Quebec History Marianopolis College

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L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Chippewa Indians



[This text was originally published in 1907 by the Bureau of American Ethnology as part of its Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico . It was later reproduced, in 1913, by the Geographic Board of Canada. The work done by the American Bureau was monumental, well informed and incorporated the most advanced scholarship available at the time. In many respects, the information is still useful today, although prudence should be exercised and the reader should consult some of the contemporary texts on the history and the anthropology of the North American Indians suggested in the bibliographic introduction to this section. The articles were not completely devoid of the paternalism and the prejudices prevalent at the time. While some of the terminology used would not pass the test of our "politically correct" era, most terms have been left unchanged by the editor. If a change in the original text has been effected it will be found between brackets [.] The original work contained long bibliographies that have not been reproduced for this web edition. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]


[Further information on the Chippewa may be found at the Canadian Encyclopedia site and in the Encyclopedia of North American Indians ]



Chippewa (popular adaptation of Ojibway, 'to roast till puckered up,' referring to the puckered seam on their moccasins; from ojib 'to pucker-up,' ub-way 'to roast'). One of the largest tribes N. of Mexico, whose range was formerly along both shores of lake Huron and lake Superior, extending across Minnesota to Turtle mt., Manitoba . Although strong in numbers and occupying an extensive territory, the Chippewa were never prominent in history, owing to their remoteness from the frontier during the period of the colonial wars. According to tradition they are part of an Algonquian body, including the Ottawa and Potawatomi, which separated into divisions when it reached Mackinaw in its westward movement, having come from some point N. or N. E. of Mackinaw. Warren ( Minn. Hist. Soc. Coll ., v, 1885) asserts that they were settled in a large village at La Pointe, Wis., about the time of the discovery of America, and Verwyst ( Missionary Labours , 1888) says that about 1612, they suddenly abandoned this locality, many of them going back to the Sault, while others settled at the W. end of lake Superior, where Father Allouez found them in 1665-67. There is nothing found to sustain the statement of Warren and Verwyst in regard to the early residence of the tribe at La Pointe. They were first noticed in the Jesuit Relation of 1640 under the name Baouichtigouin (probably Bawa'tigowininiwug,   'people of the Sault'), as residing at the Sault, and it is possible that Nicollet met them in 1634 or 1639. In 1642 they were visited by Raymbaut and Jogues, who found them at the Sault and at war with a people to the W., doubtless the Sioux. A remnant or offshoot of the tribe resided N. of lake Superior after the main body moved S. to Sault Ste. Marie, or when it had reached the vicinity of the Sault. The Marameg, a tribe closely related to, if not an actual division of the Chippewa, who dwelt along the north shore of the lake, were apparently incorporated with the latter while they were at the Sault, or at any rate prior to 1670 ( Jesuit Rel ., 1670). On the N. the Chippewa are so closely connected with the Cree and Maskegon that the three can be distinguished only by those intimately acquainted with their dialects and customs, while on the S. the Chippewa, Ottawa , and Potawatomi have always formed a sort of loose confederacy, frequently designated in the last century the Three Fires. It seems to be well established that some of the Chippewa have resided N. of lake Superior from time immemorial. These and the Marameg claimed. the N. side of the lake as their country. According to Perrot some of the Chippewa living S. of lake Superior in 1670-99, although relying chiefly on the chase, cultivated some maize, and were then at peace with the neighbouring Sioux. It is singular that this author omits to mention wild rice ( Zizania aquatica ) among their food supplies, since the possession of wild-rice fields was one of the chief causes of their wars with the Dakota, Foxes, and other nations, and according to Jenks (19 th Rep. B. A. E., 1900) 10,000 Chippewa in the United States use it at the present time. About this time they first came into possession of firearms, and were pushing their way westward, alternately at peace and at war with the Sioux and in almost constant conflict with the Foxes. The French, in 1692, reestablished a trading post at Shaugawaumikong, now La Pointe, Ashland co., Wis., which became an important Chippewa settlement. In the beginning of the 18 th century the Chippewa succeeded in driving the Foxes, already reduced by a war with the French, from N. Wisconsin , compelling them to take refuge with the Sauk. They then turned against the Sioux, driving them across the Mississippi , and S. to Minnesota r., and continued their westward march across Minnesota and North Dakota until they occupied the headwaters of Red r., and established their westernmost band in Turtle Mt. dist. It was not until after 1736 that they obtained a foothold W. of lake Superior. While the main divisions of the tribe were thus extending their possessions in the W., others overran the peninsula between lake Huron and lake Erie, which had long been claimed by the Iroquois through conquest. The Iroquois were forced to withdraw, and the whole region was occupied by the Chippewa bands, most of whom are now known as Missisauga, although they still call themselves Ojibwa. The Chippewa took part with the other tribes of the N. W. in all the wars against the frontier settlements to the close of the war of 1812. Those living within the United States made a treaty with the Government in 1815, and have since remained peaceful, all residing on reservations or allotted lands within their original territory in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota, with the exception of the small band of Swan Creek and Black River Chippewa, who sold their lands in S. Michigan in 1836 and are now with the Munsee in Franklin co., Kans.


