Chippewa Nation

The Chippewas of Lake Superior book by Edmund Danziger

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The modern Chippewa, or Ojibwe, live primarily in reservations scattered around the United States, and many reside in Canada as well. While the majority of them speak English, many also speak their native Ojibway as a second language. They continue many of the traditions of their ancestors, as each member of the family has their assigned place. The children go to school and are expected to do their chores each day, and the fathers teach their children to hunt and to fish, while the women cook food and cultivate land.

The Chippewa, according to the earliest oral history of their people, started in the Turtle Islands near the Pacific. But their ancestors came from the opposite end of the continent. They used canoes made out of birch bark and traveled by river across North America. Their religious beliefs included a command from the miigis, or spiritual beings, that told them to continue moving westward until they found a new land to settle in. When the Chippewa, then called the Anishinaabeg, began migrating, they split into two groups, one moving westward and one southward. They met one another at Spirit Island on the Saint Louis River.

Outfit worn by a male dancer in the Chippewa tribe

Outfit worn by a male dancer in the Chippewa tribe

Ojibwe (Chippewa) Make First Contact with the “White Man”

The first white men to contact the Chippewa people were the French, and the tribe traded shells and other curios to them for guns, which the Natives Americans then used to fight off their enemies. They battled the Dakotas and the Lakota, and their superior firepower allowed them to drive out the surrounding tribes and claim much of the West for themselves.

They did have a long-standing partnership with the Ottawa and Potawatomi tribes. They all maintained peace treaties with one another, and this union was called the Council of Three Fires. They also made treaties with European settlers, but cultural differences made it difficult for them to fully understand one another, and the Chippewa viewed land as a sacred and shared heritage instead of a commodity to be bought or sold. They believed that lands should be common resource, and this belief led to many disagreements between them and the white settlers around them.

Chippewa Alliance in the French and Indian War

In the 18th century, the Chippewa’s alliance with the French saw them side with that nation against the British in the French and Indian War. When the French lost the war and gave up much of their land, the Chippewa were forced to make alliances with the British. This period of adjustment led to further struggles with white men around them. They allied with the British for decades, even assisting them in the War of 1812. The Native Americans believed this partnership would help them keep control of their lands as newly independent colonists moved further west.

This is a replica of the beaded mens shirt worn within the Ojibwa-Chippewa tribe

This is a replica of the beaded mens shirt worn within the Ojibwa-Chippewa tribe

Because they already resided in some of what would later be termed the Indian Territories, the Chippewa were able to retain much of their land as the U.S. Government worked through the bitter campaign of violence against Native Americans that was the Indian Removal period. Their ties to the British allowed them to retain portions of land in what would later become Canada as well.

The Chippewa were among the first native tribes to force British settlers to sign treaties with them before they could move safely through their lands. This allowed them to keep control where others tribes were engaging in warfare or being pushed out by encroaching white settlers.

Native American Belief on Gender and Spirituality

Like other Native American tribes, the Chippewa recognize a third gender, that of the Iron Woman or two-spirit man. This allows a woman to assume the responsibilities and duties of a man and permitted men to take on the spiritual role of a shaman.

The Chippewa Indians are scattered into more than 150 different bands, many of which live on their own reservation. These bands have thrived for generations because of their commitment to peaceful relations and strong family ties. The Chippewa are among the largest living groups of Native Americans on the continent.