Ojibway (pronounced oh-jib-WAY ) means “puckered up,” and is thought to be derived from the way the tribes’ moccasins were gathered at the top. The Ojibway have been known by several different names. The traditional name is Anishinaubeg, which means “original people” or “first people.” The people were also known as the Chippewa as a result of the mispronunciation of Ojibway by the French. Ojibway is also spelled Ojibwayy, Ojibwe, Ojibwa, and Otchipwe.
The Ojibway flourished north of Lake Huron and northeast of Lake Superior at the time of European contact. In 2007 they lived on about 25 American reservations located in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, and Oklahoma. In Canada they lived in Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, and Saskatchewan.
The French estimated there were about 35,000 Ojibway in the 1600s, but other historians say there may have been two or three times that number spread out over a wide area. In the 1990 U.S. Census, 103,826 people identified themselves as Chippewa. According to the 2000 Census, 110,857 Ojibway people resided in the United States. In 2001, 20,890 Ojibway lived in Canada.
Origins and group affiliations
The Algonquin peoples, including ancestors of the Ojibway, migrated from an area north of the St. Lawrence River westward into the Great Lakes region about 900 ce . After Europeans arrived the Ojibway split into several groups. Some joined an alliance with the Potawatomi and Ottawa in Michigan and Ontario. This alliance was called the Council of Three Fires. The Salteaux Ojibway in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula met and were influenced by the Cree. In about 1830 a group moved to the Great Plains, took up local customs, and became known as the Plains Ojibway or Bungees.
The Ojibway (often called the Chippewa) were a huge group who dominated the vast Great Lakes region for centuries. At one time they may well have been the most powerful tribe in North America. In the mid-2000s the Ojibway formed the sixth-largest Native American group in the United States. Their attempts to adapt to a modern world while preserving elements of their ancient culture have been remarkably successful.
The Ojibway migrated with other Algonquin peoples from an area north of the St. Lawrence River in Canada westward into the Great Lakes region beginning around 900. No one knows exactly why the Ojibway left the Northeast. They may have been trying to escape diseases brought by Norse explorers who came about 1000. Among the Ojibway the story of the move has been handed down from generation to generation. It describes how the Algonquin nations moved to the Great Lakes from a salt sea in the East, possibly Hudson Bay. The people suffered great hardship during their migration, which lasted several hundred years.
1622: Frenchman Etiènne Brulé encounters the Ojibway at present-day Sault Sainte Marie.
1755–63: To protect their trade interests, the Ojibway ally with the French against the British during the French and Indian War.
1830: Many Ojibway move to Canada to avoid being forced to live southwest of the Missouri River. Others remain behind and work out ways to keep plots of land.
1968: Three Ojibway—Dennis Banks, George Mitchell, and Clyde Bellecourt—found the American Indian Movement (AIM) in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to raise public awareness about treaties the federal and state governments violated.
1983: In the Voight Decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals rules that past treaties protect Ojibway rights to hunt, fish, and gather on the lands of their ancestors.
1988: After the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulation Act the Ojibway exercise their rights as a sovereign (self-governing) nation by establishing casinos on reservations.
Encounters with the French
At the time of the first contact with Europeans the Ojibway were concentrated in the eastern part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Frenchman Etiènne Brulé (pronounced ET-ee-en BRU-lay ; c. 1592–c. 1633) arrived in 1622 looking for a water passage to the Orient. He encountered the Ojibway at a place now known as Sault Sainte Marie (pronounced SOO Saint Marie ). Because of the rapids at the site, the French gave the Ojibway the name Salteurs, or Salteaux, meaning “people of the rapids.” (Rapids is the name given to an extremely fast-moving part of a river.)
Fur traders and missionaries soon followed French explorers. By the late seventeenth century the Ojibway had become heavily engaged in the fur trade with the French. They traded animal skins for European items like guns, alcohol, cloth, utensils, and beads. They became wealthy, powerful, and dependent on French goods.
