In describing the Ojibwe groups west of Lake Superior around 1800, there were reported to be five distinct bands operating in the area surrounding Red River settlement (modern-day Winnipeg, Manitoba).
One of these bands was reported to reside in the area surrounding Rainy Lake in what is now northern Minnesota and southern Ontario, Two others: the Red Lake/Lake of the Woods Band, and the Ojibwe at Leech Lake were located where the current Red Lake and Leech Lake Bands can be found today, in north central Minnesota. The two remaining bands known were the Ojibwe residing on Red River (i.e the Pembina Band), and the Saulteaux of Portage la Prairie, who resided to the west of Red River settlement and on the edge of the buffalo plains.
It was said that the Portage la Prairie Band originated from the east, near Sault Ste Mariee and around the Lake of the Woods. They were said to have moved to the region specifically to participate in the fur trade.
The Red River group (Pembinas) was a group that coalesced from various areas, including the Mississippi, Sandy Lake (Mille Lacs), and further east near the Sault. Many came west and joined up with resident Ojibwe to exploit the fur trade. They were not disposed to farming, but subsisted entirely on hunting and were known to be quite friendly with white traders.
The groups at Rainy Lake, Red Lake/Lake of the Woods, and Leech Lake were residents to the region and quite well-settled in their homes. Agriculture was very important to their lifestyles and they were less mobile than the other bands.
In addition to the Ojibwe bands were a large community of half-breeds in the surrounding region. They were concentrated in various settlements, or were attached to the above mentioned bands of Ojibwe – although it was reported by Father G.A. Belcourt that the half-breeds were almost exclusively descended from thirteen different bands of Indians, and were mostly of Cree or Ojibwe extraction originally. The primal band origins of the half-breeds didn’t matter that much after a few decades of intermarriage with each other and with full-blooded Crees and Ojibwe which blurred such lines quite quickly.
At Pembina, it was noted that, in 1823, the half-breeds (Metis) numbered at least three hundred and fifty permanent residents. They lived in tipis or in log cabins. Few were farmers; most participated in the annual hunts with the Ojibwe instead. Other half-breed communities were located at Red River, Devils Lake, and to the west of Red River.
Stout, D.B. (1962). Ethnological report for Docket 113, et al., before the Indian Claims Commission, Treaties and Agreements of October 2, 1863, April 12, 1864, and October 22, 1892. Washington, DC: Indian Court of Claims
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