Schoolcraft, who was personally acquainted with the Chippewa and married a woman of the tribe, describes the Chippewa warriors as equalling in physical appearance the best formed of the N. W. Indians, with the possible exception of the Foxes. Their long and successful contest with the Sioux and Foxes exhibited their bravery and determinations, yet they were uniformly friendly in their relations with the French. The Chippewa are a timber people. Although they have long been in friendly relations with the whites, Christianity has had but little effect on them, owing largely to the conservatism of the native medicine-men. It is affirmed by Warren, who is not disposed to accept any statement that tends to disparage the character of his people, that, according to tradition, the division of the tribe residing at La Pointe practised cannibalism, while Father Belcourt affirms that, although the Chippewa of Canada treated the vanquished with most horrible barbarity and at these times ate human flesh, they looked upon cannibalism, except under such conditions, with horror. According to Dr. William Jones (inf'n, 1905), the Pillagers of Bear id. assert that cannibalism was occasionally practised ceremonially by the Chippewa of Leech lake, and that since 1902 the eating of human flesh occurred on Rainy r. during stress of hunger. It was the custom of the Pillager band to allow a warrior who scalped an enemy to wear on his head two eagle feathers, and the act of capturing a wounded prisoner on the battlefield earned the distinction of wearing five. Like the Ottawa , they were expert in the use of the canoe, and in their early history depended largely on fish for food. There is abundant evidence that polygamy was common, and indeed it still occurs among the more wandering bands (Jones). Their wigwams were made of birch bark or of grass mats; poles were first planted in the ground in a circle, the tops bent together and tied, and the bark or mats thrown over them, leaving a smoke hole at the top. They imagined that the shade, after the death of the body, followed a wide beaten path, leading toward the W., finally arriving in a country abounding in everything the Indian desires. It is a general belief among the northern Chippewa that the spirit often returns to visit the grave, so long as the body is not reduced to dust. Their creation myth is that common among the northern Algonquians. Like most other tribes they believe that a mysterious power dwells in all objects, animate and inanimate. Such objects are manitus, which are ever wakeful and quick to hear everything in the summer, but in winter after snow falls, are in a torpid state. The Chippewa regard dreams as revelations, and some object which appears therein is often chosen as a tutelary deity. The Medewiwin, or grand medicine society (see Hoffman, 7 th Rep. B. A. E., 1891), was formerly a powerful organization of the Chippewa, which controlled the movements of the tribe and was a formidable obstacle to the introduction of Christianity. When a Chippewa died it was customary to place the body in a grave facing W., often in a sitting posture, or to scoop a shallow cavity in the earth and deposit the body therein on its back or side, covering it with earth so as to form a small mound, over which boards, poles or birch-bark were placed. According to McKenney ( Tour to the Lakes , 1827), the Chippewa of Fond du Lac, Wis., practised scaffold burial, the corpse in winter being wrapped in birch bark. Mourning for a lost relative continued for a year, unless shortened by the meda or by certain exploits in war.