Now in possession of weapons and wanting to take more furs, the Ojibway expanded their territory. Between 1687 and the late 1700 they spread into lower Michigan, northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, and parts of Canada. They displaced many other tribes as they moved. It has been said that no other tribe has come close to controlling such a huge area.
French displaced by British
In the mid-eighteenth century France and England were engaged in the French and Indian War (1754–63; a war fought in North America involving some Native Americans as allies of the French). To protect their trade interests, the Ojibway sided with the French. Many Ojibway (mainly women) intermarried with the French. These Ojibway women and their families, as well as those of Ojibway warriors fighting with the French, often traveled from battle site to battle site, because it was too dangerous to remain behind without protectors. This constant moving disrupted traditional family life.
French resistance to the British in Canada ended in 1760, leaving the British in control of Ojibway territory there. The British, who sought revenge for Ojibway support of their enemy, forbade trade with the Ojibway. In turn, French influence in Michigan also came to and end. The Ojibway were left confused and angry because of their long dependence on trade and the changes in their way of life.
American settlers arrive
The Ojibway took the British side in the American Revolution (1775–83; the American colonists’ fight for independence from England) because of an even greater threat—American settlers encroaching (moving) on Ojibway lands. After the British lost the war the Ojibway fought against American aggression, but were forced by a series of treaties to give up much of their land in Michigan to American settlers. An era of treaty signings began, and each treaty further stripped the Ojibway and neighboring tribes of the best property, forcing them onto less desirable lands. Poverty and the spread of infectious diseases contributed to a hard life for the Ojibway.
Around 1830 many Ojibway moved to the Great Plains and became known as the Plains Ojibway, or Bungees. Riding horses they acquired from the Spanish, they populated areas in what are now North Dakota, northeastern Montana, southern Manitoba, and southeastern Saskatchewan.
The Indian Removal Act was passed in 1830. It directed that all Native Americans should be moved to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma and Kansas). Many Ojibway moved north to Canada instead. Others remained behind and tried to keep individual plots of land that had been granted to them according to U.S. government policy of allotment. Allotment was adopted in the mid-nineteenth century in an attempt to eliminate the Native American custom of holding lands as a community. Ojibway land was divided up, and small parcels of land were granted to individuals. But taxes were levied on these plots, and the Ojibway were often unable to pay. Because of this, they were forced to give up their land. During the 1860s many Ojibway were removed to Indian Territory along with other Native Americans.
American Indian Movement founded
Battles raged during the twentieth century between Native Americans and the U.S. government over issues such as forced removal, land use, and the freedom to practice ancient religions. The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, with its emphasis on the rights of minorities, led to a surge of activism. The Red Power Movement began as a series of public protests that focused the eyes of the world on American Indian issues. Then, in 1968, three Ojibway—Dennis Banks (1937–), George Mitchell (1933–), and Clyde Bellecourt (1939–), founded the American Indian Movement (AIM) in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
AIM is a vocal and controversial organization. During its 1973 seizure of the village of Wounded Knee in South Dakota, AIM organized Native Americans from many tribes to hold off federal forces in an armed standoff. Two Native American activists were killed, and many others were wounded. AIM’s goals are civil rights for all Native Americans and the revival of tribal religion. The group also seeks to raise public awareness of treaty rights violations by federal and state governments.
Ojibway oral tradition teaches that the Creator, Kitche Manitou, created the world in five stages. First, the rock, water, fire, and wind were formed. From these four elements the Sun, Earth, Moon, and stars were made. During the third stage plants began to grow. Then animals, and later people, emerged.
According to traditional Ojibway belief, the Sun is father and the Earth is mother of all living things. The Sun and the Earth provide everything necessary to sustain all life. As the Anishinaubeg or “first people,” the Ojibway feel an obligation to care for and live in harmony with Mother Earth.
