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Ojibwa Native American Tribe

The Objibwa is one of the largest groups of Native Americans-First Nations in North America. Remarkably that after the union the Objibwa became one of the most powerful tribes. The tribe is of great interest as it signed more treaties with the US than any other tribe. Their treaties were the most detailed ones ever signed. These woodland people of northeastern North America call themselves the Anishinabeg that means “original people”. It is considered that the name “Ojibwe” was anglicized as “Ojibwa”. However, in literature other variations such as Ojibway and Chippeway are met as well. “Chippewa” for instance, is more common in the US, while “Ojibwa” name is more typical for Canada. Inez Hilger went so far that he singled out more than seventy different names of the tribe in written records. Densmore claimed that the meaning of the word “Ojibway” originated from “to pucker” however, it is the subject of discussion.

The five-centuries-long migrating tribe originally settled up and down the East Coast. The history of the Ojibwa may be subdivided into two major periods that are: pre-contact and post–contact history. Oral history gives evidence that the Ojibwa lived in the eastern areas of North America or Turtle Island. The Ojibwa call it so as it is resembles a turtle and in the Ojibwa tradition the turtle offered its back and gave people the new earth for settlement. They were widely known for their canoe routes and traded extensively across the continent. First they lived on the shores of the “Great Salt Water”, and later started their long-term migration around 950 C.E. They stopped at Sault Ste. Marie and lived in separate groups: the Potawatomi and the Ottawa. Then they stayed in Minnesota and Wisconsin and made Mooningwanekaaning minis their new capital. The Potawatomi (the fire people), The Ojibwa (the faith people) and the Ottawa (the trader people) were culturally separated but comprised a 3 Fire confederacy. The Ojibwa had more progress in agriculture, as they adopted copper tools, canoes use, collaborative farming, sled dogs and what not. Meanwhile the Ojibwa did not divide labor in accordance with gender as the Potawatomi did. The impetus for migrating was rooted in their cultural beliefs, as the Ojibwa’s prophet of the First Fire had a dream telling that they would either move or be destroyed. True, many people were later destroyed as the whites came. The prophet told about other major stopping places of the tribe naming Niagara Falls, the Detroit River, Manitoulin Island, Sault Ste. Marie, Spirit Island and Madeline Island. The first historical mention of Ojibwa appeared in 1640 as they inhabited the Sault de Ste. Marie.

The contact with the Europeans changed their way of life significantly. The historical records portray them as courageous and determined people who fiercely fought with enemies. Their friendly policy towards the French on the contrary enables them to obtain guns and succeed in their wars with the Sioux and Fox. They adopted the gun technology from the British and the experience gained at war made them cultivate respect towards the warrior. Their culture also presupposed serving in active duty and Ojibwa war veterans were recognized for their achievement and awarded eagle feathers at powwows. Competition in trading caused intertribal conflicts. In the eighteenth century the Ojibwa became permanent owners of the present-day Michigan, northern Wisconsin and Minnesota and extended westward to the Turtle Mountains of North Dakota. Having formed the Council of Three Fires the Ottawa, the Ojibwa and the Potawatomi fought with the Iroquois Confederacy and the Sioux. In the French and Indian War the Ojibwa allied with the French and with the British in the War of 1812. Though US tried to remove the Ojibwa west of Mississippi River it led to seven hundred deaths. With the Jay Treaty signed between the US and Britain, not fully followed by the US, it caused illegal immigration into the Native American lands. The treaties signed dealt with setting the bonds between the Europeans and the Ojibwa were called “Peace and Friendship Treaties”. They played an essential role in further development of their relations.

In the nineteenth century the Ojibwa spitted into four major groups: the Southeastern Ojibwa, the Northern Ojibwa, the Southwestern Ojibwa and the Plain Ojibwa or Bungi. Each of the groups adopted the lifestyle favorable for the territory peculiarities they lived on. The tribe speaks the Ojibwa language that belongs to the Algonquian language family. It extends northeast of a line from North Carolina to the Great Lakes. They say the language resounds for ages due to The Song of Hiawatha written by Longfellow in 1855 that contains many Ojibwa words. Moreover, many English words are derived from the Ojibwa language.

Most Ojibwa were representatives of classic Woodlands culture, though there were divergences, as the tribe occupied a relatively wide area. So, the Plains Ojibwa adopted the Buffalo culture and their culture differed in the aspect of art, clothes and ceremonies. The Ojibwa that inhabited the southern areas had larger villages and were predominantly occupied with corn, tobacco and beans cultivation. Ojibwa who lived in the woodlands were skilled trappers and hunters, they used horses and generally developed more logically than the northernmost bands. They actually preserved their hunter-gatherer lifestyle moving from one place to another in search of favorable resources. Six months were spent in hunting camps and the rest in the locations where fish, berries, wild rice and maple sugar were available. They used maple syrup to preserve their food. They farmed maize, but their main occupations were fishers and hunters. There was unstable central organization of the tribe excluding the regular tribal councils. But with the development of fur trade new Ojibwa bands appeared and the tribe prospered together with the French. The Ojibwa united and became one of the most powerful tribes in North America.

