An overview of one of the most useful of All technologies
One of the most important and useful of all implements of the Ojibwe people was the bow (or mitigwaab). According to oral tradition there were four types of bows that were used.
The first type was a bow that was created with the outer surface of the bow planed flat and the inner portion made with a ridge or rib. This sort of was particularly strong. The second type of bow was made with both outer and inner surfaces flat. This was a hunting bow and it was said that these were not strong enough for war and broke if used in that manner. The third type was constructed with the sides cut in ‘scallops’. This sort of bow was normally used when hunting small game. The fourth type was made with the outer surface rounded and the inner surface flat. This bow was a hunting bow used for large game and was also used in war. After the bow was shaped it was put in hot water to bend the wood and also to strengthen it. A bow might also be strengthened by burnishing and charring the inner surface. The bows were then decorated in various ways according to taste, with totem symbols, or based on a vision.
Only two materials were used to make bowstrings. These were nettle-stalk fiber (zesab), and the sinew taken from the neck of a snapping turtle. The nettle-stalk fiber was “waxed” or rubbed with pitch to make it waterproof. Turtle neck sinew was made by cutting close to the turtle’s body, then removing the skin and cutting it round and round, making a long strip. This strip would then be twisted into a bow string. This type of bowstring was said to be the best because it wouldn’t stretch or shrink with extended use.
The arrows used were about as long as distance from just below the elbow to the end of the first finger. The shaft was smoothed using a grooved piece of sandstone. The wood was rubbed against it and it was rubbed on the wood like sandpaper. One sort of wood used to make arrows was the stalk of the Juneberry bush (ozigwaakominaganzh). Arrows could also be made of pine or cedar, which were most often used in hunting ducks or other waterfowl, as these would float on the water and recovered if the hunter missed their mark. Arrowheads were often made from bone, stone, or metal and were inserted into a notch and held in place by winding the shaft with strips of green bark from the small branches of the Juneberry.
If arrows with metal points were used in hunting ducks, it was customary to sharpen the metal like a little knife so it would cut the feathers and go through the bird. While hunting rabbits, an arrow might be tipped with the claw of a turtle which would penetrate the fur and leave only a small hole. Bone points were often used for hunting deer, with the arrow head only lightly attached to the shaft so that it would became detached as the deer ran through the bushes, remaining in the animal and not becoming dislodged.
Flight feathers were tied to the arrow shaft with sinew. Most often the feathers from eagles and hawks were used, and these were sometimes dyed in bright colors. A good arrow could travel about 500 feet, but were usually only effective against deer and other game at around 50 feet.
Adapted from Densmore, Frances. 1929. “Chippewa Customs.” Bulletin. Washington: U.S. Govt. print. off.
A decisive Battle along the Pembina Gorge
During the mid-summer of 1848, a large battle between the Sioux and the Red Lake and Pembina Bands took place at O’Brien’s Coulee, near present day Olga, North Dakota.
The Red Lake and Pembina contingent was an organized hunting camp made up of about 800 half-breeds and 200 full-bloods (and their families) led by Misko Makwa (Red Bear), Ais-ence (Little Shell II), and Jean Baptiste Wilkie.
During the evening, an Ojibwe hunter was near the edge of O’Brien’s coulee when heard the sound of a Sioux drum coming from across it. During the night, the Ojibwe took positions on the edge of the coulee and up the bank on a small hill. When morning came, they swarmed down and began to fire on the Sioux across the coulee. During the battle, the Ojibwe guarded each end of the coulee to try to keep the Sioux trapped. Many Sioux ponies were killed and some Sioux were also killed, including one man who was killed at the south end of the coulee trying to escape. He was unarmed and when he realized that he could not get away, he folded his blanket around himself and was shot in the chest. Of the Ojibwe, three were killed, including the father of Flying Nice. Four others were wounded, but all lived.
The Sioux were eventually able to break through and send a man on horseback to a larger camp about 10 miles to the west that contained about 1,000 warriors. These reinforcements arrived back to the coulee around dark and drove the Ojibwe back about two miles to the southeast, to a small coulee near their camp, but the Sioux dared not press the fighting any further because it was very dark that night.
The next morning, the Ojibwe were busy fortifying their camp. The women did most of the work with their turnip spades, digging trenches and foxholes. Once this work was complete, the Ojibwe placed their ox carts in a defensive position to provide additional cover if the Sioux were to attack. An Ojibwe scout reported that the Sioux were concentrated on a hill to the southeast, about one mile away, but by before noon they had all gone.