The Midewiwin (“good hearted”) was the religious society of the Ojibway. It may have developed in response to diseases brought by the French. Members, who could be men or women, were called “Mides.” They underwent a long training period before becoming members of the society. Their main purpose was to prolong life (see “Healing practices”). They acted as healers and taught morality and good conduct. Other names for the society are Grand Medicine Society, Medicine Lodge Society, and Mide Society.
European religious influences
French Catholic missionaries came in the 1600s and tried to convert the Ojibway, with little success. Two possible reasons for the lack of conversions are resistance on the part of the local Mides and the fact that the people lived in remote areas. The Midewiwin maintained a strong hold over the Ojibway for a long time, but the society declined at the end of the nineteenth century, in part because of efforts to force Native Americans to conform to the larger American culture.
In the mid-2000s many Ojibway practiced a religion that combined elements of their traditional beliefs with Christianity. Some tribes had revived the Midewiwin traditions and held seasonal gatherings for healing and strengthening the community.
The Ojibway language, called Ojibway or Ojibwemowin, survived decades of educational policies that sought to replace it with English. The language once seemed to be heading for extinction, but is now taught on the reservations and at colleges and universities. The language is spoken by approximately fifty thousand people in the northern United States and southern Canada. Speakers of the five main dialects (varieties), including the Ottawa, can understand each other.
The mastery of spoken language is important to the success of an Ojibway adult. Parents and grandparents encourage children to develop the art of oration. The ability to speak well requires skills in describing things or events elegantly and in great detail.
The Ojibway did not have a system for writing language. They communicated special events to future generations by drawing pictographs on birch bark or buckskin. The following are samples from the Ojibway vocabulary:
- wi’giwam … “dwelling”
- nasa’ogan … “tipi”
- nenan’dawi’iwed … “one who treats the sick by administering remedies”
- dja’sakid … “one who treats the sick by non-material means” (commonly called a juggler)
- a’dikina’gun … “cradleboard”
- ina’bandumo’win … “vision or thing dreamed”
- mide’ … “a member of the Midewiwin
- mide’wayan … “bag carried by a mide’ ”
- Boozhoo … “hello”
- Miigwech … “thank you”
- Aaniin ezhi’ayaayan … “How are you?”
- Nimino’ayaa … “I’m fine.”
- Mino’ayaag … “All of you be well.”
In the early days Ojibway groups were not highly organized because they were small and spread out over such a wide area. Each group had its own tribal leader and council. Election to the ogimaa, or “leaders,” was based on merit rather than heredity. Leaders were usually men who had distinguished themselves in battle or who were wise and generous. Ogimaa candidates had to demonstrate outstanding speaking ability.
In 2007 most tribes operated under forms of government they adopted after the Indian Reorganization Act was passed in 1934. That act provided government loans and other services to reservations if they agreed to adopt new constitutions and reorganize their governments. Most did so, and they now have elective governing bodies.
Living surrounded by lakes and forests, the Ojibway were skilled at fishing, hunting large game, gathering nuts and berries, and growing foods that required a short growing season, like squash and sunflowers. They gathered in summer villages to fish and plant gardens. They divided in winter and moved to their hunting grounds.
After contact with Europeans the Ojibway became skilled traders. By the late seventeenth century thousands of fur pelts were being shipped from Sault Sainte Marie and Detroit. Although it went against the Ojibway tradition of slaying animals only to provide food and clothing, the tribe became so dependent on trade that they overtrapped beaver.
Economy under U.S. government
Later, on the reservations, the Ojibway earned money through the sale of their land and timber rights. They often received far less money for these rights than they were worth, and the money was barely enough to live on. Life on reservations, which were often located in remote areas where the soil was poor, led to reliance on government welfare. Since the 1970s, however, lawsuits have affirmed Ojibway treaty rights and permitted them to support themselves on the land and lakes. In the 1983 Voight Decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that Ojibway rights to hunt, fish, and gather on the lands of their ancestors are protected by past treaties.
