibwa, see Volume 1, North America.


Brown, Jennifer S. H., and Laura L. Peers (1988). "The Chippewa and their Neighbors: A Critical Review," In The Chippewa and their Neighbors: A Study in Ethnohistory, edited by Harold Hickerson. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press.

Danziger, Edmund J., Jr. (1978). The Chippewas of Lake Superior. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Goddard, Ives (1978). "Central Algonquian Languages." In Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 15, Northeast. 583-587. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution.

Hallowell, A. Irving (1992). The Ojibwa of Berens River, Manitoba: Ethnography into History, edited by Jennifer S. H. Brown. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace College Publishers. Hickerson, Harold (1988). The Chippewa and Their Neighbors: A Study in Ethnohistory, 2nd ed. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press.

Kroeber, Alfred L. (1953). Cultural and Natural Areas of Native North America. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Matthews, Maureen, and Roger Roulette (1995). "Fair Wind's Dream: Naamiwan Obawaajigewin." In Reading Beyond Words: Contexts for Native History, edited by Jennifer S. H. Brown and Elizabeth Vibert. 330-360. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press.

Moodie, D. Wayne (1991). "Manomin: Historical-Geographical Perspectives on the Ojibwa Production of Wild Rice." In Aboriginal Resource Use in Canada: Historical and Legal Aspects, edited by Kerry Abel and Jean Friesen. 71-79. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press.

Peers, Laura (1994). The Ojibwa of Western Canada 1780 to 1870. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press.

Rogers, Edward S. (1978). "Southeastern Ojibwa." In Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 15, Northeast. 760-771. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution.

, and Mary Black Rogers (1982). "Who Were the Cranes? Groups and Group Identity Names in Northern Ontario." In Approaches to Algonquian Archaeology, edited by Margaret G. Hanna and Brian Kooyman. 147-188. Calgary: University of Calgary Archaeological Association.

Schmalz, Peter S. (1991). The Ojibwa of Southern Ontario. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Valentine, Lisa Philips (1995). Making It Their Own: Severn Ojibwe Communicative Practices. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Vennum, Thomas (1982). The Ojibwa Dance Drum: Its History and Construction. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Warren, William W. (1984). History of the Ojibway People, 2nd ed. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press.


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ETHNONYMS: Anishinabe, Bungee, Bungi, Chippewa, Mississauga, Northern Ojibwa, Plains Ojibwa, Saulteaux, southwestern Chippewa, Southeastern Ojibwa


Identification. The Ojibwa are a large American Indian group located in the northern Midwest in the United States and south-central Canada. "Ojibwa" means "puckered up," a reference to the Ojibwa style of moccasin. The Ojibwa name for themselves is "Anishinabe," meaning "human being."

Location. Aboriginally, the Ojibwa occupied an extensive area north of Lakes Superior and Huron. A geographical Expansion beginning in the seventeenth century resulted in a four-part division of the Ojibwa. The four main groups are the Northern Ojibwa, or Saulteaux; the Plains Ojibwa, or Bungee; the Southeastern Ojibwa; and the Southwestern Chippewa. At the end of the eighteenth century the Northern Ojibwa were located on the Canadian Shield north of Lake Superior and south and west of Hudson and James bays; the Plains Ojibwa, in southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba; the Southeastern Ojibwa, on the lower peninsula of Michigan and adjacent areas of Ontario; and the Southwestern Chippewa, in northern Minnesota, extreme northern Wisconsin, and Ontario between Lake Superior and the Manitoba border. The Canadian Shield country is a flat land of meager soil and many lakes and swamps. The country of the Plains Ojibwa is an environment of rolling hills and forests dominated by oak, ash, and whitewood. The homeland of the Southeastern Ojibwa and the Southwestern Chippewa, also a country of rolling hills, includes marshy valleys, upland prairie, rivers and lakes, and forests of maple, birch, poplar, oak, and other deciduous species. Throughout the region, winters are long and cold and summers short and hot.