The Ojibwa had clan (odoodeman) system of government and a division of labor and roles. The clans were named for animal totems (crane, catfish, marten, wolf and loon) that in their turn descended through the male line. All clan members were joined by the common totem, bands usually consisted of groups of five to fifty families and lived in the same village. Each band had its council made up of the leaders of the communities’ clans. The clan system spoke much of the Ojibwa succession of generations and balance between them.

The Ojibwa definitely had their own system of values, traditions, ceremonies, symbols, so it would be rational to consider the most essential cultural components of the tribe. Ojibwa religion resembled their political organization and had little formal ceremony. The tribe paid attention to the health and relied mainly on medical herbs gathered by shamans. The Midewiwinm, a secret religious society, practiced healing ceremonies. Sedentary lifestyle that the Ojibwa started to lead caused such diseases as tuberculosis, obesity and trachoma. Sharing concerns over poor health, the tribal members gained access to federally funded programs. To avoid incidents of suicide, accidental death, chemical dependency etc alcohol and drugs were banned from powwow sites.

Ojibwa spirituality focuses on their customs and beliefs, events and objects. They include pipe, drums, singing, dancing, sweatlodge, the naming ceremony, prayer, the Pow Wow, shamans, dream stories and legends concerning the Great Spirit, Original Man etc. Among the ritual objects one may name tobacco, cedar and sweetgrass. The symbolic colors of man are black, yellow, white and red. According to their beliefs, the sweatlodges cleanse both the spirit and the body and help in meditation. The Ojibwa have many ritual beliefs under the Midewiwin teachings and a great number of them use pictographs. The tribe has the following cultural values as honesty, strength of character, endurance, wisdom and generosity. The moral values are transmitted through storytelling and learnt by example.

Storytelling, by the way, is a significant cultural component that is a part of Ojibwa verbal culture. The tribe relied considerably on telling stories and passing the information on from generation to the next. Traditional stories included “Graet Deluge”, “Gitchi-manidoo”, “Nanabozho”, “E-bangishimog”, “Nookomis”, “Jiibayaabooz”. They generally covered a broad scope of issues, from animals to monsters and inexplicable objects. The ritual objects of Ojibwa culture were reflected in legends, dreams and visions of the people and might be viewed as rock art in the form of pictographic images in stone. Their pictography called “Kekeewin” is one of either tribal or shamans’ visionary experiences. The complex pictographic images depict sacred objects or places and bring to life their mathematical and historical knowledge.

One of the important components of Ojibwa culture is dream culture where dream articles play a part in children upbringing. The Ojibwa were much interested in the nature of a dream and even constructed dream-catchers decorating them with feathers and beads aimed at protecting children from nightmares. Only good dreams could filter through the dream-catchers they made, bad dreams stayed in the net.

The ceremonies of the Ojibwa are connected with national costumes and dances and go back to ancient Ojibwa tradition. Both sexes wore leggings. Summer clothing was buckskin with fur added in winter. Men wore breechcloths. The Ojibwa wore their hair long and braided. An interesting Ojibwa ceremony entitled The Naming Ceremony is the seeking a name for a newborn, it includes fasting, prayer or dreaming, meditation or asking spirits. The Snowshoe Dance is another traditional ceremony performed in winter at the first snow, it symbolizes the celebration of a coming season. Sun Dance is practiced by Ojibwa too, it is accompanied with singing, drumming and fasting. The tribal behavior is controlled by taboos that concern pregnancy, birth, illness, death and mourning. The most important celebrations in the life of every Ojibwa are the naming of a child, boy’s first hunt, girl’s first menstrual flow, marriage and death. In Ojibwa culture marriages and funerals are not spectacular events at all. Girls marry as they gain puberty, boys marry as soon as they can demonstrate their hunting skills. If the relationship is not harmonious, a couple is allowed to separate and remarry. As the Ojibwa people live in wigwams most of the year, if a person dies at home, his body is taken out of his wigwam through a hole in the west-facing side and body is wrapped in birch bark. Ojibwa leave food and drinks for the spirit at the graves of the dead. The family mourns for about a year.

At present the Ojibwa people number more than 100,000 in the US and about 76,000 in Canada. They currently face various issues including economic underdevelopment, unemployment, poverty, lack of resource management. They, however, continue their traditional ways of harvesting, rice gathering and hunting, making medicines and maple sugar. They strive for better management of their resources, environmental protection, higher education prevalence, treaty rights’ protection and sovereignty attainment. Today Ojibwa feel support and are more integrated into the American culture. In witness of this is inclusion of cultural details about the Ojibwa into the curriculum and their language promotion. The Ojibway National Centre located in Ojibway Park has recently been built and already welcomes 100,000 visitors per year.


Works Cited

An introduction to Ojibwa Culture and History. Upper Midwest Rock Art Research Association. Retrieved from
Cree and Ojibway Legends. Our Aboriginal History. Retrieved from http://tribes.tribe.net/59017397-dad0-4cf3-a534-cc25fe6991a9/thread/cf7fcead-2748-4ca0-a02e-4899d3469a18
Ojibwa. Retrieved from http://www.american-native-art.com/publication/ojibwa/ojibwa.shtml
Roy, Loriene. “The Ojibwa”. Retrieved rom http://www.everyculture.com/multi/Le-Pa/Ojibwa.html
The Ojibwa Indians. Retrieved from http://www.georgeaugustkoch.com/Writings/OjibwaIndians.htm
The Ojibwa or Chippewa. History. Retrieved from http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Ojibwa