After 1945 most Ojibway moved to urban areas to find work. They are employed in a wide range of occupations. Those who live on reservations have experienced high rates of unemployment (that is, those who wanted to work could not find work). They support themselves through seasonal work, including forestry, farming, tourism, trapping, and harvesting wild rice. Particularly since the 1970s, reservations also support small businesses: bait shops, campgrounds, clothing manufacturers, construction companies, fish hatcheries, hotels, lumber stores, marinas, restaurants, and service stations.
Income from casinos
Many tribes have turned to gaming as a way to create jobs and make money. In Michigan and Minnesota, casinos generate tens of millions of dollars and employ thousands of Ojibway people who previously could not find work. Tribes have invested gaming income in the purchase of ancestral lands, road and home construction, and social services such as health and education. Some reservations have passed laws requiring employers on reservations to give preference to tribal members in hiring.
The Ojibway worked hard to care for each other and their families. Sharing is a highly valued virtue, and those who are fortunate enough to acquire a wealth of goods or food are expected to share with those who have less. In spite of all this hard work, families found free time to embroider, carve, make and play with toys, tell stories, and play games.
The traditional Ojibway dwelling, the wigwam, was made of birch bark or cattail mats covering an arched pole frame. Twine or strips of leather tied poles together. The wigwam could be in the shape of a cone or dome and was often built on a slope with ditches dug away from it to drain rainwater. The Ojibway sometimes lived in tepees made of birch bark, buckskin, or cloth, stretched around a conical frame of poles and tied at the top.
Family members slept in the wigwam with their feet towards the fire. In cold weather an older person remained awake to watch the fire. On warm nights the family sometimes slept out in the open.
Other buildings in an Ojibway village included a sweat lodge for curing illness or for spiritual purification, a building used by members of the Midewiwin, and a wigwam for menstruating women.
The Ojibway were mainly hunter-gatherers. Men used bows and arrows and snares for hunting deer, moose, bear, beaver, lynx, mink, marten, otter, rabbit, and caribou in the North. Strips of meat were often smoked or dried to make a food called jerky. Dog meat was a popular menu item at feasts.
Women gathered berries and nuts and collected sap to make maple syrup and sugar in the spring. They harvested wild rice from rivers and lakes in Minnesota and Wisconsin. If the climate permitted, they planted gardens of corn, beans, squash, and pumpkins.
Chippewa Wild Rice
Wild rice was a staple food for the Ojibway because it could be stored and eaten during the winter when fresh foods were scarce. Wild rice is actually the seed of a special grass, a different species from white rice. One Ojibway legend tells about Wenebojo, the trickster, who heard the grass in the lake calling to him. He made a canoe and paddled out into the lake with his grandmother, Nokomis. The grass told them it was good to eat so Wenebojo and Nokomis tried it. The Ojibway have been eating wild rice ever since.
- 1 cup wild rice, washed well in cold water
- 21/2 cups water
- 11/2 teaspoons salt
- 4 strips bacon cut into julienne strips [thin strips about 11/2–2 inches long]
- 6 eggs
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 2 Tablespoons minced chives
- Bacon drippings plus melted butter or margarine to measure 1/3 cup
Place the wild rice, water, and 1 teaspoon salt in a saucepan, and bring slowly to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until all water is absorbed.
Fry the bacon in a large, heavy skillet. Drain bacon on paper toweling. Save drippings [the bacon grease left in the pan].
Beat the eggs with 1/2 teaspoon salt and the pepper until light. Pour into the skillet in which you browned the bacon, and brown the eggs lightly. Then turn gently, as you would a pancake, and brown on the other side. When eggs are firm, cut into julienne strips.
Lightly toss the bacon, julienne egg strips, chives, bacon drippings plus melted butter or margarine with the rice. Serve hot as a main dish.
Serves 4 to 6.
Kimball, Yeffe, and Jean Anderson. The Art of American Indian Cooking. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965, p. 107.
