Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Within the Great Plains, the Ojibwas reside in Montana, North Dakota, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. The name "Ojibwa" is generally translated as "To Roast Till Puckered Up," an allusion to the puckered moccasins worn in the past. In the Great Plains, however, Ojibwa is more likely to be used as a geographical designation rather than a self-identifying term. In fact, no inclusive terms exist to refer to all the Ojibwa communities in the Great Plains. Generally, the term "Plains Bungi" (or Bungee) refers to the Ojibwas residing in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and western Manitoba. "Saulteaux" is often used to designate Ojibwas living in the area near Lake Winnipeg as well as the region south of the lake and extending to the international border. Within the United States, "Chippewas" is frequently used to identify Ojibwas in North Dakota and Montana. In addition to these terms, "Metis" is employed to refer to descendants of French and Ojibwa, Cree, and/or Chippewa ancestors. The Ojibwas speak dialects of the Algonquian language family.

Ojibwas in the eastern portion of their territory sometimes refer to themselves as Anishinaabes, which means "The People" or "Original Man." According to oral traditions, the Ojibwas once belonged to the three fires of the Anishinaabes. This triad represented a confederacy that included not only the Ojibwas but also the Potawatomis and Ottawas. In North Dakota, some local Ojibwas also refer to themselves by the Algonquian word nakkawininiwak, which means "those who speak differently." This refers to linguistic differences between the Ojibwa spoken by the Plains and Woodland Ojibwas.

The Plains Ojibwas are descended from Algonquian- speaking Woodland groups located in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Ontario. During the late eighteenth century the expansion of the fur trade and the Iroquois resulted in the migration of some Ojibwas into the Great Plains. Many of these migrants settled in forested areas surrounded by lakes. As a result, substantial communities developed near Lake Winnipeg, in the Turtle Mountain region of North Dakota, and the confluence of the Red and Red Lake Rivers in Montana.

In these areas the Plains Ojibwas began hunting bison, elk, deer, and small game. Fur trapping, fishing, and horse raiding also became important activities in the region. Like numerous other Plains populations, the Ojibwas in the area used bison-hide tipis, the horse and travois, and hard-soled footwear. Like their Woodland ancestors, the Plains Ojibwas continued to use floral designs in their beadwork and to make fish-skin containers. Other similarities between the Plains and Woodland Ojibwas continued in the areas of social organization and belief systems.

The Plains Ojibwas retained the concept of nonresidential totemic clans. A number of these patrilineal clans formed bands. Exogamous marriages occurred at both the clan and band level. After marriage, residency was initially matrilocal, due to the two- to three-year bride service (labor due to the bride's family) required of the groom. After that period, the couple practiced patrilocal residency. Husbands practiced mother-in-law avoidance. Joking relationships existed between the wife and her husband's brothers, as well as between the husband and his wife's sisters.

Unlike the Woodland Ojibwas, only a few Plains Ojibwas practiced the Shaking Tent ceremony. Most Plains Ojibwas instead participated in the Sun Dance. Throughout the Ojibwa region, however, belief in Manitou, Windigo, and Nanibush persisted. Manitou refers to a neutral power that permeates all matter. Only through religious training can a person learn to control this essence. Windigo is a giant humanlike monster that resides in the winter forest, and Nanibush refers to a comic hero that continually breaks taboos. During the twentieth century the Native American Church became an important aspect of religious activities among many Ojibwas in the United States.

Currently, the Ojibwas occupy five reserves in Alberta, six in Saskatchewan, two in Manitoba, two reservations in North Dakota, and three in Minnesota. Generally, members of other Native populations also occupy these reservations and reserves. For example, the Rocky Boy's Reservation in Montana includes Plains Ojibwas, Plains Crees, and Metis, and intermarriage has blurred the lines between the groups.

In Canada, traditional Ojibwa continues to be spoken in many households, while within the United States some adults and fewer children speak the language. Consequently, a number of communities in Montana and North Dakota are establishing bilingual educational programs.

See also LITERARY TRADITIONS: Erdrich, Louise.

Martha L. McCollough

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Albers, Patricia C. "Plains Ojibwa." In Handbook of North American Indians, edited by Raymond J. DeMallie, 13: 652–61. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution, 2001.

LaCounte, Alysia E. "Ojibwa: Chippewa in Montana." In Native America in the Twentieth Century: An Encyclopedia, edited by Mary B. Davis. New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1996: 399–401.

Murray, Stanley N. "The Turtle Mountain Chippewa, 1882–1905." North Dakota History 51 (1984): 14–37.

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