Introduction to Anishinabe Culture and History/Printable version

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Introduction to Anishinabe Culture and History

The current, editable version of this book is available in Wikibooks, the open-content textbooks collection, at

Permission is granted to copy, distribute, and/or modify this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

A Brief History

This chapter is a brief overview of the history of the Anishinabe tribe and their traditional homelands.

Creation and migration[edit | edit source]

"Anishinabe" is often translated as "first man," "original man," or "good person". (The plural, Anishinabeg or Anishinaabeg, means "first people".) In the Anishinabe creation myth, Git-chi'e Man-i-to', "Creator" or "Great Mystery", lowered the original man down from the heavens as the ancestor of all North American tribes. There are many interesting parallels between Anishinabe mythology and the bible, including the naming of all the creatures of the earth by an Adam figure and a great flood.

According to oral tradition, the Anishinabe originally lived near an ocean, a belief also held by the Ottawa and Potawatomi. Because of this shared heritage, the three tribes are collectively known as the Three Fires. It is unclear whether this was the Atlantic near the gulf of the St. Lawrence or the shores of the Hudson Bay, but the latter is considered more plausible by most. Less disputed is the Anishinabe's migration west to Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands.

In the United States[edit | edit source]

The 17th and 18th centuries[edit | edit source]

The first probable encounter between the Anishinabe and the Europeans occurred sometime in the 17th century. This first contact was probably with the Jesuits. Further contact ensued with the French Voyageurs (fur traders and explorers), then British fur traders and explorers, and finally the U.S. government and her citizens.

Trading the rich resources of their lands to the Europeans, especially beaver pelts for goods such as firearms, ignited a fierce competition and arms race between tribes that would end in war. With the help of the firearms the Anishinabe pushed the Fox tribe south into Wisconsin; fighting with the Dakota and Winnebago (Sioux) was especially brutal but the Anishinabe eventually succeeded in forcing them to the southwest and claiming the resource-abundant northeast of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan for their own.

There were also several European epidemics during this time, notably smallpox. The Anishinabe tribes escaped relatively unscathed compared to their counterparts to the east.

The 19th century[edit | edit source]

Anishinabe distribution around 1800

The Anishinabe were truly a superpower among the native peoples of the Great Lakes and possibly even out of all the tribes east of the Mississippi. Their division between America and Canada, the many names attributed to their tribe (Ojibwe, Chippewa, Mississauga, Bungi and Saulteaux as well as dozens of variant spellings) and their location to the north of the main flow of settlement masked much of their true size and influence. The Anishinabe have also signed over fifty treaties with American and European governments, more than any other tribe in North America.

The Anishinabe fought their last battle against the Americans and Europeans in the early 19th century; most inter-tribal warfare had also ceased by this time. However, the battles between the Anishinabe and Dakota continued for half a century. The first half of the 19th century signaled the exchange of tribal lands for reservations, notably the Ohio territories of the Anishinabe and other tribes after particularly bloody fighting during the War of 1812. These disputes over lands and reservations fueled the fighting with the Dakota, which slowed after the Dakota were moved to reservations in the far southwest of Minnesota, and only ceased entirely when they were driven out of the state entirely by the Americans during the Minnesota Valley Uprising in 1862.

By the mid-19th century the Anishinabe had split off into five geographical and cultural groups: the Southeastern Anishinabe, living on the shores of Lake Huron in what is now Michigan and southern Ontario; the Southwestern Anishinabe, along both the northern and southern shores of Lake Superior; the Northern Anishinabe, in northern Ontario; and the Plains Anishinabe (also known as the Bungi), spread across North Dakota, Montana, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The Bungi culture resembled that of many other plains tribes, with their reliance on buffalo for food and clothing as well as their horses and tipis.

In the late 19th century there was some haggling over the size and location of Anishinabe reservations; at one point when the desire for the copper and timber surrounding Lake Superior was particularly strong there was talk of moving the Minnesota Anishinabe to reservations in Kansas. However, this order was rescinded by Millard Filmore in 1853. Twelve years and nine treaties later, Anishinabe reservations were finally settled in Minnesota.

The Plains Anishinabe, however, were not so lucky. During one of their frequent excursions from the reservation for a buffalo hunt, a group of almost 5000 Anishinabe and Metis were cut off from their Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota when the government decided that the reservation was too large for the amount of Anishinabe that lived there and parceled off 90% of the land for sale to Americans. The government offered 10 cents an acre (the settlement was later known as the Ten Cent Treaty) as compensation, and most Anishinabe took the money and kept their homes on the now-overcrowded reservation. However, Little Shell's band refused the settlement and currently remains without federal recognition or a reservation.