Demography. The Ojibwa are one of the largest American Indian groups north of Mexico. In the mid-seventeenth Century they numbered at least 35,000, perhaps many more. Today the Ojibwa who are located in Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan in Canada and Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, and Oklahoma in the United States, number about 160,000; the majority of them live in the Canadian provinces.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Ojibwa languages are classified in the Algonkian language family.

History and Cultural Relations

Contact with Europeans was initiated in the early 1600s, and by the end of the century the Ojibwa were deeply involved in the fur trade and heavily dependent on European trade goods. As a result, the Ojibwa underwent a major geographical expansion that by the end of the eighteenth century had resulted in the four-part division of the tribe. Their migration in some cases led to significant modifications in their aboriginal hunting, fishing, and gathering subsistence pattern. These modifications were most evident among the Northern Ojibwa, who borrowed extensively from the Cree and adopted a subarctic culture pattern, and the Plains Ojibwa, who took up many elements of the Plains Indian way of life. During the first half of the nineteenth century the SouthEastern Ojibwa were forced by White demands for farmland to cede their territory for reservation status. Similarly, in the mid-nineteenth century the Southwestern Chippewa and in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the Plains Ojibwa and the Northern Ojibwa were resettled on reservations and reserves in the United States and Canada. Since the 1950s a major theme of Ojibwa cultural change has been migration off the reservations to urban centers where the People have become integrated into the Canadian and American work forces. The 1960s, however, saw a resurgence of native consciousness among the Ojibwa on many of the reservations in the United States and Canada, as the people saw their traditional culture eroding under the impact of government education programs, urban migration, and other acculturative forces.

Aboriginally and in the early historic period the Ojibwa were closely tied to the Huron to their south. After the Huron were defeated by the Iroquois in 1649-1650 in their contest for control of the western fur trade, the Ojibwa came under strong pressure from the Iroquois. By the end of the seventeenth century, however, some Ojibwa were pushing Southeastward, sometimes by force, at the expense of the Iroquois. Those who moved into the lower peninsula of Michigan became closely allied with the Ottawa and Potawatomi. During the eighteenth century Ojibwa, who had obtained European firearms from French traders, expanded to the southwest where they had a strategic military advantage over their neighbors and displaced the Dakota, Cheyenne, Hidatsa, and other groups from their traditional homelands. Intermittent and sometimes costly warfare between the Southwestern Ojibwa and the Dakota persisted for more than a century until ended by U.S. government-enforced treaties in the 1850s. The Northern Ojibwa who moved onto the Canadian Shield became closely associated with the Cree peoples to their north and west. With the acquisition of the horse, the westernmost of the Ojibwa had by 1830 evolved a pattern of seasonal migration to the open plains and adopted many elements of the Plains Indian way of life, including the preoccupation with bison hunting, the Sun Dance, and decorative tailored skin clothing.


The prehistoric and early historic Ojibwa maintained semipermanent villages for summer use and temporary camps during the remainder of the year, as they moved to exploit fish, game, and wild plant resources. This pattern of seasonal settlement and movement persisted to some extent among all the Ojibwa groups, but especially so among the nineteenth-century Southeastern Ojibwa and Southwestern Chippewa, who in their seasonal round returned each summer to Permanent village bases to plant gardens. The typical dwelling of the early Southeastern Ojibwa was the traditional conical hide-covered lodge, but as they adopted farming and a more settled way of life, log cabins and wood frame houses came into widespread use. Among the Southwestern Chippewa the most common dwelling was a dome-shaped wigwam covered with birchbark and cattail matting. The Northern Ojibwa spent much of their year moving in dispersed groups in search of subsistence, but during the summer they congregated at fishing sites in close proximity to trading posts, where they procured their supplies for the coming year. Their basic dwelling was a conical or ridge pole lodge covered with birch and birchbark. A high degree of mobility also characterized the Plains Ojibwa, who adopted bison-skin tipis and a pattern of seasonal movement involving concentration on the open plains in the summer to harvest the bison herds.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. In the summer when they gathered in their villages, the aboriginal and early historic Ojibwa fished, collected wild nuts and berries, and planted small gardens of maize, beans, squash, and pumpkins. In some areas wild rice was harvested in the fall. In the winter the bands dispersed and moved to hunting grounds where they subsisted on deer, moose, bear, and a variety of small game. In the spring maple sap was gathered and boiled to produce maple syrup. By the late 1600s, the Ojibwa were heavily involved in the exchange of mink, muskrat, beaver, and other animal pelts for European trade goods. Among the Southeastern Ojibwa and the Southwestern Chippewa this subsistence pattern persisted, but with a greater emphasis on wild rice harvesting among the latter and more intensive farming among the former. Among the Plains Ojibwa bison and bison hunting became the basis of life. The Northern Ojibwa fished, gathered wild foods, and hunted game and waterfowl, but were beyond the environmental range of wild rice and the sugar maple, and so the exploitation of those resources was not part of their subsistence pattern.