Clothing and adornment
The Ojibway made clothing from green leaves, cloth woven from nettle-stalk fiber, and tanned hides. They used the green leaves for head coverings in hot weather. Nettle-stalk cloth was used for women’s underskirts. The tribe made dresses, pants, breechcloths, shirts, and moccasins from the hides. The Ojibway put muskrat or rabbit skins or cattail down over their chests and inside moccasins for extra warmth during the cold winter months. Small children wore fitted hoods made of deer hide with a flap that could be brought forward to shade the eyes. Women used rabbit skins to make children’s shoes, hats, and blankets.
After the Ojibway acquired blankets from traders, they made them into capes, winter coats (with hoods), and skirts (wrapped and fastened with belts). Dark blue and black woolen cloth were special favorites. The women decorated clothing made from this cloth with beads laid out in floral designs or with silk ribbons.
The Ojibway adorned themselves with natural materials and later with items acquired through trade. They made necklaces of berries, small bones, animal claws, and wooden or glass beads brought by Europeans. Earrings, worn mainly by elderly men, were made of fur, bone, or heavy coins. Long ago men wore large nose rings and brass bracelets acquired from trade. Young men wore fur bands decorated with beading around their wrists and ankles. Dance costumes were embellished with tassels of horsehair dyed red and covered with tin at the top.
The Ojibway kept their hair long, and men usually wore braids. In times of war they sometimes shaved their heads Mohawk-style (see Mohawk entry). Men might apply stripes of red and yellow paint to their hair or wear leather headbands with feathers standing up in back. They often wore porcupine hair roaches, dyed bright colors, on their heads. They made these headpieces of porcupine or deer hair (or, on the southern plains, of black turkey beards) with a feather in them. Some men wore long feathered headdresses like the Sioux (see entries). Women wound their hair in cloth or, on festive occasions, braided it in two braids with a long strip of otter fur over each braid.
Nineteenth- and twentieth-century clothing was adorned with sleigh bells, small mirrors, and pieces of tin. Beaded bands held the men’s leggings in place. In the early twenty-first century Ojibway often wore moccasins or beaded shirts, but only dressed in traditional clothing for special occasions such as dances.
Ojibway believed illness resulted from displeasing supernatural spirits or from social failures such as not hosting a feast after a successful hunting trip. They believed that the sick should be treated both spiritually and physically. Relatives carried a sick person to a healer’s lodge and brought tobacco, considered sacred, for the healer to smoke. The rising smoke alerted the spirits that the healer was thinking of them. Cedar was sometimes burned to purify the air and to treat a contagious illness; sage was burned as a disinfectant.
The healer, usually a member of the Midewiwin society (see “Religion”), might frighten the patient to start the healing process, or he might sing. Ojibway healers had an extensive knowledge of plants and herbs used to treat illnesses. It is said that they introduced European sailors to rose hip tea, which prevented the illness called scurvy, caused by a lack of vitamin C.
Children were considered a gift to all the people, and bringing them up properly was everyone’s responsibility. Children learned by observing. Not listening to others, especially to elders, was considered extremely rude. Children were taught to choose words with care and to think before they spoke. Quarreling and bickering were not tolerated, and children learned not to argue or to criticize others.
When the reservation system was established in the mid-1800s the U.S. government took control of Native American education. Children went to day schools or to boarding schools where they were taught manual labor and housekeeping skills. Often they were separated from their parents and were severely punished for disobeying the rules or for speaking their tribal language.
In the mid-2000s most Ojibway children attended public schools, but some reservations established Head Start programs, pre-schools, elementary schools, and special classes in Ojibway culture, history, and language. Several reservations also had tribal colleges.
Music and dancing are important parts of Ojibway ceremonies. Their songs and dances look to nature for inspiration. Fred Benjamin, an Ojibway elder, explained, as quoted in Circle of Life:
The Great Spirit [told them] to make songs out of what they saw. Like the leaves when the wind blows they’re shaking; they make a little noise. That’s how they got the idea to put bells on their legs. And sometimes you see a fowl, like an eagle, an owl, a chickenhawk. The Native American people looked at them, the way they’d swing their wings, how they’d go down and up. That’s how they’d make the pitch of their songs.
