The move from the great water took 500 years
When the seven prophets came to the Anishinabe, the nation was living somewhere on the shores of the Great Salt Water in the East. The nation was so great that if one was to climb the highest mountain and look in all directions, they would not be able to see the end of the nation.” The prophets told the Anishinabe that it was their destiny to leave that land. Many did not want to leave, but the prophets told the people: “If you do not move, you will be destroyed.” It would later come to pass that most all those who stayed behind had their cultures virtually destroyed or were absorbed by the light-skinned race.
The prophet spoke then of a turtle-shaped island that would be the first of seven stopping places during the migration. Such an island was finally found in the St. Lawrence River, a short way northeast of present-day Montreal where the St. Francis River runs into the southern shore of the St. Lawrence River. This is the only river of the region that flows to the West. At the place where this river joins the St. Lawrence there is a small island. This island was the first stopping place of the migration.
After some time, the people resumed their journey to the West. They were told that along their journey they would have to stand and protect themselves from attack by other nations. They were not to advocate war or violence, but when faced with conflict, they were not to shrink from it. This was the time when the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy warred with the Anishinabe.
Some of the Anishinabe had different interpretations of the prophecies. These people decided to stop along the way of the migration and set up permanent camps for their followers. Those that stayed behind were given their own flame from the original Sacred Fire.
Next the people moved down the southern shore of the St. Lawrence River. Their second major stopping place was at the Ani-mi-kee' wa-bu (the place of the Thunder Water), or the place called Kichika-be-kong' (Great Falls) where water and thunder came together here and made a powerful place. The Sacred Fire was moved to this location for some time. This place is known today as Niagara Falls.
From here, the people moved to a place identified by one of the earlier prophets as “a place where two great bodies of water are connected by a thin, narrow river.” Many lives were lost in crossing this river. This place is where the Detroit River connects Lake St. Clair and Lake Huron in the North to Lake Erie in the South.
At this time and pace, three groups began to emerge in the Ojibwe nation. Each group took upon themselves certain tasks necessary for the survival of the people. There came to be a very strong spiritual sense that bound these groups together.
One of the Fire people were called the Ish-ko-day'-wa-tomi (fire people) were charged with the safekeeping of the Sacred Fire. As the people moved on the migration, this group guarded the coals of the Sacred Fire as it was carried along. These people were later called the O-day'-wa-tomi: the Potawatomi.
Another of the Fire people were called the O-daw-wahg' (trader people) were responsible for providing food goods and supplies to the nation. They took charge of the major hunting and trading expeditions. These people were later called the Ottawa.
The last of the Fire people retained the name Ojibwe were the faith keepers of the nation. They were entrusted with the keeping of the sacred scrolls and Water drum of the Midéwiwin.
The people picked up the Water drum and continued westward. They were attacked along the way by the nations later called the Sauk and Fox. They pushed on until they came to a large body of fresh water. Here, the Sacred Fire rested for a long time. This is the place that was referred to in the prophecy of the Second Fire (Lake Michigan). At this point many people drifted off by groups to look for a place to cross the great water. They knew that their journey must take them to the West, but some of the people traveled South in an attempt to go around the water. Some of the people became lost and started villages here, but those who listened to the prophesy followed the rivers to the North to an island that is known today as Walpole Island.
The people then continued following the river further and came to the northern sea of freshwater. They followed its eastern shore until they discovered a series of islands that led across the water. On the largest island the people gathered. This is the island known today as Manitoulin Island. Here, the Anishinabe gathered until Manitoulin Island became known as the capital of the Ojibwe nation. The Midéwiwin grew in following and the Clan system flourished. For some time the main body of the migration stayed on this island.
Nearby, there was another small island here where powerful ceremonies were held (Sault Ste. Marie). The fishing was excellent in the fast water and skilled fishermen could run the rapids with a canoe while standing backwards in the bow. By using a net on the end of a long pole their canoes would be full of beautiful whitefish. There was so much food in the village that this place came to support many families. Many years later, this place would become an important trading center between the Anishinabe and the Light-skinned Race.
By moving the people by canoe the people found the path to the west to where they were promised they would find “the food that grows on water”. However, along the way the Anishinabe were attacked by the people they called Ba-wahn whom they fought fiercely. The Bawahn' were later called Dakotas by the Light skinned Race.
