Ojibwe People

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Hierarchical Path: Seven Years War (Main Page) >> Armies >> Native American Peoples >> Ojibwe People

Origin and History

The Ojibwe people (aka Chippewa, Ojibway, Ojibwa or Saulteaux) are an Algonquian-speaking nation of Native Americans. They initially inhabited the region extending from Georgian Bay, west along the north shore of Lake Huron, a short distance along the north shore of Lake Superior and onto the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The Ojibwe nation was comprised about 11 bands including the Ojibwe, Saulteaux. Mississauga and Amikwa. They were closely linked to the Odawa People and Potawatomi People, with whom they probably shared common ancestry. These nations were collectively known as Anishinaabe (human beings).

Ojibwe Territory - Copyright: Kronoskaf

The Ojibwe first encountered Europeans in 1615 when they met Samuel de Champlain on the eastern shore of Georgian Bay and in 1622 they probably met the French explorer Étienne Brûlé. In 1641, Jesuits made their way to Sault Sainte-Marie and opened a mission there in 1648 for the Native Americans of Manitoulin Island and the north-east shore of Lake Huron.

In the mid-17th century, the Ojibwe began coming to the Saint-Laurent River to trade.

After the Iroquois had dispersed the Wendat (Huron) in 1649-1650, they began to put pressure on the Ojibwe to the north. Although there were some relocations westward there was no mass exodus and, indeed, retaliatory attacks were carried out on the Iroquois. Nonetheless the Iroquois attacks continued resulting in loss of band identities, the Marameg and Nikikouek disappearing from French records.

About 1667, the Jesuits established a mission at the ‘Mission to the Outchibouec’.

By 1670, the Saulteaux of Sault Sainte-Marie had been reduced to about 150 people but subsequently formed a band with other groups to number about 550.

Another mission was established some years after Sault Sainte-Marie on an island on the northern shore of Lake Huron to serve the Mississauga, Amikwa and other groups. However, some if not all the Amikwa had moved by then to the mainland or to Manitoulin Island as had about half of the Mississauga.

The fur trade had also resulted in a westward movement of other Ojibwe as the French extended their trading posts west. There were 1,000 Ojibwe at Chequamgon on the south shore of Lake Superior in 1692 for example.

In the last decade of the 17th century, some Ojibwe started relocating south to the north shores of Lakes Erie and Ontario pushing out Iroquois who had settled there. It is considered that this area was part of their original territory before being settled by the Wendat.

By the beginning of the 18th century, some Ojibwe bands (including Mississauga and Saulteaux) established themselves in parts of present-day Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, North Dakota and southern Ontario. The territory of the Ojibwe people then extended from Lake Ontario to the Mississippi River.

In 1701, Antoine Laumet de Lamothe-Cadillac persuaded some Ojibwe to settle around Détroit.

Some Mississaugas settled near the Seneca at the mouth of the Humber River wishing to transfer their trade to the English. By 1702 a group from the mouth of the Humber River had moved to near Fort Frontenac and began attacking the Iroquois who lived there, destroying their village in 1704.

Around 1707, the Ojibwe arrived in the Niagara region unopposed by the Iroquois. The desire to trade with the British was voiced again and, in 1707, this group was joined by the Amikwa.

In 1720 the French, wanting to intercept the trade of these Ojibwe and secure their furs, built forts at the mouth of the Humber River and at Niagara.

At the same time other Ojibwa extended their occupation of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. In 1723 Ojibwes resided along the Saginaw River; in 1737 the Rivière aux Sables; and in the 1740’s expanded into the area of L’Arbre Croche.

In 1736 war broke out between the Ojibwe and the Dakota after a party of 21 Frenchmen were killed by the latter. The Ojibwe, on the pretext of revenge, attacked the Dakota at Lake Pepin to show their displeasure of French policy of co-operation. By the 1740s, the Dakota had been driven out of the Lac Court Oreilles and Lac Flambeau where they had established permanent villages.