For a list of Anishinabe bands and reservations that exist today, please see Appendix 1.

In Canada[edit | edit source]

The Canadian Anishinabe are usually referred to as Saulteurs, Saulteaux or Mississaugas. Canada currently recognizes over 100 Anishinabe and part-Anishinabe bands, located in the provinces of Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Epidemics of smallpox and other diseases were especially devastating to the Canadian tribes in the 17th and 18th centuries, but the Anishinabe escaped relatively unscathed compared to many Algonquian tribes to the east. In Canada as in the United States the Anishinabe were moved to reservations (known as reserves) by the mid-19th century. However, the Anishinabe in Canada seem to have survived the onslaught of the Europeans better than their American counterparts, holding on to more of the culture and language and maintaining smaller, more tightly-knit reserves.

Discussion questions[edit | edit source]

  1. What is your opinion on the creation and migration myths of the Anishinabe, Ottawa and Potawatomi and their similarities to other myths found throughout the world? Do you believe that this shared mythology between cultures adds or detracts from their credibility as a theory for how the world began?
  2. Do you believe that contact with the Europeans caused the massive tribal warfare of the 17th and 18th centuries or simply worsened it? Or would the wars have occurred that way no matter what? Do you believe that an arms race was inevitable when trade with the Europeans began, or could it have been avoided by more ethical trading practices?
  3. What makes a tribe? Is it culture or common heritage? In the end, what distinguished the Bungi (Plains Anishinabe) from their enemies, the Dakota, whose culture they seemed to adopt?
  4. How do you feel about the American government's management of tribal lands and affairs? Do you believe that the Anishinabe were treated more fairly than other tribes? If so, why do you think this favoritism occurred?

Further reading and references[edit | edit source]

The Anishinabe and the Land

This chapter is an overview of the Anishinabe's relationship with the land where they lived.

The land and the seasons[edit | edit source]

Shovel Point on Lake Superior, part of the original homeland of the Anishinabe

The traditional homelands of the Anishinabe, the western half of the Great Lakes region, are heavily wooded and have a short growing season, long winters and poor soil, unsuited to large-scale agriculture. The Anishinabe, therefore, were hunter-gatherers who lived in harmony with the seasons and their land as a necessity. To have not done so would have meant starvation and death.

Southeastern Canada, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, the primary territories of the Anishinabe by the late 17th century, are heavily wooded both with deciduous and coniferous trees. Lakes, rivers and freshwater are abundant, as is game, berries and other wild edibles. However, the winters can be bitterly cold and long and snow drifts and fall to heights of over ten feet in record years. Thus, the Anishinabe had to be careful not to overharvest and to preserve enough food to survive the winter.

In the spring, it was maple-tapping time; time to gather the sap that would be turned into maple sugar as a seasoning and preservative for other foods. In summer, huge groups of up to four hundred (though smaller gatherings of one to two hundred were far more common) gathered around the myriad lakes of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and the nearby regions of Canada in areas where resources were known to be plentiful. Fall was ricing time, wild rice is one of the primary sources of food for the Anishinabe. In the winter, it became necessary to break up into many small groups, usually twenty to twenty-five members of an extended family, for a time of rest, storytelling and crafts when there was little else one could do in the cold.

Maple sugar and wild rice: two food staples of the Anishinabe[edit | edit source]

Sugaring time[edit | edit source]

A sugar makak, often used to store maple sugar.

Between February and April, or the Anishinabe moon of Izhkigamisegi Geezis (Boiling Time), was the month of maple sugaring, an important ritual in the Anishinabe year that was celebrated more like a festival than work. Because of the climate of the area at that time of the year, balmy thawing days and freezing nights, the sap begins to flow freely in the maple trees, making collection much easier than at any other time of year. Traditionally, the signal for sugaring season to begin was the cry of the crow, signifying that another winter had passed and that the move to the sugaring camp could begin.

The first step was the construction of the camp. The traditional wigwam consisted of a sturdy frame built of bent green saplings lashed together with basswood fibers or another durable material, covered with strips of waterproof birchbark to keep out snowmelt and cold. There was an opening on the roof of the dwelling, to allow smoke to escape, and also a small door. The frames were left during the months between sugaring time, so that entire camps could be constructed in a day, in the same location year after year, by simply re-weaving the birchbark through the saplings.

In addition, there was often a food cache located near the camp, full of food that had been stored in the fall. Though some supplementary fishing and gathering was necessary, usually done by the younger girls and boys, the focus was clearly on harvesting as much sap as possible to last through the year. Salt was rarely used by the Anishinabe, and so maple sugar was often the only available seasoning. Due to the fact that it takes between 30 and 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup, which then must be boiled down further to yield a scant 3 quarts of sugar, everybody was kept busy running back and forth gathering pails from the trees.