Ojibway elders, especially women, were often expert storytellers, sometimes acting out a story while telling it. The tradition of Ojibway storytelling has been kept alive through the works of notable modern authors such as Ignatia Broker (1919–1987), Maude Kegg (1904–1996), and many others. Ojibway people in Michigan and Minnesota keep their culture alive in many ways. They sponsor storytelling, arts and crafts exhibitions, and powwows (special ceremonies in which members of several different tribes gather for singing, dancing, and feasting).
Birth and naming
When a baby was born guns were fired to alert the village. A riotous feast celebrated the occasion. Ojibway believed that being born into a rowdy environment would make the child brave. Children were given six names; some names were revealed in dreams. The child was usually known by a nickname.
The Ojibway practiced special rituals for boys or girls entering puberty. They believed that during a woman’s menstrual period or “moon time,” the manitou (spirits) were a strong presence in her life, and she could easily harm herself or others. Therefore, a menstruating women was kept away from cooking and spiritual activities. When a girl had her first period she was isolated for four days and nights in a little wigwam made for her by her mother. She was not to eat during this time and was instructed not to touch her body or face with her hands. She used a stick to scratch herself if necessary. Afterwards a feast was given in her honor.
Boys entering puberty were required to fast and pursue a vision quest. A boy’s father would take him into the woods and make a nest for him in a tree, leaving him there for several days, but checking on him periodically. Sometimes a boy would have to perform the ritual several times before he had a vision of a spirit to guide him. A feast was held when a boy killed his first game.
Ojibway people identify themselves by their clan (a group of related families). A man had to marry a woman from another clan, and their children belonged to the father’s clan. When a man and woman and the woman’s parents agreed to a marriage, there was no formal wedding ceremony. The couple lived with the woman’s family for a trial period of one year. If the relationship was not satisfactory or if the wife failed to become pregnant, the man could return to his parents.
A couple who wished to remain together usually built their own lodge, or they might choose to live with the man’s family. Marital separation was allowed, and after a time the parties could remarry. Men who could support another family might have more than one wife, each having her own section of the lodge. Some men designated a head wife, who was the only one to have children. Intermarriage (marriage to non-Ojibway, including non-Indians) was acceptable, and by 1900 many Ojibway were of mixed heritage, typically French and Ojibway.
War and hunting rituals
Ojibway warriors were famous and feared. Before a war party left for battle, the tribe often held a ceremony called the Chief Dance. During the Chief Dance, the people asked the spirits to protect the departing warriors. They offered tobacco and food and played a special drum.
When Ojibway hunters killed a bear, the tribe held a bear ceremony and feast. To show their respect for the bear, they laid out its body and carefully cut it up. They placed foods that bears liked, such as maple sugar and berries, next to the body of the “visitor,” the bear. Everyone ate some bear meat and promised the spirits that if another bear should come their way, it too would be treated with respect.
Women as Okitcita
Any Ojibway man, woman, or child could become an okitcita, or strong-hearted warrior, by performing a brave deed. A person won the honor of wearing an eagle feather stripped in front by counting coup (being one of the first four to touch an enemy, dead or alive, with a hand or a hand weapon) or scalping an enemy. For killing an enemy a man received a white eagle feather; a woman earned a black one. The narrator of these true stories told of two okitcitakwe, or women okitcita, from the early 1900s.
One of these, Cinoskinige, obtained her title in this manner:
She always went out with the warriors, and on one occasion when a Sioux was shot from his horse, she ran to count coup upon him. Being a woman she was outstripped in the race by three men, but succeeded in striking the fourth coup, killing the Dakota with her turnip digging-stick. The men then scalped him, and she painted her face with his blood.
Another renowned old woman at Long Plains was out with a party who were digging turnips on the prairie. They were attacked and surrounded by Sioux who rode round and round them, firing. The men fought them off, while the women hastily dug a rifle pit to conceal the party. In the meantime the men were all wounded. The pit being finished, this woman crept out under fire and rescued each of the men, dragging them back to the pit. In this manner she became an okitcitakwe.