At the outbreak of King George’s War (1744-1748), the Mississauga sent warriors to Montréal to join the French in attacks on the British. However, the war resulted in a serious shortage of trade goods in the west due to the British naval blockade of Nouvelle-France and prices increased. In 1745, the Ojibwe began trading guns with the British and drove the Dakota people further west and south. In 1747, Ojibwe and Odawa murdered French traders on Lake Superior. Only the restoration of the fur trade and a policy of reconciliation after the war restored relations with the French. The Mississauga remained antagonistic the longest.

After the Battle of Kathio in 1750 not a single Dakota village existed east of the Mississippi.

In 1752, Ojibwe warriors were part of an Odawa force led by the Charles Langlade that attacked the Miami village of Pickawillany, centred on British trading activity, south of Lake Erie.

In July and August 1754, the Odawa at Michilimackinac brought together some 1,200 delegates including from the Ojibwe. The French sent 200 Troupes de la Marine and many more militia to demonstrate how serious they were about fighting the British. They discussed amongst themselves but also held talks with the French. After 12 days, the Anishinaabeg, including the Ojibwe, declared that they were going to war, leading to the formal start of war between indigenous nations and the British.

Role during the War


On July 9, 1755, among 637 Native American warriors a party of Ojibwe with Odawa men from Michilimackinac, along with Potawatomi and Wyandot fought alongside the French at the combat of the Monongahela, where they attacked along the flanks of the British column thereby winning the day.


In 1756, Mississauga warriors travelled to Montréal to take part in the operations on Lake Champlain. On June 8, 21 Mississauga sang the war song with the commander of the Béarn Infanterie at Toronto and danced the pipe dance at the fort. On July 12, a party of 10 Ojibwe warriors arrived at Montréal.

On September 6, an ox was given by the French to about 150 Ojibwe, Odawa and Canadian Iroquois for a feast and to sing the war song. More Ojibwe arrived on September 11. The Ojibwe in a council stated that they had not seen the enemy close to and enough, and agreed to leave that evening to make a raid toward Lydius (Fort Edward). At the end of October most of the Ojibwe agreed to over winter at Carillon, the rest going home to bring more men in the spring.

On December 18, at Montréal, Mississauga warriors were part of a force of 400 Canadian Iroquois and Milice that was preparing for a strike at Fort William Henry from the Saint-Laurent.


On May 22, 1757, 30 Mississauga from the renowned leader Minabonjou’s band arrived at Montréal.

On June 4, several drunk Mississauga warriors threatened to destroy Fort Toronto after they had complained that some Oneida had struck against them. M. de Laferté, a captain in La Sarre Infanterie, with 50 men and a few Potawatomi warriors put an end to the altercation.

On June 12 many Mississauga and Odawa arrived at Montréal. More Mississauga and Ojibwe arrive on June 14. The capture of Oswego the previous year had made a great impression on them according to Bougainville.

Between July 1 and 12, there was a council with Native Americans. Bougainville noted the Ojibwe from Pointe Chequamegon on Lake Superior did not attend being estranged from the Meskwaki whom they considered had made the Dakota attack them.

By July 20, a party of 166 Saulteaux warriors and another party of 157 Mississauga warriors had joined the French forces assembling for an expedition against Fort William Henry. On the same day, at a council with the French, the Ojibwe and Odawa decided to leave on the following evening, dividing their force, part going along the east shore of Lake Saint-Sacrement, another on the west side and a third on the lake itself to reconnoitre Fort William Henry. They brought to Montcalm sticks as many as men in the party.

On July 22, M. de Saint-Luc and the Abbés Piquet and Matavet arrived at Carillon with 46 Algonquins, 53 Nipissings, 50 Kahnawake Mohawk and 8 Ojibwe.

Colonel John Parker and the New Jersey ‘Blues’ had been sent out by Colonel Monroe commanding at Fort William Henry to scout Fort Carillon. They were discovered by Ojibwe scouts and Charles-Michel de Langlade’s force of 400 Odawa and Ojibwe, 50 French soldiers and militia set out to intercept them. On July 23, they successfully ambushed the New Jersey ‘Blues’ in 20 whale boats at Sabbath Day Point on Lac Saint-Sacrement. The New Jersey provincials lost 280 men as casualties or captured out of total of 359 men. One warrior was slightly wounded.

