Canadian History/The People of the Lands/Ojibwa

The Ojibwa are the third largest group of First-Nation Indians above the Mexican Border. The tribe currently consists of around 219,000 members. The Ojibwa are also known as the Chippewa and as the Saltueurs by the French. The tribe was associated with the name Chippewa because of a different pronunciation. If you place an "O" in front (forming O'Chippewa) the relationship is more apparent. The Ojibwa were the largest and most powerful Great Lakes tribe [1]. They were formerly located at the outlet of Lake Superior, mainly around the Sault Ste. Marie area. The Ojibwa are now located primarily in the United States of America and Canada. Ojibwa who moved to the Prairie provinces of Canada are known as Saulteurs. The tribes who were originally from the Mississagi River and moved to southern Ontario are called the Mississaugas


All Ojibwa were hunters and gatherers. The hunting was done with bows, arrows, spears and clubs. Spearfishing was done at night in a birch bark canoe with the aid of flaming torches which attracted the fish. Traps, snares and deadfalls were also used to catch prey, such as deer, moose, elk, bears and small animals and birds. Fish were plentiful, along with berries, nuts, roots, seeds and the most important crop: wild rice. Their diet was low-carb and consisted of lots of protein and seasonal fruits, plant stocks and roots. The Ojibwa in the south had all of the foods above, but the climate and terrain made it suitable for agriculture. They could grow gardens of corn preservatives so they mixed their food with maple syrup as seasoning. Fishing was very important for the Woodland Ojibwa and fish, such as the sturgeon, was a big part of their diet. They rarely used horses or hunted buffalo. Dogs, however, were the only domestic animal to be served at their feasts.


The Ojibwa religion was mainly self centered and focused on the belief in power received from spirits during visions and dreams. Some of the forces and spirits in Ojibwa belief were benign and not feared, such as Sun, Moon, Four Winds, Thunder and Lightning. Bad spirits, like ghosts, witches and Windigo (a supernatural cannibalistic giant) were feared. The Ojibwa believe that the natural world was inhabited by both good and evil spirits, some of which required special treatment. A Shaman would cure the ill and perform Shaking Tent rites to communicate with the spirits. A Shaking Tent rite was a popular ceremony among the Ojibwa, Innu, Cree, Penobscot and Abenaki. The client would pay a Shaman to build his or her tent and the Shaman would enter it at dark. Singing and Drumming was used to summon the Shaman's spirit helpers, whose arrival was signaled by the shaking of the tent and animal cries. The spirits were used to cure the ill and for anti-sorcery [2]. Due to the missionization by the Anglican and Roman Catholic Church in the nineteenth century, the religious orientation of the Ojibwa was a mix of Christian and traditional native beliefs by the mid-twentieth century [3].


Before the first European contact, the Ojibwa wore animal skins (primarily tanned deerskin.) The women wore deerskin leggings, moccasins, dresses and petticoats made of woven nettle or thistle fibers. Girls and women decorated their clothing with bones, feathers, shells, stones and dyed porcupine quills using thorn or bone needles and thread made from nettles or animal sinew. Megis Shells were used for bead work and jewelry, and also for trade and barter. The men also wore leggings and moccasins, along with breech cloths. Animal bones, claws, and teeth were strung into necklaces. Moccasins, leggings, bandolier bags, and aprons were decorated with beads and quill work. Men and women normally wore their hair long and braided. In times of war, men might change their style into a scalp lock. The Ojibwa began to wear woven clothing after European contact. The Europeans also introduced glass beads to the Ojibwa.


The Ojibwa speak a Central Algonquian language which is closely related to Algonquian, Ottawa, Cree and Potawatomi. As of 2000, Ojibwe is spoken by 69,868 people[4]. There are 5 main dialects: Northern Ojibwe, Southern Ojibwe, Eastern Ojibwe, Western Ojibwe and Ottawa. Speakers of different dialects can easily converse with each other because the languages are closely related[5].


A Wigwam with a domed roof.

The typical home for an Ojibwa person was a wiigiwaam (or a Wigwam) with either a pointed roof (called a Nasawa'ogaan) or domed roof (called a Waginowaan.)It was constructed out of birch bark sheets , juniper bark and willow saplings. Wigwams are not like tipis. The structure usually took longer to put up and it was not portable like the tipi.


The Ojibwa often scalped other enemies, but did not torture as a rule. There was ritual cannibalism of their dead enemies, like other Great Lake warriors. As previously mentioned, the Ojibwa men would often wear their hair in a scalplock during a war.