Industrial Arts. Birchbark was a multipurpose resource for most of the Ojibwa, providing the raw material for canoes, lodge coverings, and storage and cooking containers. Various types of wood were used for snowshoes, canoe frames, lacrosse racquets, bows and arrows, bowls, ladles, flutes, drums, and fishing lures. Among the Plains Ojibwa bison were the principal source of raw materials for clothing, shelter, and tools.

Trade. Aboriginally, furs and maple sugar were traded to the Huron for maize and tobacco. After becoming involved in the European fur trade Ojibwa traders made annual treks to Quebec and later to Montreal to trade furs for blankets, firearms, liquor, tools, kettles, and clothing. As trading posts were established by the French at Detroit and other closer points the distance of the trading expeditions was gradually reduced. Fur trapping and trading remained an important source of income among the Northern Ojibwa until the mid-twentieth century.

Division of Labor. Men and women shared responsibility for numerous economic activities, such as fishing and trapping, and sometimes cooperated in the same tasks, such as canoe construction. Men's labor focused on hunting, trapping, and trading, and women's labor was most concerned with processing hides, making clothes, preparing food, caring for children, and collecting plant foods and firewood.

Land Tenure. With the development of the European fur trade, bands tended to exploit a particular hunting and trapping territory. Gradually, these vaguely defined areas evolved into territories in which hunting and trapping groups had exclusive rights over fur resources.


Kin Groups and Descent. Except for the Northern Ojibwa, Ojibwa society was divided into numerous exogamous totemic clans. Among the nineteenth-century southwestern Chippewa in Minnesota there were twenty-three such clans, groups of which were linked and divided into five phratries. Clan membership was reckoned patrilineally.

Kinship Terminology. Ojibwa kinship terminology followed the Iroquois pattern. Parallel cousins were merged terminologically with siblings and cross cousins were classed separately. Parallel aunts and uncles were merged terminologically by sex with mother and father and cross aunts and uncles were classed separately.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriages were arranged by parents or guardians and involved little formal ceremony. Cross-cousin Marriage was practiced, but not preferred. Polygyny was possible, but most marriages were monogamous. Divorce was permitted and a simple matter to effect for either husband or wife. Remarriage was permitted after divorce and after the death of a spouse following a mourning period of one year.

Domestic Unit. Traditionally, the basic social unit was the extended family. Over time, however, it has given way to the nuclear family.

Inheritance. No single principle of inheritance appears to have prevailed among the Ojibwa. Instead, it seems to have been bilateral and a matter of residence and affection.

