During the war of 1812, many Ojibwe fought on the side of the British, but some were partial to the Americans. This left many hard feelings between bands which often spilled over into long-lasting grudges and violence.
During a particularly heated discussion between some of the Ojibwe at a trading post near Sault Ste Marie, the great warrior Muk-a-dishib, or the Black Duck, was passionately arguing for why the American cause was the superior one. His argument was rebutted by an Ojibwe from Canada who boasted about how many American scalps he had taken.
This did not sit well with Black Duck, and he arose, reminded the Canadian Ojibwe that the British had lost the war; the he raised his tomahawk, approached the braggart crying, "Those that you killed were my friends, you shall kill no more", and in a flash he drove his point home with his hatchet, splitting the man's skull open!
Following this breach of peace, Black Duck sought refuge with the Americans at their fort, and although his life was forfeit under Indian custom, General Cass bought his liberty with forty quarts of whiskey.
Adapted from Pioneer Collections, Volume 4 (1886) and Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years with the Indian, Henry Roe Schoolcraft (1851)
One of the most interesting games played by the Ojibwe was a winter game called Gamaagiwebiinigewin, or Snow Snake
The game is played using a long wooden rod on frozen snow and ice. It has been played by the Ojibwe for hundreds of years, and is still played in winter tournaments on some reservations. Snow snakes are also beautiful objects that can be decorated in various ways.
The object of the game is to see how far you can slide a snake across the snow, usually within a "trough" that has been built up and then grooved by dragging a log to create a shallow trench/track. Players take several steps towards the beginning of the track, then throw or toss the snow snake into the track with an underhand motion. The trick is to use enough power to get the snake to slide a long way down the track without using so much force that it jumps the track and goes foul.
Some ceremonial aspects of the game have been documented as well, with each team singing songs that would increase luck for their team and cause bad luck for the other team.
Do you do snow snake where you live? If not, could it be revived as a sport?
(See Games of the North American Indians by Stewart Culin, 1907.)
Muk-a-dishib (the Black Duck) was a brave warrior and early chief of the Pembina and Red Lake Ojibwe. He maintained his home camps and hunted at Stump Lake, and near Fargo, North Dakota during the early years of the 1800s.
Black Duck decided to go to war against the Dakota Sioux. He sent around tobacco and raised a war party that left Pembina, marching towards Lake Traverse (Sisseton, South Dakota). The march took thirteen days. The war party searched the area around Big Stone Lake and Lake Traverse, but did not find the Sioux. They then proceeded west towards Ogema-Wadju, a large hill where the Sioux were also known to camp. Not finding a village there, the war party became disenchanted. Chief Peguis, took his men and returned home, but the remaining men who stayed with Black Duck kept searching until they came upon a village of about 300 Sioux. The fight was a resounding victory for Black Duck and his troops, but a few Sioux had been able to escape and they made their way to a nearby camp and roused more warriors who quickly came to press the fight against the Ojibwe.
Out of bullets and tired from the fight, Black Duck and his men retreated as quickly as they could, but they saw that they would soon be overtaken. Knowing that they would all be slaughtered in the upcoming fight, it was decided that most of the men would keep running, while a small party remained with Black Duck to fight and secure their escape.
Black Duck and his stalwart companions calmly took off their clothes down to their breechcloths, folded them into bundles, then they took out their pipes and smoked and prayed to the manitous for pity.
Almost 300 Sioux warriors came upon them and the fighting was hand-to-hand. During the short battle, 13 warriors fell to their deaths, including Black Duck. One man escaped across the river and was able to sneak away to report the fate of his companions and the brave Black Duck.
The final battle took place near modern-day Wild Rice, North Dakota, a small town south of Fargo. During the middle-1800s, a priest named Father Genin was told about Black Duck's bravery and he took pity on the men. He went to the location where they fell and ordered the erection of a large, white cross at the spot where Black Duck died. When white men finally came to North Dakota after the land was opened up ceded by to settlers following the 1863 Old Crossing Treaty, many of them were surprised to see the white cross as they crossed the Red River. Most were unaware that this location was where a mighty warrior and his brave men lost their lives.