On July 28, 157 Ojibwe from 5 locations: 32 Chequamegon; 24 Castor; 14 Chaoschimagan; 37 La Carpe; and 50 Kakiboncké, and 141Mississauga from 3 locations; 35 Toronto; 43 La Carpe; and 63 La Loutre, were present, although some Mississauga left before the siege.

The siege of Fort William Henry started on August 4 and lasted until August 9, during which time Native Americans were deployed as an observation screen in woods around the perimeter of the cleared land.

During that campaign, Native American warriors contracted smallpox and brought back the disease to their villages that winter. However, the effects on the Ojibwe, except for those around Michilimackinac, seem to have been limited, L’Arbre Croche was entirely depopulated.


On August 1, 1758, a party of 42 Mississauga warriors arrived at Carillon to take part in the operations on Lake Champlain.

On August 23, Joseph Marin de la Malgue and 3 Frenchmen went with 10 Mississauga ‘to attempt an adventure’ at the end of Lake Saint-Sacrement.

At the end of August, the Mississauga asked to leave Carillon.


In 1759, Chief Mamongesseda and his Ojibwe warriors joined the French for the defense of Quebec. On June 18, about 70 Odawa and Saulteaux warriors arrived at Québec.

On September 13, Ojibwe warriors may have been amongst those who sniped at the British left flank at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.


On June 14, 1760 the Mississauga returning from Oswego passed a message that the British army was on its way to the Oswegatchies (largely Onondaga with some Oneida and Cayuga living near present-day Ogdensburg, NY) that if they did not want to die they should go to Toniata, an island above Owesgathie.


In 1761, the Ojibwe of Mackinac were on the verge of war with the Menominee and Winnebago, but the British negotiated peace.

On September 11 at a Detroit council, Mississauga delegate Wabbicommicott presented a calumet to the Mohawks and declared, ‘... this pipe which is known by all the Nations here, I give to you Brethren of the Mohocks, to smoak out of it in your councils with your brother Warraghiyagey’ [Sir William Johnson].

In September, Sir Jeffrey Amherst was appointed Governor General of British North America and authorised to carry out Indian Policy. which included reducing the costs of trade goods and the ceasing of giving presents, a cultural act of goodwill. There was already lack of trade goods in the Lakes and Ohio country and this policy angered Native Americans, going against the agreed treaty. He also withheld the sale of gunpowder and lead, where families depended on hunting and pelts for trading, and banned the sale of alcohol.


British traders were killed at Sault Sainte-Marie by Ojibwe. Thomas Gage wrote that he was not surprised. ‘From the manner in which they traded & which Our traders now follow, I shall not wonder if I hear on many Accidents of this Nature in Other places.’

If the British did not act like ritual fathers or brothers then they were potential enemies. Famine and epidemic, rife at the time, coupled with British trade policy, created the Anishinaabe image of the British as enemies, a malevolent people bound neither by kinship not ritual obligations. War belts were being distributed including from Détroit. In the following year, the Ojibwe took part in the war (Pontiac’s War) to expel the British occupation of the sovereign territories of indigenous nations from the Ohio and Great Lakes region.


The Ojibwe are likely to have followed the general Anishinaabe fashion of the region. Bougainville stated in June 1757 that he saw, ‘... no difference in their dress, ornaments, dances and songs of these different nations. They are naked save for a breechclout, and painted black, red, blue, etc. Their heads are shaved and feather ornament them. In their lengthened ear [lobes] are rings of brass wire. They have beaver skins for covering, and carry lances, arrows and quivers made of buffalo skin.’ However, he was able to distinguish between the music of the Odawa and the Winnebago (a Siouan speaking nation from the western Great Lakes).