While moving west, the northern group of Anishinabe carved muz-i-nee-bi' ah-sin' (rock markings) and symbols on the huge rock cliffs that led down to the great water. They marked sacred places and made records of their journey on the rock walls. They went all the way to the western end of the water. They named the bay there Wee-kway-doung'. Here they settled on an island (Spirit Island) at the west end of Lake Superior. The southern group eventually came to this place, too, and they also left carvings on the rocks along the southern shore of Lake Superior. It was near Spirit Island that the words of the prophets were fulfilled and the Anishinabe found “the food that grows on water.”: Ma-no'-min (wild rice).
At Spirit Island the elders of the Midéwiwin Lodge sensed that the long journey of their people was near its end. But something was missing. One of the prophets long ago had spoken of a turtle-shaped island that awaited them at the end of their journey. The southern group had seen an island fitting this description that lay in the water off of a long point of land. The people sought out this island and placed tobacco on its shore. The Sacred Shell rose up out of the water and told the people that this was the place they had been searching for. Here, the Water drum made its final stop. The Sacred Fire was carried here and here it burned brightly. This island was called Mo-ning-wun'-a-kawn-ing (the place that was dug) by the Ojibwe. It was later called Madeline Island. This name has survived to this day. The main body of the Anishinabe people gathered here and they became strong and powerful.
It is thought that the migration started around 900 A.D. It took some 500 years to complete. The descendants of these great people are where they are today because of a great prophesy and the struggles of their ancestors to find a promised land.
Further Reading: Edward Benton-Benais, The Mishomis book: the voice of the Ojibway. St. Paul, Minn.: Indian Country Press], 1979. v, 114 p.: ill.
The real reason for coming west was not European pressure
There is a common misconception that the Ojibwe were enticed, or contracted, by the European fur traders to come west of the Great Lakes and Mississippi regions to be part of the fur trade, rather than having expanded under other influences. This belief has led many historians to falsely provide the impression that the Ojibwe operated at the behest of the Europeans. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
While the Ojibwe did come west about the same time as the advent of intense fur-trading, this move was part of a larger move westward that happily coincided with the expansion of trading; the Ojibwe were simply there to (naturally) take advantage of the trend. This newfound economic avenue allowed for an even greater expansion (by warfare and by sheer population) westward as the Ojibwe were also caught up in the genesis of the Metis Nation through marriage to Europeans.
That the early western Ojibwe concentrated on, and were extremely successful in, trapping large numbers of beaver, many scholars hypothesized that they must have been brought in by the fur companies. Also, because of the close ties to the Canadian traders and the newly formed kinship ties to the Canadian-friendly Metis, the rumor that the Ojibwe were bought and paid for by the Canadians was spread widely by the Hudson Bay Company.
The most interesting reason for the movement of the Ojibwe into the Red River Valley region is one that is based on oral tradition. Chief Peguis, in explaining why the Ojibwe had come to the region stated to the European governors of Manitoba that:
“About the year 1780, smallpox overtook [the Cree and Assiniboine], and decimated them fearfully. Thereafter…the Saulteaux [Ojibwe] left the forests…and entered on the plains of Red River…The Saulteaux found the Assiniboines and the Crees encamped at the Pembina Mountain,…and after smoking and feasting for two or three days, the children of the forest were formally invited to dwell on the plains — to eat out of the same dish, to warm themselves at the same fire, and to make common cause with them against their enemies the Sioux…” The Assiniboine told the Ojibwe, “Your presence will remove the cloud of sorrow that is in our minds and strengthen us against our enemies.”
Learn more at Peers, Laura L. (Laura Lynn). 1994. “Ojibwa Of Western Canada, 1780 To 1870.” Manitoba Studies In Native History. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press.
The Government Excludes the FUll-bloods of Turtle mountain
During the drafting of the initial Turtle Mountain Chippewa constitution, the government decided to only allow those members living on the Turtle Mountain Reservation proper vote on the acceptance of the new governing document for the Band. This arbitrary ruling excluded many of the full-bloods and the traditionalists of the band who were living off-reservation near Dunseith, North Dakota.
The question is this: would the constitution have been different if the full-bloods had been allowed a voice in its creation? What would have been different?
A blending based on kinship and mutual benefit
How did the Métis become such a large part of the Turtle Mountain Band? The answer is complicated, but it is one that is based on kinship, trade, and cooperation that developed over decades during the 1800s.
