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Who are the Ojibwa Indians?

By Gayle R.
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Ojibwa Indians, also known as the Chippewa Indians, are one of the largest Indian Nations in North America. Their original homeland is the northern United States and southern Canada. They eventually moved westward into the Midwest and Great Plains. Many Ojibwa bands still exist, living primarily in Michigan, North Dakota, Minnesota, Ohio, and Ontario, Canada.

The history of the Ojibwa Indians can be traced back to the 1600s. That was when the various Algonquian-speaking bands joined together to become the Ojibwa Nation. The name is thought to come from the Algonquian Indian term for puckered because of the style of moccasin the Ojibwa Indians wore.

The Ojibwa lived in groups called tribes, which were typically made up of family and extended family. They were mostly hunters, gatherers, and fishermen, and in the more southern climates, were also farmers. It is thought that their first contact with non-Native Americans was in the early 1600s, when the French made their way through the Great Lakes area. The French made friends with the Ojibwa Indians, trading goods with them and often marrying the Ojibwa women. The Ojibwa fought with the French during the French and Indian War. During the American Revolution, the Ojibwa allied with the British.

The early Ojibwa tribes who lived in the plains states were usually nomadic. They lived in tents or tepees made of animal skins, which were easy to pack up and move. In wooded areas, the Ojibwa were sedentary and lived in bark huts called wigwams. The women typically wore long dresses, and the men wore breech cloths and leggings. Both men and women wore their hair in long braids. In times of war, some men wore their hair in a Mohawk style.

The woodland tribes hunted mainly small game, fished, and gathered rice and berries. Those Ojibwa living on the plains ate primarily buffalo meat. The weapon of choice was the bow and arrow, until the Europeans introduced firearms.

Today, the Ojibwa Indians primarily live on reservations. Each tribal reservation is like an independent nation, with its own government, political system, schools, and legal system. The tribal leader or chief can be a man or woman, and is elected by the tribal membership. Since 1998, when the U.S. government passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory act, a significant portion of tribal income has come from gambling casinos on the reservations. The tribes have used the money to buy additional land, create schools and medical facilities, and upgrade housing.

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Discussion Comments
By parkthekarma — On Oct 24, 2011

I can see how the Chippewas in Michigan could be nomadic hunter-gatherers. Their reservation is right in the middle of some great hunting ground, even to this day. I can't imagine all the game that was around a couple of hundred years ago with no cities around to drive any of it away.

In fact, my deer hunting cabin is only about a half hour from the reservation, and I get a deer almost every year. Michigan doesn't get credit for all of the outdoor activities that are available. There's something to do pretty much all year around.

By BigManCar — On Oct 23, 2011

I live right by the Saginaw Chippewa reservation in Michigan, and their casino has received generous donations on my behalf several times. I can remember when they first opened it, it was nothing but a really big metal Quonset hut with a weird little snack bar, some slot machines, and some card tables.

There used to be a poker game running pretty much 24/7 with huge amounts of money on the table at all time. If I were a betting man, I would guess they weren't too particular about reporting winners to the IRS, either, judging from the cash you'd see waved around there.

The new place is really nice, with a huge hotel and hundreds of tables, but I liked the old, shady card room better.

By MaPa — On Oct 22, 2011

I didn't know that the Chippewa and the Ojibwa were the same people. I guess my Native American history is not what it could be, and that's a shame. I learned a lot about cowboys and covered wagons when I was a kid, but we never really learned about the people who were already here when the settlers came.

I guess there is only so much time in school for everything you have to learn, but you'd think they would go into it a little. There are a bunch of Chippewas, including a large reservation, really close to where I live, and I know nothing about them.

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