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What is the Chippewa Tribe?

By Jason C. Chavis
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Chippewa tribe is a group of Native Americans and First Nations people located in the United States and Canada in North America. It represents the third largest collection of bands in America next to the Cherokee and Navajo. The Chippewa tribe is also known by a number or other names such as Ojibwe, Saulteurs and Mississaugas.

Belonging to the Algonquin family of American Indians, the Chippewa tribe speaks a version of the Anishinaabe language. This language survives today as the fourth most-spoken Native American language in the world. Many names for present-day locations in the US and Canada are derived from words in the Chippewa language, some merged with French.

The Chippewa have one of the best recorded histories compared to other Native American tribes. Along with vocal stories and songs, they transcribed much of their long history onto birch bark scrolls preserved and copied for generations. According to their legends, the Algonquins were established by six radiant beings representing various animals. These beings appeared to various Chippewa as the Europeans arrived, telling them to move west to preserve their way of life. In response, the Indian tribes moved to the area of the Great Lakes from the East Coast.

In the early 1600s, the Chippewa were identified by French traders along the coast of Lake Superior. The French voyageurs supplied guns to the tribe, which helped them push their rivals, the Sioux and Fox, from the region. By the 1700s, the Chippewa were almost completely in charge of modern-day Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. During this time, they established a loose confederation with the Ottawa and Potawatomi Native Americans and began a short-lived conflict with the Iroquois Confederacy, allied with the French against Great Britain during the French and Indian War. Later, they sided with the British against the US during the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

In the 1800s, the Chippewa tribe was forcibly removed from much of their lands west of the Mississippi. The goal was to place them on reservations in Minnesota, but various events eventually convinced the public to allow the various bands to stay near their homelands. One of the major events creating these conditions was the Sandy Lake Tragedy of 1850 in which the federal government failed to provide promised supplies to the Chippewa tribe as they relocated. During the winter, roughly 12 percent of the tribe died of starvation and disease.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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