The Métis peoples had existed in the west before 1800, but their numbers were relatively small and scattered, rather than forming a strong force in the region. This changed quickly with the union of the XY and North West companies in 1804, and the economy-oriented reorganization of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1810–11, when many lower-ranking employees were either dismissed or quit when their pay was lowered.
From the very beginning of the fur trade, marriages between European traders and Aboriginal women had created a population of mixed-blood children. In the Great Lakes region and other areas in the Northwest, the Métis formed their own society, separate from that of either of their parents though strongly tied to both. The need of the fur trade for huge amounts of provisions gave the Métis (as well as the plains Cree) a niche on the northern plains, and after the Red River settlement was established it became the focus of a developing Métis nation. As their numbers increased, Métis-Ojibwe groups developed in areas that the Ojibwe had formerly dominated: the Interlake, Swan River, Turtle Mountain and Pembina areas.
Because the Métis were successful hunters and traders, some Ojibwe joined forces with them to obtain more and better prices for furs and access to a higher standard of living through trade goods. The number of mixed-group camps rose with the increase of the Métis population in the west between 1805 and 1812. One of the main settlement areas was at the Pembina Hills; another was at Turtle Mountain. By about 1805, mixed bands were reported near Cumberland House, Saskatchewan, and in 1806 groups were reported even further west.
The cooperative work between the Ojibwe, Cree, and Métis was bolstered by a complex web of kinship ties that minimized conflicts between these groups and allowed them to combine their strengths. As one fur trader remarked of inter-group marriages during this period, “These unions consolidate the interests of the tribes, and are foundations of much social harmony and good fellowship.” In some cases, Métis men even became leaders among these mixed groups―operating as “chief” instead of traditional full-blood leaders as they offered the group the ability to combine the preferential rates given the Métis for their furs with the rights and skills of their Native kin in hunting and gathering.
The cooperation between the Ojibwe and the Métis did not end with hunting. Almost every summer during the 1820s war parties were launched against the Sioux in the lower reaches of what is now North Dakota, mostly in retaliation against attacks made on the Ojibwe living around Pembina. Rather than defensive actions, these war parties were an attempt to gain access to resources and new hunting areas. The new territory wrested from the Sioux included most of the Red River valley down to the Sheyenne River and almost all of what is now northern North Dakota―the area that was formalized as Pembina and Red Lake Ojibwe territory during the 1863 treaty at the Old Crossing.
Learn more: Peers, Laura L. (Laura Lynn). 1994. “Ojibwa Of Western Canada, 1780 To 1870.” Manitoba Studies In Native History. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press.
A broad claim to a rich hunting territory in MN and ND
Sturgeon fishing was a source of power for the Ojibwe in their relations with European Traders
Early European explorers, fur traders, and missionaries reported that they were impressed by the Ojibwe sturgeon fisheries in the vicinity of Rainy River and Lake of the Woods.
Nearly every part of the sturgeon was used by the Ojibwe. The eggs or caviar were consumed, and the inner membrane of the swim bladder was used as a glue in paints. One Hudson Bay Company trader, James Isham, noted in 1743 that: “The Glue the Natives saves out of the Sturgeon is very strong and good, they use it in mixing with their paint, which fixes the Colors so they never Rub out”.
During the fur trade period, large numbers of Ojibwe from the surrounding region gathered at the Rainy River sturgeon fisheries. They came from as far away as Lake Winnipeg on the west, Lac Seul to the north, Red Lake and Leech Lake to the south, and Lake Superior to the east. Wesleyan missionary Peter Jacobs reported over 300 Ojibwe engaged in the sturgeon fishery at Manitou Rapids in 1852. In 1868 the usual number congregating at locations on the Rainy River could be as high as 1,000 people, with some years as many as 1,500 turning out to fish and gather for ceremonies. These large gatherings, supported by the seasonal abundance of sturgeon, facilitated renewal of friendships and social ties, discussion of military and political affairs, and holding of the Midewiwin, or Grand Medicine Society. Because of the ceremonial nature of the Rainy River sturgeon runs and gatherings, the Ojibwe refused to allow the establishment of missions near Manitou Rapids because they thought it would ruin the sturgeon fishery there.
Fur trade documents illustrated the importance of the sturgeon trade between the Ojibwe and Euro-Canadian fur traders and suggest a tradition of commercial exchange among the Natives themselves. The fur traders often depicted the Rainy River Ojibwe as highly competent traders who had at their disposal abundant and varied natural products for barter. They sold (in addition to sturgeon) furs, wild rice, maple sugar, berries, venison, birch bark canoes, and other items to European traders.