Shortly after the Sioux had left, an Ojibwe named White Shell, who was shot through both hips during the first engagement and had hidden all night at the coulee, was seen hobbling across the prairie toward the Ojibwe camp using his gun as a crutch. A party on horseback went out to help him just as the Sioux returned to the hill.
Big Indian (Gitchi-Anishiinabe), Little Duck, and another Red Laker were among the group that went to rescue White Shell . While making his way, White Shell fell about one-mile out. The rescue party finally reached him. Francois Gosselin gave his horse to White Shell, but because Gosselin was a big, heavy man, the Ojibwe were having a slow retreat since he could not walk fast enough to keep up with the horses. Big Indian gave Gosselin his horse and he ran along with the group. The Sioux pursued them, but they were able to make it back to camp safely.
The Sioux soon retreated and the battle was over.
Traditional Warfare was a bloody and dangerous event
When a war party was proposed, a chief would send one of his worthy young men to visit neighboring bands with tobacco and war pipe. He would carry the message and request for others to join in the upcoming fight, and those who chose to accept the tobacco and smoke out of the pipe were considered as dedicating themselves as soldiers to the cause. By smoking the pipe they bound themselves to join the fight and would travel and assemble with the main contingent where a larger war celebration and ceremony would be held asking the Great Spirit for blessings and success of the war party.
Warfare usually happened during summer season, or in the early fall to accommodate traditional harvesting needs and because winter warfare was hard and an enemy might be able to follow their homeward tracks more easily in the snow.
During the military march the Ojibwe would observe strict discipline and take care not to let the enemy know they were coming. Fires were not kindled at night camp when the war party was within two days march of the enemy, for fear that the smoke would be seen. If the enemy camp or village was discovered, the whole army would immediately stop and a scouting party would be sent to determine the strength of the enemy and the best way to attack. When the scouts returned, plans for battle would be drawn and the enemy would be attacked just before dawn so as to catch the enemy asleep. If the enemy encampment was deemed as too strong to attack, the war party might retreat and wait for a small group of the enemy, or a single straggler, to venture too far from camp. If this happened, the war party would kill the poor persons who they encountered. If the enemy camp was deemed ripe for attack, the Ojibwe war party would attack without mercy or regard to sex, age or condition; the scalps of the slain would be taken as trophies of the victory.
In the aftermath of the battle, everyone would retreat homeward where they would recount their bravery and exploits. There would be celebrations, dancing, feasting and songs composed for the occasion.
In the event that the battle turned out badly and the Ojibwe would suffer great losses, the war chief alone bore the responsibility for the defeat. Although he would not suffer physical punishment for his failure as a general, he risked losing the confidence of the people and might fall into disgrace unless he immediately retrieved his reputation by some extraordinary act of bravery against the enemies in some way.
Adapted from Grant, Peter. 1890. “Saulteux Indians About 1804.” Les Bourgeois De La Compagnie Du Nord-Quest. Quebec: De L’Imprimerie Generale A. Cote et cie.
Red Lake Nation has a long history of Food production
Although gardening was not a widespread cultural practice by most Ojibwe, due to their seasonal subsistence patterns that revolved around fishing, hunting, and wild rice gathering, the Red Lake Band was one of the earliest and most successful bands to implement it in their daily lives.
Through close contact with the Ottawa people, the Ojibwe adopted gardening sometime prior to 1800. Early explorers and traders mention the Ojibwe at Red Lake and Lake of the Woods growing crops of ‘Indian corn’ and potatoes, and many historians believe that much of the early gardening efforts spread from the region near the Red River, Lake of the Woods, and Red Lake throughout the rest of the Ojibwe bands during the early 19th century.
Gardening, as practiced by the Red Lake Band, usually involved small, cultivated plots scattered in open spaces in the woods near winter camps. Gardening was accomplished using sticks and hoes, and varieties beans, squash, pumpkins, and corn were planted and tended until the Ojibwe left to fish and hunt at their summer camps. After the harvest of wild rice in the fall, the people would return to their winter camps to harvest their crops before the weather turned cold.
Because wild rice is not found in large quantities near Red Lake, by the middle of the 19th century, the Red Lake people were becoming increasingly reliant on gardening to support their families.
It was reported by missionaries that in 1842, about 50 families were completely self‐sufficient through hunting, fishing, and gardening, with over 150 acres in garden production. By 1848 the Red Lake gardeners were so successful that they were selling their surplus corn to traders and other tribes.
During a short period of regional famine (1848‐1851), the Red Lake Band’s corn crops at Red Lake and the Lake of the Woods were essential to the survival of many of the other Ojibwe bands who were able to trade with the Red Lake people to feed themselves.
