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Native American Society

Chippewa


(CHIP-eh-wah) or Ojibwa (ow-JIB-wah)


The Chippewa, "puckered up" people, also are known as the Ojibwa. They lived west of the Great Lakes in a hard environment. The plains the Chippewa called home were carved from ancient mountains by glaciers. Many rivers were formed but the land was left too cold for growing and plagued by high winds; long, cold winters; and little rainfall.

These conditions led the Chippewa to a life of migration, traveling in clans and gathering plants, hunting and fishing along the way. When villages were built they consisted of domed wigwams made of arced saplings covered with bark or mats made of cattail leaves. As many as eight family members would often live together in one wigwam. When off on the hunt, the men would build small, wooden lodges with peaked roofs to serve as base camps along the way.

Several weeks a year the Chippewa would gather wild rice in freshwater marshes, with was their basic food staple. The event was a family affair, with the men paddling canoes through the marsh, while the women and children walked in the water, bending the rice stalks over the canoe and knocking the kernels off.

Occasionally the women would defy the short growing season and attempt small crops of corn, beans and squash.

In the spring, families would camp near groves of maple trees and tap them for the sap, which was boiled down and used for syrup and sugar.

Ojibwa women did most of the fishing, except in winter when the men would spear fish through the ice. Winter also allowed for hunting trips to favorite duck blinds, as well as the search for deer, bear, moose and other small animals for meat.

Quillwork fashioned from the quills of porcupines often adorned the buckskin clothes of the men and women. Women's dresses were often belted or tied over one shoulder. The Chippewa also sometimes wore underclothing of woven plant fibers. Leggings, moccasins, fur robes, pointed hats of leather and mittens - often lined with rabbit fur - were added in cold weather.

Deeply spiritual, the Ojibwa believe spirits control all natural events. The spirit Manitou lies at the center of that spirituality. Manitou resides in all things - the trees, birds, sky, animals - and is particularly fond of tobacco, which the Chippewa provide through offerings and pipe smoke. Wenebajo, is central to Chippewa myth. A clever but kind trickster, Wenebajo offer the people the secrets of corn, tobacco and medicinal plants.

In time, the appearance of French trappers and missionaries and pressure from the Iroquois forced the Ojibwa to move to the south or west. Once the Chippewa left their traditional homelands, they adapted the ways of the Plains tribes. By the mid-1800s the Ojibwa were already on government reservations.

In 1854 it was discovered that valuable minerals were located on the Chippewa reservation, so the government decided to buy back that land from the Chippewa, too. The tribe decided to sell, thinking they could take the money and use it to buy back their homelands, or at least part of it.

Even today the Ojibwa are still involved in long-running court cases against the United States government in regard to their land, much of which was seized for nonpayment of taxes many, many years ago despite the fact original treaties seem to indicate no taxes would ever be levied.

Descendants of the Chippewa/Ojibwa live in Canada, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Montana and in urban centers in many states.

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