The abundant and diverse natural products of the Rainy River area made the Ojibwe difficult and expensive trading partners. One trader, Simon J. Dawson, described the Ojibwe as “formidable if inclined to be troublesome, and independent; sometimes even a little saucy”. Reverend Peter Jacobs described his frustration in his lack of success in Christianizing the Ojibwe, referring to them in an 1849 letter as a “stiffnecked people”. Even then, the Ojibwe were often content forgo trade and simply to just subsist on their sturgeon and other foods rather than engage with the Europeans. It was reported by the Hudson Bay Company in 1849 that the Rainy River Ojibwe were independent of the Company’s influence due to the fact that they had abundance of sturgeon and great quantities of wild rice, thereby not needing anything from the traders at all.
See more at Holzkamm, Tim E., Victor P. Lytwyn, and Leo G. Waisberg. 1988. “Rainy River Sturgeon: An Ojibway Resource In The Fur Trade Economy.” Canadian Geographer 32 (3). Toronto: 194–205.
An attempt to stop dancing at Red Lake Reservation in 1916
On March 6, 1916, the Assistant Superintendent of the Minnesota Agency of the Bureau of Indian Affairs sent a letter to the Superintendent of Red Lake Agency regarding a push to stop traditional dancing at the community of Ponemah (Obaashing). This passage is a stark example of how the government sought to limit the indigenous people of America from exercising their culture and to perpetrate cultural genocide against them…
Mr. Walter F. Dickens,
Supt. Red Lake School.
My dear Mr. Dickens:
Your letter dated February 8 reporting on the dance situation at the "Point" and in the vicinity of Mequom Bay has been received and contents carefully considered.
It is noted that at the Point the Indians danced for sixteen successive nights, after which they visited Mequom Bay where they danced for a few more nights, since which time there has been no dancing.
No doubt during the long winter months at Red Lake the Indians should be allowed to indulge in dancing to some extent providing that they limit this sort of amusement to a reasonable number of times during a month and indulge in only moral dances under the supervision of yourself or some official from your office. Sixteen dances in as many nights is overdoing this amusement, and you are requested to advise Be-oonce and Ah-zhe-day-ke-shig, who appear to be the leaders in this pastime, that hereafter the dance situation on your reservation will be regulated by permits issued from your office. Whenever the Indians desire to dance, they should obtain your permission to hold such a dance and you should be able to exercise discretion as to the number of dances you think would be advisable to allow hold on your reservation.
It is suggested that you go over this matter thoroughly with the Indians and explain the views of the Office, showing them that it is for their own good that such instructions are issued and that form of amusement are a benefit to persons only when they are indulged in to a limited extent.
A report on the action taken by you is desired.
Very truly yours,
Indian Office Files, 1916, US Department of Interior
Dakota Territory General Assembly seeks to remove Ojibwe
In 1873, European settlers were intent on taking the land of the Pembina and Red Lake Ojibwe bands in the Red River Valley. Although these lands were ceded by treaty, the half-breed members of these bands had the right to select lands (taken under scrip) within the Red River Valley. However, the greed of the settlers was apparent in their wanting to remove ALL Ojibwe from the region - even the half-breed Metis who had a right to select lands before the lands could be opened to white settlement. The letter, sent to the US Department of Indian Affairs read as follows:
Your memorialists, the legislative assembly of the Territory of Dakota, would most respectfully represent that the Pembina band of Chippewa Indians are still occupying the lands on the Dakota side of the Red River of the North, which were ceded by the said band, and the Red Lake Band of the Chippewas, in their treaty with the United States in 1863, and that the occupation of said lands by said Pembirna band is a great nuisance to the white settlements on the Pembina and Red Rivers, and also retards the establishment and growth of new settlements on the ceded lands.
Your memorialists therefore pray that said last-named band of Indians be removed from the ceded lands and settled upon their reservation at the White Earth agency in Minnesota according to the stipulations in said treaty.
And your memorialists, as in duty bound, will ever pray.
Approved January 6, 1873.
I certify that the above is a true copy of a memorial passed at the tenth session of the legislative assembly of the Territory of Dakota, and approved by me on the 6th day of January, A.D. 1873.
In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused to be affixed the great seal of the Territory, this 10th day of January, A.D. 1873.
John A. Burbank, Governor
A collaborative effort of members of the Ojibwe and Metis communities