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.
A collaborative effort of members of the Ojibwe and Metis communities