Ojibwe men generally wore their hair long as it would grow and plaited it into either four braids, two each side of the ear, or two braids. On the warpath they would additionally braid a scalplock at the back of the head or a half-braided tuft 6 – 8 inches tall bound with bark or red cloth on top of the head.

However, others, probably the more eastern bands - Mississauga men admired the Mohawk as warriors and copied their fashions -, shaved their head leaving a patch of long hair on the crown, which was braided. The French soldier J. C. B. may have observed Ojibwe delegates amongst many other nations representatives at a council at Michilimackinac in 1753. He described: ‘Generally speaking, [they] do not keep any hair on their bodies.... keep it only on the back of the head. There it is cut short, leaving one of two long strands, dyed black [?], which they braid and let hang to their shoulders. There is none on the rest of the body, for they are careful to pluck it. Some even pull out [their] eyelashes and eyebrows, as well as any down the body.’


It is likely that feathers and other items were worn in the scalplock according to the man’s spiritual experiences. Amongst the western Ojibwe bands eagle or turkey feathers tipped with red flannel or with horsehair dyed red indicated a man who had secured a scalp A split feather indicated the wearer had been wounded and a large red spot wounded by a firearm.

A circular roach of red dyed moose hair and porcupine guard secured with a bone spreader was worn by some men. It is fixed to the head by passing a scalp braid through the spreader and secured with a wooden pin to the head. The spreader could have a bone or wood socket into which a single eagle feather was fixed so that it could revolve with the wearer’s movement.

Otter fur turbans were worn by some for occasions. These could be decorated with silver broaches. Woven sashes could also have been used as turbans. Headbands or cylinders of bark, covered with cloth and decorated with quillwork or silver broaches with upright feathers were likely to have been worn by particular men for special occasions.

Tattoo and Paint

Tattooing of the face and body was practised as an alternative to painting. Tattoos in the form of some animal, such as an eagle, a snake or other figure were ingrained with powdered charcoal. Linear patterns were also used extensively. The French soldier J.C. B. stated that: ‘Many... are accustomed to tattoo the whole body.’ He goes on to state: ‘He dips the points [of the needles] in the colour desired, which is prepared from alder charcoal or gunpowder; from red earth or vermillion; or blue, green and the like; all bright colours.’

J. C. B. observed that: ‘Others are satisfied with painting the face and body in different colours, first rubbing themselves with bear grease, and then daubing on black, red blue and green’ and ‘They painted themselves red and black, then sang the war song’ and ‘They do this by dipping their fingers in the colour with which they want to paint their faces in every direction, forming stripes across and down the face.’

Lyford (1942) writes that: ‘The Ojibwa used color on their faces. In the early days the cheeks and forehead were tattooed in different colors. The faces of warriors were covered with vermillion.’ For war paint special medicine was mixed in.

Bougainville writing in 1756 observed: ‘We marched through the woods in several files, the Indians almost naked, all in black and red war paint.’ Alexander Henry visiting the Chipeways of Chagouemigon in the 1760s, stated that: ‘The men painted their whole body as their faces; sometimes with charcoal, and sometimes with white ochre; and appear to study how to make themselves as unlike as possible to anything human.’ However,white is unlikely to have been used as war paint. Henry also stated that their faces are painted with charcoal, worked up in grease, their body in white clay patterns...’ The Ojibwe were described as plastering their bare backs in summer with white clay, which when dry and hard, they painted all sorts of figures on their backs or scratched out designs allowing the skin to show.

Ears and Nose

Ojibwe men had pierced ears for rings from which hung ornaments of silver or shell. Some Mississauga and eastern Ojibwe men may have cut the helix of their ear. J. C. B. describes: ‘Most of the Indians split the ends of the ears from top to bottom, without cutting the edge which holds them together. They bend a long flat lead strip through and around the length of the slit. The weight of the lead naturally stretches the flesh. When healed, the remove the lead and substitute brass wire twisted like a corkscrew, and bent into a half circle as large as the opening. The amount sometimes to five or six inches. When the man walks, this flaps and looks like a pump going up and down. Often the weight of this pulls the upper part of the ear loose, and when this happens, they let it dangle... But whether left hanging or not, the savages tie the two ears together behind the head when they go to war or go hunting, so they will not be hinder in running. It is only when they dress up that they let their ears hang. Then they put feathers and pieces of fur dyed various colours into the wire. This makes a plume on each side of the head.’

