At contact, the Ojibwa subsisted by hunting, fishing and gathering, resided in conical or dome-shaped birchbark dwellings, wore animal-skin clothing and travelled by birchbark CANOE in warm weather and SNOWSHOES in winter. Politically autonomous summer villages of 150-300 persons appear to have borne totemic names. An appropriate spouse was a person categorized as a cross-cousin - the child of either the mother's brother or father's sister.
Ojibwa religion was animistic, the natural world being inhabited by numerous spirits both good and evil, some of which required special treatment. Bear ceremonialism and the vision quest to obtain a guardian helper were practised. A SHAMAN cured the ill and performed SHAKING TENT rites to communicate with spirits. After about 1700, the MIDEWIWIN or Grand Medicine Society was conducted by an organized priesthood among the more westerly Ojibwa.
The European FUR TRADE profoundly affected the Ojibwa. Initially, they received French trade items for furs from Nipissing and Algonquin, but following the mid-17th-century dispersal of the HURON and neighbouring Algonquians, the Ottawa and their Ojibwa allies became middlemen to Aboriginal communities farther west. The Ojibwa participated in the occasional multi-community FEAST OF THE DEAD at which furs and trade goods were distributed. The western expansion of the French fur trade and the establishment of the English HUDSON'S BAY CO trade near James Bay and Hudson Bay drew some Ojibwa into new areas, first as temporary trader-hunters, but later as permanent residents.
Between 1680 and 1800, four divisions of Ojibwa emerged, each representing a different adaptation to environmental and contact conditions. Those who moved south of Lake Superior into Wisconsin and Minnesota, displacing, often forcefully, the Dakota, are known as the Southwestern Chippewa. The harsher environment of the coniferous forests of northern Ontario and Manitoba was exploited by the Northern Ojibwa.
After 1780 some shifted to Manitoba, Saskatchewan and North Dakota, becoming the Plains Ojibwa or Bungi. Still others, now known as Southeastern Ojibwa, moved into south-central Ontario and the lower Michigan Peninsula. Although most Ojibwa continued to live by hunting, fishing and gathering, some, particularly those in southern Ontario, adopted farming. Today, Ojibwa occupy reserve communities in these 4 areas.
Before 1760 most Ojibwa supported the French, but they became British allies during the American Revolution and the War of 1812. The social and economic life of all Ojibwa groups was affected by the fur trade. Aboriginal items were replaced by western materials and certain natural resources became depleted. Family-possessed fur-hunting territories emerged among northern groups. First in the southeast and later in more remote areas, Ojibwa became at least nominal Christians. Most Ojibwa did not sign treaties with the government until after 1850, at which time each BAND-reserve community elected a chief and council.
From perhaps 10 000 persons at contact whose descendants are now called Ojibwa, the population grew to around 140 000 (registered) in 1996. There is also a large MÉTIS population.
Among and within Ojibwa communities there is considerable socioeconomic variability, depending on the ability to exploit natural resources and gain access to Canadian markets. Arts and crafts have recently been revitalized and several Ojibwa artists have gained international recognition.
Author CHARLES A. BISHOP
Links to Other Sites
Canadian Aboriginal Writing and Arts Challenge
The website for the Canadian Aboriginal Writing and Arts Challenge, which features Canada's largest essay writing competition for Aboriginal youth (ages 14-29) and a companion program for those who prefer to work through painting, drawing and photography. See their guidelines, teacher resources, profiles of winners, and more. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
National Visions, National Blindness: Canadian Art and Identities in the 1920s
This book review covers historical milestones in Canadian art, including the ascendancy of renowned artist Norval Morriseau. From the website for the Canadian Sociological Association.
Explore the history of Huronia, including Huron and Ojibway heritage, art and artists from the Georgian Bay Region, the marine history of Georgian Bay, and more.
Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples
The website for the "Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples." Click on the links for feature articles about Canada's many multicultural communities, access to their extensive digital archives collection, learning modules, and much more. From "Multicultural Canada."
Languages of Canada
A comprehensive online database of languages currently in use in Canada. Also provides details about extinct languages. Check out the "language maps" for more information. Based on "Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth edition." From SIL International, a US website.
Norval (called Copper Thunderbird) Morrisseau
An online gallery of art created by Norval (called Copper Thunderbird) Morrisseau. From "Cybermuse," a National Gallery of Canada website.
Four Directions Teachings
Elders and traditional teachers representing the Blackfoot, Cree, Ojibwe, Mohawk, and Mi’kmaq share teachings about their history and culture. Animated graphics visualize each of the oral teachings. This website also provides biographies of participants, transcripts, and an extensive array of learning resources for students and their teachers. In English with French subtitles.
A superb multimedia website dedicated to native dance traditions from coast to coast in Canada. Features audio and video clips, in-depth interviews and articles for students, the image research database for scholars, downloadable resource kits for teachers, and more. Produced by Carleton University and The Sumner Group Inc., with the assistance of many other organizations and contributors.
New Ojibway reserve opens in northern Ontario
A CBC news article about the establishment of the Animbiigoo Zaagi'igan Anishinaabek (Lake Nipigon Reserve) in Ontario.
Drew Hayden Taylor
The website for award-winning writer Drew Hayden Taylor. Click the links at the bottom of the page for his biography, list of awards, and more.
Gun Shot Treaty of "1791"
An academic paper about the ill-defined history of the "Gun Shot Treaty of 1791" at the Bay of Quinte. From brandonu.ca.
Eastern Woodland Indians Culture
A brief history of various Woodland First Nations subcultures that existed throughout the eastern half of North America. From the "Woodland Indians Culture" website.
The Memory Project: Ojibwa
Listen to an interview with First Nations Canadian veteran Dasia Nebeoniquit in which he discusses his military service during the Second World War. Also check out related digitized artefacts and memorabilia. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.