Skinner, Alanson. “Women as Okitcita” Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, Vol. XI, Part VI: Political Organization, Cults, and Ceremonies of the Plains-Ojibway and Plains-Cree Indians. New York: The American Museum of Natural History, 1914. Available online at (accessed on July 15, 2007).
Death and mourning
The Ojibway dressed their dead in their finest clothing and wrapped the body in a blanket and birch bark. Sometimes they painted the face, the moccasins, and the blanket with special substances. Because the dancing ghosts (the northern lights) were also painted this way, they believed the painted dead would join these dancing ghosts.
They removed the body from the wigwam through the west side and put it into a grave, along with food and other necessities for the spirit’s journey to the afterworld. A close family member danced around the open grave. Then it was filled, and a funeral ceremony was performed. Later they built a bark house and put the symbol of the deceased’s clan over the grave.
Family members were expected to mourn for about one year, and mourning rituals were complicated. They wore special clothing and made a spirit bundle containing a lock of the deceased’s hair. A widow placed food in front of her husband’s spirit bundle and slept with the bundle. She could not be seen in public or wear cheerful clothing. When a baby died the mother carried the child’s clothing in a cradleboard (a board onto which babies are strapped) for a year. Once a year the tribe held a mourner’s ceremony, during which mourners were comforted and given gifts. Then loved ones were expected to stop grieving and join the community again.
Current tribal issues
Casino gambling on reservations is a controversial issue. Those in favor point out that gambling boosts reservation economies. Those against argue that gambling proceeds end up in the pockets of a privileged few (even non-Natives) and do little to benefit entire reservation communities. Nevertheless, most reservations have built or are building casinos. In 2006 final financing for the Sault (pronounced SOO ) Sainte Marie Tribe’s Greektown Casino won unanimous approval from the Michigan Gaming Control Board. The casino is to be built in downtown Detroit, Michigan.
Key issues facing the Ojibway include economic development to reduce the numbers of unemployed, improved medical treatment to combat illnesses such as diabetes and alcoholism, better management of natural resources, protection of treaty rights, and an emphasis on higher education.
Most reservations as of 2007 had health clinics, housing and job assistance, and groups to oversee Native rights and environmental issues. In 2003 the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development chose the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa to be a “Renewal Community.” As part of this program the government gave businesses financial credits for hiring tribal workers and helped improve substandard housing on the reservation. Such programs benefit the tribal communities and assist them in becoming self-sufficient.
Jane Johnston Schoolcraft (1800–1841) was the daughter of a Scots-Irish fur trader and an Ojibway woman from Sault Sainte Marie. She was one of the first Native American women to publish poetry; in her poems she described Ojibway culture, her love of nature, and her respect for piety and faith. Her husband, a mid-nineteenth-century government Indian agent named Henry Rowe Schoolcraft (1793–1864), wrote about the Ojibway with his wife’s assistance. The 1855 poem, “Hiawatha,” by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882) is based on Mr. Schoolcraft’s writings about the Ojibway.
Activist Clyde Bellecourt (1939–) was one of the founders of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and a powerful force in major activist struggles of the early 1970s. AIM was founded by Ojibway Dennis Banks (1937–), George Mitchell (1933–), and Bellecourt, in 1968.
Leonard Peltier (1944–) also figured prominently in AIM. He has been in prison since 1976 after a conviction for killing two Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents. There has been widespread protest of his imprisonment, since many believe he did not receive a fair trial.
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Pitawanakwat, Lillian. “Ojibwe/Potawatomi (Anishinabe) Teaching.” Four Directions Teachings. (accessed on July 15, 2007).
Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe. (accessed on July 15, 2007).
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Turtle Mountain Chippewa Indian Heritage Center. (accessed on July 15, 2007).
George Cornell, Ph.D.; Associate Professor, History and American Studies, Michigan State University; Director, Native American Institute