Ojibwe men wore nose rings often with pendent silver ornaments.

Ornaments, Necklaces and Neck Pouches

Broaches of silver, replacing those of copper or brass, became increasingly abundant through the 18th century in adorning clothing, although more particularly amongst the western Ojibwe after 1760. There were several designs of broach. The simplest and most numerous was a ring across which a tongue extended like a buckle. This is affixed to cloth by pinching the material up so that the tongue penetrates it twice and when drawn back holds it firmly in place. Smaller ones can often line the edges of breechclouts, etc. whilst those of larger diameter decorated the upper body of shirts. Another very common broach fixed in the same manner is a circular ornate disc perforated with punched out or embossed regular patterns which can have embossed or crenulated edges sometimes known as a round buckle.

Necklaces of wampum, imitation wampum or glass beads were likely to have been worn. Pendants could have consisted of large shells or silverwork such as French coins with the king’s head, cross of Lorraine or a crucifix. In the French and Indian War period, Pierre Pouchot stated that men, ‘... wear around the neck, a collar pendent like our order of knighthood [probably referring to the gorget worn by army officers at that period].

As amongst other eastern woodland peoples Ojibwe men could have worn bracelets and or armbands of silver, although the latter were rarer amongst the Ojibwe than other nations.

A tobacco pouch could also have been worn around the neck and in which was kept a man’s personal pipe. The tobacco pouch made of the skins of animals with the hairy side turned outwards. Slit pouches of animal skins were also worn over the belt.

Pouch, southeastern Ojibwe, with porcupine quills, from Boston Museum Collection - Source: Photo by Daderot in Wikimedia Commons
Anishinaabe, Ojibwa pouch - Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art, via Wikimedia Commons

‘The Indians are fond of wearing rings upon all their fingers.’

Breechclout and Apron

Bougainville writing of Michilimackinac men in June 1757 commented that: ‘They go naked except for a breechclout. Their bearing is noble and proud.’

J.C.B. recorded that ‘The loincloth is made of deerskin or cloth obtained from Europeans. It is a quarter or third cloth that the men wind between their legs. The piece of cloth is held in place around the hips with a cord. The two ends of the loincloth are folded over in front and in the back, with the end in front longer than the one in the back.’


Alexander Henry visiting the ‘Chipeways of Chagouemigon’ on Lake Superior (western Ojibwe) in the 1760s, stated that the clothes of, ‘... both men and women, were chiefly of dressed deerskin, European manufactures having been for some time out of their reach.’

Ojibwe men wore half leggings which were fitted tightly to the leg with double flaps or wings hanging feely down the outside that reached mid-thigh and attached to the belt with thongs. Some had a single flap at the back with the front stitched on the inside forming the outer seam of the legging. However, the flaps of Ojibwe leggings were said to be narrower than other peoples. For best wear each flap was decorated with ribbon, edge beading, moose hair embroidery, broaches and braid. Those worn on the trail are likely to have been plain half or full leggings of blue or red cloth, or of buckskin. Full length skin leggings may have been worn in winter, with fringes on the outer seam instead of a flap.

J.C.B stated: ‘When it is wished to make this kind of stocking ornamental it is trimmed with ribbon sewed together or in points on the edge of the flapping outside strip. To ornament this the savages often add porcupine quills fashioned in various colours, as well as animal fur dyed red. They also fasten little bells sold to them by Europeans.’