Authors differ as to the names and number of the Chippewa gentes, which range all the way from 11 to 23. Warren gives 21 gentes, of which the following are not included among those named by Morgan: Manumaig (Catfish), Nebaunaubay (Merman), Besheu (Lynx), Mous (Moose), Nekah (Goose), Udekumaig (Whitefish), Gyaushk (Gull). Some of them, Warren says, have but few members and are not known to the tribe at large. The Maskegon sprang from the Reindeer, Lynx, and Pike (Pickerel) gentes, which went to the N. of lake Superior when the tribe moved W. from Sault Ste. Marie. Among some of the Chippewa these gentes are associated in 5 phratries: the Awausee, Businausee, Ahahweh, Noka, and Mousonee. The Awausee phratry includes the Catfish, Merman, Sturgeon, Pike (Pickerel), Whitefish and Sucker gentes - all the Fish gentes. The Businausee phratry includes the Crane and Eagle gentes, businausee, 'echo-maker,' being a name for the crane. The Ahahweh phratry includes the Loon, Goose, and Cormorant gentes, ahahweh being a name for the loon, though the Loon gens is called Mong. Morgan makes Ahahweh distinct and called them the 'Duck' gens. The Noka (No-'ke, Bear) phratry included the Bear gentes, of which there were formerly several named from different parts of the bear's body; but these are now consolidated and no differences are recognized excepting between the common and the grizzly bears. The Mousonee phratry includes the Marten, Moose and Reindeer gentes. Mousonee seems to be the proper name of the phratry, though it is also called Waubishashe, from the important Marten gens which is said to have sprung from the incorporated remnant of the Mundua. Morgan ( Anc. Soo ., 166, 1877) names the following 23 gentes: Myeengun (Wolf), Makwa (Bear), Ahmik , (Beaver), Mesheka (Mud turtle), Mikonoh (Snapping turtle), Meskwadare (Little turtle), Ahdik (Reindeer), Chueskweskewa (Snipe), Ojeejok (Crane), Kakake (Pigeon hawk), [=Kagagi, Raven], Omegeeze (Bald Eagle), Mong (Loon), Ahahweh (Duck), (=Wa e wa e , Swan], Sheshebe (Duck), Kenabig (Snake), Wazhush (Muskrat) Wabezhaze (Marten), Mooshkaooze (Heron), Ahwahsissa (Bullhead), Namabin (Carp [Catfish]), Nama (Sturgeon), Kenozhe (Pike) [=Kinozha, Pickerel]. Tanner gives also the Pepegewizzains (Sparrow-hawk), Mussundummo (Water Snake), and the forked tree as totems among the Ottawa and Chippewa.


It is impossible to determine the past or present numbers of the Chippewa, as in former times only a small part of the tribe came in contact with the whites at any period, and they are now so mixed with other tribes in many quarters that no separate returns are given. The principal estimates are as follow: In 1764, about 25,000; 1783 and 1794, about 15,000; 1843, about 30,000; 1851, about 28,000. It is probable that most of these estimates take no account of more remote bands. In 1884 there were in Dakota 914; in Minnesota, 5,885; in Wisconsin, 3,656; in Michigan, 3,500 returned separately, and 6,000 Chippewa and Ottawa, of whom perhaps one-third are Chippewa; in Kansas, 76 Chippewa and Munsee. The entire number in the United States at this time was therefore about 16,000. In Canada those of Ontario including the Nipissing, numbered in 1911 about 13,000, while in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories there were about 8,000 under the same agencies. The Chippewa now (1912) probably number 35,000-38,000 - 21,000 in Canada and 14,000 in the United States, exclusive of about 3,000 in Michigan.


As the Chippewa were scattered over a region extending 1,000 m. from E. to W., they had a large number of villages, bands, and local divisions. Some of the bands bore the name of the village, lake, or river near which they resided, but these were grouped under larger divisions or sub-tribes which occupied certain fixed limits and were distinguished by marked differences. According to Warren there were 10 of these principal divisions: Kechegummewininewug, on the S. shore of lake Superior; Betonukeengainubejig, in N. Wisconsin; Munominikasheenhug, on the headwaters of St Croix r. in Wisconsin and Minnesota; Wahsuabgunewininewug, at the head of Wisconsin r.; Ottawa Lake Men, on Lac Courte Oreilles [sic], Wis.; Kitchisibiwininiwug, on the upper Mississippi in Minnesota; Mukmeduawininewug, or Pillagers, on Leech lake, Minn.; Sugwaundugahwininewug, N. of lake Superior; Kojejewininewug, on Rainy lake and r. about the N. boundary of Minnesota; and Omushkasug, on the N . W , side of lake Superior at the Canadian border. Besides these general divisions the following collective or local names are recognized as belonging to various settlements, bands, or divisions of the tribe in Canada: Nawash, Caradoc, Mississagi River, Spanish River, Beausoleil, Cockburn Island, Sheshegwaning, West Bay, Maganetawan, Sheguiandah, Sucker Creek, Tahgaiwinini, Wikwemikong, Parry Island, Fort William, Lake Nipigon, Long Lake, Pays Plat, Pic River, Rams, Sarnia, Saugeen, Batchawana, Garden River, Mattawan, Dokis, Nipissing, Timagami, Manitou Rapids, Lac Is Croix, Assabaska, Eagle Lake, Islington, Lac des Mille Lacs, Lac Seul, Wabigoon, Oueschekgagamioulimy, Walpole Island, Obidgewong, Michipicoten, Bagoache, Epinette (1744), Oussouarini, Mishtawayawininiwak, Nopeming, and Nameulini, in Ontario; Portage de Prairie in Manitoba; and Nibowisibiwininiwak in Saskatchewan.


Source: James WHITE, ed., Handbook of Indians of Canada , Published as an Appendix to the Tenth Report of the Geographic Board of Canada, Ottawa, 1913, 632p., pp. 96-99. See the entry under Ojibwa at the Encyclopedia of North American Indians.

© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College