The Ojibwa Indians (or Chippewa) refer to themselves as Anishnabe, a term that simply means ‘the people’. Their oral history traces their origins to the northern forests that stretch along the Atlantic seaboard in what is now known as New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. That same oral history tells of a visitation of ancestral grandfathers who warned of a race of light skinned people who would bring changes to the Anishnabe way of life.
On advice from the ancestral grandfathers the Ojibwa began a five hundred year migration process that eventually took them to the lands that surround the Great Lakes in the middle of North America. It was there that European explorers found them in the 16th century. As the newcomers learned the language they began referring to the tribe as Ojibwa – a word that means ‘pucker’ in reference to the puckered vamp of their moccasins.
They were traditionally fishers, hunters and gatherers, but at the time of European contact the bands that had settled south of the Great Lakes had also learned to farm corn and squash from their more southernly cousins.
Both the southern and northern Ojibwa included moose, bear, elk and deer in their diet but like other Eastern Woodland Indian tribes they harvested berries, roots, and wild rice. The southern tribes learned to harvest maple sap and make it into syrup and maple sugar and the northern tribes experimented with the concept and adapted the process to the harvesting of birch syrup.
Their traditional house was called a wigwam. It was made by cutting a dozen or so saplings and burying them upright in a large circular shape and then bending them over to form a dome shaped structure that was covered with layers of birch bark. Small bark covered tipi shaped structures were made when a quick temporary shelter was needed. When pressures from the Europeans caused some to migrate to the Prairies they adopted the large tipis used by the Plains tribes as their own.
The Ojibwa Indians were part of a confederacy called the Council of Three Fires which included the Potawatomi and the Ottawa tribes. To the Europeans, the Potawatomi and the Ottawa appeared as distinct groups, but they were simply part of the greater Anishnabe culture.
In the 1600’s the French fur traders befriended the Council of Three Fires. In return for firearms and European made utensils the confederacy fought on behalf of New France against the Iroquois and the British who had colonized the lower part of North America. Alliances shifted in tune with the fortunes of the British and French in North America. In the end the Ojibwa signed more treaties with France, Britain, Canada and America than any other native tribe.
Today, the Ojibwa Indians live on reservations that surround the Great Lakes in both Canada and the United States. Because of pressure from the dominant culture there are also Ojibwa communities that moved to the Great Plains in both countries.