Black Duck is relatively unknown today, but many of his descendants can be found at Cypress Hills and Cowessess Reserve in Canada, and at Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota.
Adapted from: Henry Rowe Schoolcraft. Indian Tribes of the United States. (1884) and O.G. Libby. Collections of the State Historical Society of North Dakota, Volume 1. (1906)
The fort at Pembina was attacked by a party of 200 Sioux at midnight of July 22, 1808. There were then twenty-two men bearing arms, fifty women and many children encamped in the vicinity. Alexander Henry defended the fort with the men encamped outside, nine men inside, and a mortar cannon loaded with one pound of powder and thirty balls, which had recently been added to the equipment.
At the hour of attack the Chippewas had been drinking heavily, and were generally asleep in their tents. Their arms were in the fort and the gates were closed, but when roused they clambered over the stockade and secured their arms, hurrying the women and children into the fort.
The piece [cannon] when in action was aimed in the direction where the Sioux could be plainly heard addressing their men, and no such noise as its roar had ever been heard on the Red River before. The balls clattered through the tree tops and some took effect, for the lamentations of the Sioux for their fallen comrades could be distinctly heard. For a few moments only the firing continued and the Sioux were next heard at some distance, then farther off, farther and farther. About sunrise they could be dimly discerned filing away to the southward.
Their pursuers found the stain of blood where the Sioux were first heard, and evidence of a hasty retreat. On the spot where they put on their war bonnets and adjusted their accoutrements, making ready for the assault, upwards of one hundred old shoes were found; also some scalps, remnants of leather and buffalo robes, saddle cloths, pieces of old saddles, paunches and bladders of water for their journey—and a lone grave on the prairie where one of their dead had been left. The loss at the fort was one dog killed by the Sioux shots.
Adapted from: Early history of North Dakota: essential outlines of American history, By Clement Augustus Lounsberry (1919)
During the 1840s, a virulent epidemic of smallpox ravaged the northern Great Plains. The people at Turtle Mountain were especially hard hit. Many people died on the route between Turtle Mountain and Devils Lake. Rather than bury the people in the ground, the people placed the bodies of the dead in tree scaffolds on the many small islands in the middle of Lake Alice.
It was hoped that by placing the bodies on these islands it would protect people from further smallpox outbreaks. After this, the people called Lake Alice the "Lake of the Dead", and the little islands were the "Le petit isles de mort" the Little Islands of the Dead.
Lake Alice is now a National Wildlife Refuge maintained by the US Fish & Wildlife Service.
From: Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration for the State of North Dakota
Butte de Morale, near present day Harvey, North Dakota, is a well-known landmark to Turtle Mountain Chippewa and Red River Metis hunters.
The butte gets its name from a battle between the Metis and Sioux. During the fight, one of the Metis -- a man maned 'Morale' was killed. The Metis named the butte "Butte de Morale", or Morale's Butte in his honor.
This location was a favorite hunting location for both the Chippewa and Metis, and a camp was located near the base of the butte. One of the largest herds of buffalo was known to frequent this area and all along the Sheyenne River valley.
In the fall of 1890 the Sioux in South Dakota, had become tired of reservation life and were planning open hostilities under the Ghost Dance. Although the Sioux “revolt” was put down, the incident caused widespread uneasiness among the settlers across the region. Rumors spread throughout northern Minnesota that a Sioux chief had visited the Ojibwe of Red Lake to incite them to revolt, and that the Ojibwe had purchased all the powder and lead available in Thief River Falls. Other terrifying stories also were told—including the possibility of the Ojibwe at Roseau Lake planning an attack.
It is believed that the rumor of an attack by the Roseau lake Ojibwe was precipitated by one (or more) ill-intentioned settlers who wanted to stir up trouble. Louis Enstrom and Ole Holm, two early settlers, testified that an individual named Mrs. Marshall, played a large part in fomenting the rumors of an Indian attack. She was a mixed-blood Ojibwe who resented the intrusion of white settlers and hoped to drive some away by spreading rumors of unrest. Her initial rumors led to more panic, which spread like wildfire—leading to even more panicked stories being spread from farm to farm. In one case, it was reported that “three hundred Indians in full war paint had passed Sprague's lumber camp, just across the line in Manitoba”. When the rumor mill caught wind of this, the number quickly grew to three thousand! Later investigation revealed that three Indians actually had passed the camp!
