The term Ojibwa (Ojibway, Chippewa) derives from Outchibou, the 17th-century name of a group living north of Sault Ste Marie, Ontario.
The term Ojibwa (Ojibway, Chippewa) derives from Outchibou, the 17th-century name of a group living north of Sault Ste Marie, Ontario. They were one of a series of closely related but distinctly named groups residing between northeastern Georgian Bay and eastern Lake Superior to whom the term Ojibwa was later extended. Those peoples who congregated near present-day Sault Ste Marie were also called Saulteurs or Saulteaux. Although groups identified as Ojibwa in 17th-century French records totalled around 4500 persons, historic population movements into new areas, combined with the later application of the label Ojibwa to some neighbouring groups, enlarged the population and the territory occupied. The Ojibwa speak a Central Algonquian language closely related to ALGONQUIN, OTTAWA, CREE and Potawatomi.
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.
Handbook of North American Indians, vol 6: Subarctic, ed J. Helm (1981); vol 15: Northeast, ed B.G. Trigger (1978).