Although men claimed the credit for introducing gardening to the Red Lake region, through their contact with the Ottawa people, it was women who did much of the gardening, playing a crucial role in deciding how to balance their gardening resources each year, and how best to compensate for changing weather patterns and water levels. This knowledge‐base allowed the women an opportunity to create a valuable product that became a serious trade item during the 19th century. When furs were scarce, the Band could always supplement their diet and bolster trade when needed.
In addition to being a viable trade item, gardening was an essential part of the Ojibwe strategy for ensuring their health and wellness. Corn and potatoes provided a supplement to wild rice—especially during years in which the rice harvest was poor or failed altogether, and later in the century the Ojibwe deliberately planted larger gardens if water levels seemed unfavorable for rice crops in the spring. This wisely practiced “resource switching” was one of the successful strategies the Ojibwe used to maintain a productive seasonal round during more difficult times.
Garden produce was in a sense a double addition to Ojibwe subsistence, for, as well as the food value of the crops, the gardens required little tending during summer and therefore freed the people to harvest other foods while the crops were ripening. The carbohydrates provided by corn, potatoes, and other crops were also important in adding calories and energy to the diet, especially during winter when game was lean.
Gardening remained an important part of Red Lake Ojibwe life well into the 20th century. Many scattered plots of corn were maintained across the reservation, and the early school efforts included agricultural education as part of the curriculum.
Most recently, Red Lake Nation has undertaken steps towards reintroducing agriculture back into their lives through the implementation of the Gitigaanike Initiative. The Initiative was created with the goals to decrease diet-related health issues, increase access to local healthy foods and develop a local foods economy. The Initiative incorporates community beliefs and attitudes about contemporary and traditional foods.
For more information about the program, call; 218-679-1466. You can also follow them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/384504271580246/
Mino biimaadiziiwin, Mino ayaad.
Rejecting the Settler Mentality to revive our Nations
Decolonizing essentially means to start thinking like an indigenous person.
When we think indigenous, we get rid of all the colonial and settler brainwashing that has been hammered into the heads of our grandparents and parents in boarding schools and by white society; we reclaim our indigenous traditions and go back to our roots.
Reclaiming tradition and decolonizing does not mean that we have to give up dressing in jeans and go back to dressing like our ancestors. But it does mean reclaiming our ancestral ways of governance and giving up the systems and procedures we adopted from our colonizers.
Decolonizing does not mean we have to go back to living in the woods. But it does mean reviving our ceremonies and traditions. It does mean restoring our cultural values. It does mean emphasizing group welfare—the welfare of people in our communities—and giving up the focus on individual welfare that we were taught by the settlers.
granting a Clan to the Clanless
A lot of people who descend from European fur traders who took Native wives (Metis) often wonder what their clan is. Normally, the clan is passed down the male line and the marriage to a European would negate the passage of a clan to the children of a mixed marriage. However, this was solved during the early genesis of the Metis Nation.
To the Ojibwe of Madeline Island, the French traders seemed to come wearing the face of brotherhood. They seemed genuinely friendly and respectful. Perhaps this was because of their closeness to the Earth and her waterways. The Ojibwe accepted these traders as brothers. The Ojibwe were so sincere in their acceptance that they adopted some of these French people into their nation.
Some of the French traders took Ojibwe wives. Since the Clan System worked on the basis of assigning the children of a marriage to the clan of their father, the Ojibwe adopted these special Frenchmen into the wa-bi-zha-shi'-do-i-daym' (Martin Clan), the clan of the warriors. In this way the children of the Frenchmen were given a clan. It was possibly felt that the acceptance of the responsibilities of this clan would be a worthy test of the sincerity of the newcomers. The French traders must have impressed the Ojibwe with their loyalty because they were accepted, for the most part, fully and completely.
Benton-Banai, Edward. 1979. “Mishomis Book: The Voice Of The Ojibway.” [St. Paul, Minn.: Indian Country Press].
Plate game— bagesaan
What you need to play:
The manner of play consists in tossing up the bowl containing the pieces, the point being to have certain pieces upright when the bowl is returned to a quiet position.
In counting, if a “sun” is upright the count is three, if the men or the dog are upright the count is 10 for each. A score is also made on the position of the blank disks, which each counting 1 if falling with the white side up.
Singing, chanting, and other efforts to gain the good favor of the spirits is important to winning the game. These songs are usually personal songs and can be used to disrupt the luck of your opponent as well.
Snake game— ginebig
How to play:
The players are seated around a blanket spread on the ground. The order of playing being from right to left.
The player holds the four wooden snakes in their right hand and drop or throw them on the blanket. The score is determined by the position in which they fall.