Wild ricing[edit | edit source]

They would take the canoes to shallow water where the rice grew, and harvested the rice by bending the stalks over the canoes and knocking off the rice.


Bibliography[edit | edit source]

Lesson 1: A Brief History[edit | edit source]

Wikipedia article: Anishinaabe

Lesson 2: The Anishinabe and the Land, Part I[edit | edit source]

Wikipedia article: Anishinaabe


Appendix 1: Anishinabe groups and bands today[edit | edit source]

As follows is a listing of the Anishinabe groups and bands that exist today, with and without federal recognition, by state or province. The external link after the group's name leads to an official website or homepage.

With United States federal recognition[edit | edit source]

Michigan[edit | edit source]

Bands and tribes

  • Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians
  • Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians [1]
  • Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan [2]
  • Sault Ste. Marie Band of Chippewa Indians [3]


  • Bay Mills Indian Community of the Sault Ste. Marie Band of Chippewa Indians
  • Keweenaw Bay Indian Community of L'Anse of Chippewa Indians
  • Keweenaw Bay Indian Community of Lac Vieux Desert of Chippewa Indians
  • Keweenaw Bay Indian Community of Ontonagon Bands of Chippewa Indians

Minnesota[edit | edit source]

  • Of the Minnesota Chippewa Nation of Minnesota (6 bands):
    • Bois Fort (Nett Lake) [4]
    • Fond du Lac [5]
    • Grand Portage [6]
    • Leech Lake [7]
    • Mille Lacs [8]
    • White Earth [9]
  • Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians of the Red Lake Reservation [10] [11] link 11 currently under construction

Montana[edit | edit source]

  • Chippewa-Cree Indians of the Rocky Boy's Reservation [12]

North Dakota[edit | edit source]

  • Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians [13]

Wisconsin[edit | edit source]

Tribes and bands

  • Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians [14]
  • Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians [15]
  • Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians [16]
  • Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians [17] [18] link 18 under construction
  • Mole Lake Band of Chippewa Indians (affiliated with Sokoagan Chippewa Community below) [19]
  • St. Croix Chippewa Indians [20]


  • Sokoagan Chippewa Community

Without United States federal recognition[edit | edit source]


  • Burt Lake Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians
  • Consolidated Bahwetig Ojibwe and Mackinac
  • Lake Superior Chippewa of Marquette


  • Kah-Bay-Kah-Nong (Warroad Chippewa)
  • NI-MI-WIN Ojibways
  • Sandy Lake Band of Ojibwe

Other States

  • Little Shell Tribe of Chippewas - North Dakota and Montana
  • Swan Creek and Black River Chippewa - Kansas and Montana


Appendix 2 - Alphabetical glossary of words and terms[edit | edit source]

A[edit | edit source]

  • Anishinabe, Anishinabeg: means "first people" (Anishinabeg is the plural). The chosen name of the Anishinabe tribe. Alternatively Anishinaabe or Anishinaabeg.

B[edit | edit source]

  • Bungi: alternate name for the Anishinabe tribe, specifically the Plains Anishinabe.

C[edit | edit source]

  • Chippewa: a disliked but common alternate name for the Anishinabe tribe; the official name of the tribe in government relations.

D[edit | edit source]

  • Dakota: a neighboring enemy tribe with whom the fighting (over land and resources) was particularly intense.

F[edit | edit source]

  • Fox (tribe): a neighboring, later enemy, tribe.

G[edit | edit source]

  • Git-chi'e Man-i-to': the creator or "Great Mystery" of the Anishinabe creation myth.

J[edit | edit source]

  • Jesuit, the Jesuits: Christian missionaries that were among the first to encounter the Anishinabe tribe.

M[edit | edit source]

  • Mississauga: alternate name for the Anishinabe tribe, specifically the Northern Anishinabe.

O[edit | edit source]

  • Ojibwa, Ojibway, Ojibwe: alternate names for the Anishinabe tribe (though Anishinabe is preferred).

S[edit | edit source]

  • Saultreax: an alternate name for the Anishinabe tribe.

T[edit | edit source]

  • Ten Cent Treaty: a settlement offered to the Anishinabe of the Turtle Mountain Reservation by the government, offering ten cents an acre for the ten million acres that were repossessed from the reservation for sale to Americans.
  • Three Fires: a name used to collectively indicate the Anishinabe, Potawatomi and the Ottawa tribes.

V[edit | edit source]

  • Voyageur, the Voyageurs: French fur traders and explorers among the first to encounter the Anishinabe tribe.

W[edit | edit source]

  • Winnebago: a neighboring, later enemy, tribe.