Socialization. Children were raised in a permissive fashion and rarely reprimanded or punished physically. The most important phase of a boy's life occurred at puberty when he sought a guardian spirit through a vision quest. The quest involved several days (ideally four) of isolation, fasting, prayer, and dreaming undertaken to contact a guardian spirit to provide aid and protection. Through frequent offerings of food and tobacco the boy could maintain rapport with his guardian spirit and retain its aid and protection throughout his life. At the time of first menstruation the girl was isolated, but not required to undergo a vision quest. If, however, she did receive a vision during her isolation, it was regarded as a special blessing. Among the Plains Ojibwa girls visited by a spirit in this way were believed to possess curing powers.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. In aboriginal and early historic times the Ojibwa were divided into small autonomous bands of interrelated families. Band organization was loose and flexible, and social relations, apart from divisions along the lines of age and sex, were egalitarian. With involvement in the European fur trade, band organization was modified. Among eighteenth-century Southeastern Ojibwa and Southwestern Chippewa, bands numbered several hundred people; among the Northern Ojibwa, bands were smaller, with about fifty to seventy-five members. Plains Ojibwa bands were loose, shifting units.

Political Organization. Each Ojibwa band was headed by a chief whose position was earned on the basis of hunting ability, personal appeal, and religious knowledge, but was also dependent on kinship connections. Shamans were respected and feared individuals who sometimes also functioned as band leaders. Among the eighteenth-century Southeastern Ojibwa, bands were headed by chiefs, but as farming and a more permanent settlement pattern were adopted local Political organization evolved to include an elected chief, assistant chiefs, and a local council. This form of political organization was in part a government-imposed system. Among the Northern Ojibwa band leadership was supplied by a senior male whose kin group formed the basis of the band's membership. In addition, he was usually also a skilled trader. Among the Plains Ojibwa each band had several chiefs, one of whom was recognized as the head chief. The head chief usually inherited his position, held it for life, and was assisted by councillors elected by the adult male members of the band. Secondary chiefs among the Plains Ojibwa achieved their position by virtue of their deeds in war, skills in hunting, generosity, and leadership ability.

Social Control. Censure by means of ridicule and Ostracism was the primary mechanism of social control. In addition, among some Ojibwa groups mutilation and execution were punishments for certain offenses. Among the Plains Ojibwa a wife found to have committed adultery could be mutilated or killed by her husband, and among the Southeastern Ojibwa mutilation was the prescribed punishment for violating mourning taboos. Chiefs among Plains Ojibwa sometimes mediated serious disputes, and when the people gathered on the open plains, camp police, or okitsita, composed of war heroes, maintained peace and order.

Conflict. Overt face-to-face hostility was rare in Ojibwa society. However, alcohol consumption seems to have increased the frequency and intensity of interpersonal conflict and physical violence. The Ojibwa believed sorcery to be the cause of individual misfortune and often employed sorcery in retaliation against their enemies. Suspicion of sorcery was a cause of conflict and could result in long-lasting feuds Between families. Conflict also stemmed from encroachments on hunting and trapping territories.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. For the Ojibwa the supernatural world held a multitude of spiritual beings and forces. Some of these beings and forcesSun, Moon, Four Winds, Thunder, and Lightningwere benign, but othersghosts, witches, and Windigo, a supernatural cannibalistic giantwere malevolent and feared. Presiding over all other spirits was Kiccimanito, or Great Spirit, although this belief may have been a product of European influence. Ojibwa religion was very much an individual affair and centered on the belief in power received from spirits during dreams and visions. For this reason, dreams and visions were accorded great significance and much effort was given to their interpretation. The power obtained through them could be used to manipulate the natural and supernatural environments and employed for either good or evil purposes. Missionization by the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches began during the nineteenth century, but conversion and Christian influence were limited prior to the twentieth century. In the mid-twentieth century the religious orientation of many Ojibwa was a mixture of Christian and traditional native elements.

Religious Practitioners. In their vision quests, some young men received more spiritual power than others, and it was they who in later life became shamans. Several different types of shamans existed, the type being determined by the sort of spiritual power received.

Ceremonies. The most important religious ceremony for the Southeastern Ojibwa and the Southwestern Chippewa was the Midewiwin, or Medicine Dance, of the Medicine Lodge Society. The Midewiwin ceremony was held semiannually (in the late spring and early fall among the nineteenth-century Wisconsin Chippewa) and lasted for several days. The Northern Ojibwa did not practice the Midewiwin Ceremony, although the Plains Ojibwa did. Among the latter, however, it was exceeded in importance by the Sun Dance, performed annually in mid-June in order to bring rain, good health, and good fortune.