The scoring is as follows: If all the snakes fall right side up, or all fall wrong side up, the player gets to take one counting stick and gets another play. If they score again, they get another stick and another play. If two snakes fall right side up and two upside down without the red line, the player is entitled to one counter and another play. If two snakes fall right side up and the other two showed the white side with the undulating red line, the player is entitled to two counters and another play. This is the highest score. If a player makes the same score on his second play, they again receive two counters, and if they succeed in making the same score on his third play, they win the match.
The counters are laid at one side of the blanket until taken by the players; if more counting sticks are in the hands of a the opposing player, the person making a score is entitled to take the number of counters from the other players in the number they win.
Once Maple Sugar season was over, it was time to catch fish!
When the maple sugaring season ended (by April, or soon after), the Ojibwe and Metis would break camp and travel along established upland trails and watercourses towards their customary sturgeon fishing sites—mainly along sizable rivers and streams that flowed into the Red River, Lake Winnipeg, Lake Manitoba, Lake of the Woods, and Rainy Lake. Fishing would principally concentrate on sturgeon, but other species such as pike, walleye, trout, and whitefish would be taken as well.
Fishing areas were places of communal gathering, where related groups would meet each year to—in addition to fishing—connect with each other socially to reinforce band and clan relations, meet potential marriage partners, enjoy social activities and bush dances, and conduct ceremonies such as the Midéwiwin and Wabeno.
Fishing took place near the lake or river shores—especially at rapids or other shallow, fast moving waters where fish had difficulty reaching safety. Spears and nets usually employed, although in some cases weirs were constructed to help concentrate fish for easier capture. In some cases, smaller rivers could be blocked entirely to facilitate a bountiful harvest. One such instance of this ‘blockage’ was recorded as happening among the Roseau River.
During the annual three‐to‐four‐week spawning run, thousands of fish would be taken. As fishing started to wind down, the various factions would again start to separate and voyage out to their traditional hunting territories which would serve as base‐camps for the majority of their warm weather activities.
A unique home for a unique and independent group of Ojibwe
Roseau Lake, Minnesota, is dry now - drained to create new farmland in the swampy northern Minnesota landscape. However, for a time, it was the home to an independent group of Ojibwe people from Red Lake who lived along the Roseau River and hunted the isolated boglands of this region.
The group was led by a sub-chief named Mickinock (Turtle) who was famous for being friendly and a good neighbor to the European settlers who were fast locating in the lands surrounding his village.
At its height, the Roseau Lake community included about two dozen Red Lake Ojibwe and a few Metis from Canada who were associated and related. They spent their springs fishing Roseau River and Lake of the Woods, hunted the forests and prairies during the summer, and trapped during the winters. The group would often winter to the south near the town of Badger if a harsh cold year was expected.
Mickinock is credited with helping keep settlers' livestock alive during a "false alarm" Indian uprising. After that, he was known by locals as one of the finest Indians who ever lived.
The only incident of hostility between friendly tribes
By and large, the Mandan were a friendly tribe and were much respected by the Ojibwe people. They traded corn and horses to the Ojibwe, and the Ojibwe traded them guns with which they could defend themselves from Sioux attacks when the occasion arose. In all of time, there was only one known attack by the Mandan against the Ojibwe. This attack took place at Pembina in 1832.
It was reported by fur traders that during the day, there was an attack of a ‘hostile’ party of Indians, supposed to be Sioux, on the outskirts of the Pembina settlement. The hostiles crossed the Pembina River near the Red River on a raft, went down the Red about four miles, and concealed themselves in the vicinity of a trading house where there were several Ojibwe lodges. When they felt safe in doing so, the attackers grabbed and scalped a girl in broad daylight.
Word of the attack soon spread and the hostiles were soon pursued by a party of Ojibwe. They overtook the hostile force in the act of crossing a stream and a small skirmish took place. It was subsequently revealed that the attacking party were Mandan, and that the war party had consisted of forty men.
There were nine Ojibwe in the party that pursued the Mandans as they fled the scene. Three of the Mandan were killed. It was reported that this party was fallen upon by the Sioux, and all killed, except one man during their march back to the Missouri River.
This is the only instance of Mandan attacking the Ojibwe in the Red River country – a black mark on an otherwise amicable relationship that has lasted between the two tribes until the present-day.
Adapted from Wheeler-Voegelin, Erminie, and Harold Hickerson. 1974. “Red Lake And Pembina Chippewa.” American Indian Ethnohistory : North Central And Northeastern Indians. New York: Garland Pub. Inc.
A collaborative effort of members of the Ojibwe and Metis communities