By January, 1891, fear of an impending massacre swept the region. The Ojibwe living at the Warroad village were said to be dancing the ghost dance with visitors from Red Lake and other places in the vicinity. The panic climaxed with a series of wild stories spread by two men who rode from farm to farm, claiming that “Indians in war paint were descending upon the area”. In confusion and panic, settlers loaded their household goods on carts and headed west. Those who were determined to stay prepared to defend themselves. Some of the locals who were on good terms with the Ojibwe held their ground, because they doubted the story of an uprising by their friends, so they sent scouts to Warroad to see what the Ojibwe were actually doing.
In the meantime, a general evacuation of the valley continued. One settler, Erick Holm, noted that he had met about sixty groups of refugees travelling on the sand ridge road going west. They were in a most miserable plight due to the harsh cold of January. The scouts who went to Warroad reported that the Ojibwe there were friendly and were only indulging in social dancing. Moreover, when Chief Maypuck and his band learned of the scare, they were almost as frightened as the settlers because they were worried that they would be attacked for something they were innocent of. Chief Maypuck and Ka-Kay-Geesick immediately journeyed to Roseau to learn more about the matter.
Ironically, the friendly aid of the Roseau Lake Ojibwe helped to prevent the settlers from losing everything they had. Mickinock, having also heard of the settler’s panic went looking to help quell the rumor. He found that all the whites had left their farms and that their livestock was almost perishing for lack of food and water. He joined with Ka-Kay-Geesick to water and feed all of the abandoned cattle on his way from his camp to town. He then told some of his people to send word to those who had fled to return, as he “…could not take care of their stock all winter”.
This story (or variations of it) is found in oral history and in several published articles. The most detailed account is found in The Early History of the Roseau Valley (Chapin 1943). Grace Landin (1972) also recorded this story during her discussions with the Warroad Ojibwe.
Tobacco is the first plant that the Creator gave to the Anishinaabe people. Three other plants: sage, cedar and sweetgrass are held sacred by the people. Together they are referred to as the four sacred medicines (Muskiiki). The four sacred medicines are used in everyday life and in all of our ceremonies. All of them can be used to smudge with, though sage, cedar and sweetgrass also have many other uses. It is said that tobacco sits in the eastern door, sweetgrass in the southern door, sage in the west and cedar in the north. Elders say that the spirits like the aroma produced when the other sacred medicines are burned.
Sacred tobacco was given to the Anishinaabe so that we can communicate with the Spirit world. Tobacco is always offered before picking other medicines. When you offer tobacco to a plant and explain your reasons for being there, the plant will let all the plants in the area know your intentions and why you are picking them. Tobacco is used as an offering, a gift, and is an important part of Anishinaabe ceremonies.
Sage is used to prepare our people for ceremonies and teachings. Because it is more medicinal and stronger than sweetgrass, sage is used more often in ceremonies. Sage is used for releasing what is troubling the mind and for removing negative energy. It is also used for cleansing homes and sacred bundles carried by people. It also has other medicinal uses.
Sweetgrass is the sacred hair of Mother Earth. Its sweet aroma reminds our people of the gentleness, love and kindness she has for the people. When sweetgrass is used in a healing circle it has a calming effect. Like sage and cedar, sweetgrass is used for smudging and purification.
Like Sage and Sweet grass, cedar is used to purify the home, it also has many restorative medicinal use. When mixed with sage for a tea, it cleans the body of all infections, cedar baths are also very healing. When cedar mixed with tobacco is put in the fire it crackles, this is said to call the attention of the Spirits (manitous) to the offering that is being made. Cedar is used in sweat lodge and fasting ceremonies for protection, cedar branches cover the floor of many sweat lodges and some people make a circle of cedar when they are fasting. It is a guardian spirit and chases away the bad spirits.
The above information was originally produced for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Children's Christmas Dreams calendar. The calendar is produced annually as a way to raise money for children's Christmas gifts for needy children in our community.
A collaborative effort of members of the Ojibwe and Metis communities