Prior to the disappearance of the buffalo and being forced to settle on the reservation, the Turtle Mountain Chippewa excelled at two great activities: hunting and fighting.
Because the buffalo had shed their winter coats in the spring and because the smaller game, such as the beaver and other fur-bearing animals were similarly unsalable, no hunting was done during the summer months except when hunger demanded it. Instead, the ogichidaag of the band turned their sights away from their animal prey and towards their human enemies instead.
Going to war in the spring and summer, was a welcomed diversion and allowed the Turtle Mountain warriors to make battle using some of their best tactics, whereby they could use the newly grown tall grass and trees to conceal themselves as they would approach their enemies at their camps along the great rivers of the region. Protected by the foliage, they could sneak to within striking distance of the enemy unseen – lashing out with full-force when they could and usually winning their battles.
Prior to going to battle, there would be a feast and dance to celebrate the decision to go to war. During the feast, the events and exploits of the past years would be spoken about and sung in songs of bravery. The young warriors would listen to these songs and stories, and would learn to emulate their fathers and their lessons in the art of war. The dance would involve the warriors painting their faces and bodies in bright colors, while they danced and acted out their previous battle exploits. In this way they would work up their courage and their thirst for war. In some cases, the Turtle Mountain warriors would go as far south as Lake Traverse in South Dakota to do battle with the Sioux, and would often go to battle against the Missouri River tribes over hunting issues from the previous year.
As the autumn approaches, thoughts turned from war to hunting. The Turtle Mountain men would start to prepares for the fall hunts – often working in conjunction with the half-breeds who lived with them in the Turtle Mountains, or who came from Red River and Pembina. Initial hunting took place on the edges of the hills before leaving to hunt the large herds to the south and west. Once a large supply of animals was harvested, a trip to the trading houses was in order before retiring back to the Turtle Mountains for winter – the season for trapping of beaver and other game, and the time to create new clothing, prepare ammunition, and to ready themselves for the next year.
Hesketh, J. (1923). History of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa. North Dakota Historical Society, 5. Bismarck: SHSND.
A collaborative effort of members of the Ojibwe and Metis communities