Odawa (or Ottawa) are an Algonquian-speaking people living north of the Huron-Wendat at the time of French penetration to the Upper Great Lakes. A tradition of the Odawa, shared by the Ojibwa and Potawatomi, states that these three groups were once one people. The division of the Upper Great Lake Algonquians apparently took place at Michilimackinac, the meeting point of lakes Huron and Michigan. The Odawa, or "traders," remained near Michilimackinac, while the Potawatomi, "Those-who-make-or-keep-a-fire," moved south, up Lake Michigan. The Ojibwa, or "To-roast-till-puckered-up," went northwest to Sault Ste Marie.

Early Settlement and Economy

The farming, fishing, hunting and trading economy of the Odawa resembled that of other Great Lakes people. The Odawa were closely tied to their Huron neighbours and, in fact, were a vital part of the so-called "Huron Trading Empire." When Wendake (Huronia) was destroyed by the Haudenosaunee in the mid-17th century, the Odawa fled west. After two decades they were back on Manitoulin Island, but they continued to occupy settlements elsewhere on the shores of the Great Lakes. They located their principal settlements near the French fort at Michilimackinac, though many migrated to the Detroit area when the French built a fort there in 1701. During the final struggle for northeastern North America, the Odawa supported the French.

After the French defeat, the Odawa, under Pontiac of the Detroit region, organized a pan-Aboriginal uprising against the English, who threatened to encroach on Aboriginal lands. Though unsuccessful, the uprising encouraged the British to issue the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which recognized the legal right of Aboriginal communities to claim title to the lands they occupied. The proclamation is critical to Aboriginal land rights in Canada, and still applies today (see Treaties; Land Claims).

During the American Revolution and the War of 1812, the Odawa sided with the British, Chief Jean-Baptiste Assikinack being one of their leaders in the War of 1812. After signing treaties in the 1820s and 1830s with the Americans, many Odawa in Michigan moved to Manitoulin Island. Assikinack, who had become a Roman Catholic catechist, persuaded many of his people on the island to become Christians. Although Assikinack supported the surrender of Manitoulin Island to the government of the Province of Canada in 1862, many Odawa refused and the eastern section of the island, at Wikwemikong, remains unceded land.


Because the Odawa tended to settle in mixed communities, it is difficult to state population figures. Many Odawa descendants are identified as Ojibwa or Potawatomi. In 1996 there were 7386 registered Odawa in Canada. Some 5000 lived in the US, on reservations in Michigan, Wisconsin and Oklahoma.

In the 19th century many Odawa operated their own farms, or worked as farm labourers and lumbermen. Since 1945 a number of Odawa have moved from Wikwemikong to Sudbury and Toronto to find employment. Daphne Odjig, a well-known Aboriginal artist, is the great-great-great-granddaughter of Assikinack.

See also Aboriginal People, Eastern Woodlands and general articles under Aboriginal People.