Arts. Ojibwa music was individualistic. Musical instruments included tambourines, water drums, rattles, and flutes. Songs were derived from dreams and had magical purposes, such as ensuring success in hunting and other economic activities, invoking guardian spirits, and curing sickness. Among the Southwestern Chippewa porcupine quill work employing a floral motif was an important technique in the decoration of buckskin clothing and leather bags. After European contact glass beads replaced quills in decorative applications, although the floral motif was maintained.

Medicine. Disease and illness were thought to be caused by sorcery or as retribution for improper conduct toward the supernatural or some social transgression. Curing was performed by members of the Midewiwin, or Medicine Lodge Society, into which both men and women were inducted after instruction by Mide priests, payment of fees, and formal initiation. Shamans, with their powers derived from dreams and visions, were curers of sickness, but so, too, were others knowledgeable in the use of medicinal plants.

Death and Afterlife. Upon death the corpse was washed, groomed, dressed in fine clothing, and wrapped in birchbark before burial in a shallow grave. Following death, the soul of the deceased was believed to journey westward for four days to an afterlife in the sky. Among the Southwestern Chippewa the deceased was also painted prior to burial and lay in state in a wigwam. The funeral ceremony was attended by friends and relatives and was conducted by a Mide priest, who talked to the deceased and offered tobacco to the spirits. After the ceremony was concluded the body was removed through a hole in the west side of the wigwam to the grave site, where it was buried along with personal possessions. The door of the wigwam was not used when removing the deceased for fear that the departed soul would return through the door. In later times a long, low, gabled plank house was constructed over the grave. The Plains Ojibwa also employed the gabled grave house and left offerings of food and water at the grave house for four days after burial for the soul's subsistence on its journey to the afterlife.


Barnouw, Victor (1977). Wisconsin Chippewa Myths and Tales and Their Relation to Chippewa Life. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Buffalohead, Patricia (1986). "Farmers, Warriors, Traders: A Fresh Look at Ojibway Women." In The American Indian, edited by Roger L. Nichols, 28-38. 3rd ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Densmore, Frances (1979). Chippewa Customs. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society. Originally published, 1929.

Howard, James H. (1965). The Plains Ojibwa or Bungi: Hunters and Warriors of the Northern Prairie, with Special Reference to the Turtle Mountain Band. University of South Dakota, South Dakota Museum, Anthropological Papers, no. 1. Vermillion, S.D.

Ritzenthaler, Robert E. (1978). "Southwestern Chippewa." In Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 15, Northeast, edited by Bruce G. Trigger, 743-759. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.

Rogers, Edward S. (1978). "Southeastern Ojibwa." In Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 15, Northeast, edited by Bruce G. Trigger, 760-771. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.

Rogers, Edward S., and J. Garth Taylor (1981). "Northern Ojibwa." In Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 6, Subarctic, edited by June Helm, 231-243. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.


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O·jib·wa / ōˈjibˌwā; -wə/ (also O·jib·way / -ˌwā/ ) • n. (pl. same or -was or -ways) 1. a member of a North American Indian people native to the region around Lake Superior. Also called Chippewa. 2. the Algonquian language of this people. • adj. of or relating to this people or their language.

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Ojibwa (Chippewa) Group of Algonquian-speaking Native North Americans. In the 17th century, they were constantly at war with the Sioux, eventually driving them across the Mississippi River. Since then, they have lived on reservations in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota. Today, c.90,000 live in the USA and Canada.

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Ojibwa •Aconcagua •aqua, sub-aqua •Chihuahua, Kurosawa, Massawa, Okinawa, Tokugawa •Qwaqwa • Quechua •Chichewa, rewarewa •Ojibwa • Interlingua • siliqua • Iowa •Medawar • Te Kanawa • Ottawa

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