Ojibwe family, ca. 1860, MNHS collections.
The Ojibwe people (also known as the Chippewa), who call themselves Anishinaabe, arrived in the region around the year 1500. Historians and linguists believe the name “Ojibwe” may refer to either the type of puckered moccasins the Ojibwe traditionally wore, or to their custom of writing on birch bark. Archaeologists believe they followed the Great Lakes westward from the east coast in search of new sources of food, eventually settling in the northern area of present-day Minnesota. Ojibwe oral tradition tells of their migration from the east, and one tradition states that the Ojibwe people left their homes along the ocean and traveled west until they reached a place “where food grew on water.” Historians believe this to be a reference to the fact that wild rice (which grows along lakes and waterways) was a major factor in Ojibwe migration.
Chief Buffalo's petition, 1849, Wikimedia Commons.
Each animal represents a different Ojibwe clan.
The Ojibwe hunted and fished, made maple sugar and syrup, and harvested wild rice, much like their Dakota neighbors. The Ojibwe lived in wigwams made of stretched poles covered with birch bark or woven mats. They travelled the waterways of the region in birch bark canoes, unlike the Dakota who used dug-out canoes made from hollowed-out trees. Ojibwe communities were historically based on clans, or "doodem", which determined a person's place in Ojibwe society. Traditionally, different clans represented different aspects of Ojibwe society; for example, political leaders came from the loon or crane clans, while warriors were traditionally from the bear, martin, lynx and wolf clans.
Ojibwa village at Sault Ste. Marie, Paul Kane 1846.
Traditional Ojibwe theology centers on a belief in a single creating force but also incorporated a wide pantheon of spirits that played specific roles in the universe. These spirits helped protect individuals while hunting and harvesting, from illness and while in battle. Ojibwe culture and society were structured around reciprocity, with gift-giving playing an important social role; honor and prestige came with generosity. During a ceremony reinforced with an exchange of gifts, parties fulfilled the social expectations of kinship and agreed to maintain a reciprocal relationship of mutual assistance and obligation. Many fur traders, and later European and American government officials, used gift-giving to help establish economic and diplomatic ties with various Ojibwe communities. The coming of the fur trade during the 1600s dramatically altered the lives of the Ojibwe and had lasting effects on their society and culture.
Bibliography / Resources
Kohl, Johann Georg. Kitchi-Gami: Life Among the Lake Superior Ojibway. Reprint. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1985.
Treuer, Anton. Living Our Language: Ojibwe Tales and Oral Histories. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2001.
Treuer, Anton. Ojibwe in Minnesota. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2010.
Treuer, Anton. Assassination of Hole In The Day, St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2010.
Warren, William W. History of the Ojibway People. Reprint. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1984.
View a selection of American Indian objects in the MNHS collections.