Pierre Pouchot observed that, generically, ‘... they wear garters of beads [probably loomed wampum in geometric patterns of white and dark blue black], or porcupine quills [in red, black, blue, yellow and white], bordered four fingers wide, which are tied on the legs.’ Garters were also made of woven woollen fibres typically dyed red with white bead patterns incorporated into the weave. J.C. B. noted that garters could also be timed with little bells, ‘... or with small pieces of copper three or four lignes in length, made like the ends of shoelaces but widened to a cornet shape [cones]. They are attached so closely that they touch and make a sound that can be heard from afar when the man or woman is wearing them in motion.’ Some Ojibwe also used a thong for the same purpose.


Ojibwe moccasins were made of smoked moose or buckskin. One style, common the eastern woodlands had a puckered centre seam along the instep. They had cuffs split at the back (women’s moccasins were made with a single cuff around the ankle). Another style was a two-piece moccasin style with a separate vamp over the instep, which had puckered stitching around the join of the two pieces The name ‘Ojibwe’ means ‘puckered seam’. Both were fastened under the cuff and tied at the instep with a thong. During the winter moccasins are made larger so that they could be lined with rabbit skin, moose hair and or old blanket and the cuffs wrapped up around the ankles. Snow shoes were worn when there was snow during the winter.


A European shirt, cut in contemporary European fashion, obtained from French traders and increasingly from itinerant English sources from the 1740s, was also popular and could be daubed with grease and paint to waterproof it over the shoulders. Shirts were usually of linen or muslin usually in white or plain colours. Some of the most requested fabrics included cotton, chintz and calico in bright prints. Shirts could also have front and cuff ruffles.

Blankets and Coats

Trade blankets, usually of blue or red woollen cloth, and skin robes were worn for warmth. At the time French blankets were considered of better quality than those supplied by the British.

Winter coats and pointed hoods were made from old blankets. The coats were belted and the hoods were often made to extend down the back to the waist, with a belt holding them in place. A muskrat skin, tanned with the hair on was worn as a ‘chest protector’ by men when hunting.

During the 18th century European dress continued to be sought by some principal men as a symbol of their role amongst their people, particularly when dealing with Europeans who would have recognised the status of the wearer by his dress. Hats and coats (but not breeches) of European origin and of higher quality marked men as diplomatic mediators. For the Ojibwe these were likely to have been obtained from the French at Détroit or Michilimackinac. These are likely to have been in a contemporary military style in blue, red or yellow unlined woollen fabric, about 40” long and laced with fine brass wire.


Pierre Pouchot described generically the equipment carried by Native American men. ‘The men wear a belt about six inches wide, made of wool of different colour, which the Indian women make very neatly, of flaming designs. They hung to this belt their mirrors and their tobacco pouch, which is the skin of an otter, beaver, cat or bird taken off whole and tanned, into which they put their pipe tobacco and steel. They have also a pocket hanging like a wallet, for carrying their balls and lead for hunting or war. They have an ox horn with a shoulder strap for carrying powder. Their knife is hung in a sheaf from the neck, and falls upon the breast. They also have a crooked knife or a curved sword, and they make great use of this.’

By the beginning of the 18th century the standard trade musket that armed the Ojibwe was manufactured in France at the Tulle arsenal. The .62 calibre ‘fusil de chasse’ or hunting musket has a 44-inch octagon-to-round barrel and the lock plate is marked with the name of the arsenal spelt as TVLLE. After 1745 the ‘V’ changed to a ‘U’. Characteristically the stock had a drooped ‘cow’s foot’ butt. From the 1740’s the Ojibwe were also obtaining their firearms from Euro-American traders. These trade guns were short, light flintlock muskets of .66 or smaller calibre, called fusils, fuzee or fuke and were approximately similar to the later ‘Northwest gun’.

A powder horn and a shot pouch would have been worn over the shoulder and high up under the arm to minimise them flapping about whilst moving. Shot pouches were often made of woven fibre with white bead patterns woven into the threads; or of black dyed deerskin with quillwork and white bead edging with a fringe of metal cones filled with red dyed deer hair. The panel of these bags could be decorated with quilled geometric designs and with images of thunderbirds, underwater panthers or turtles. Straps were of woven fibre or loomed imitation or real wampum. A knife was carried in a sheaf, often decorated with geometric quillwork, hung around the neck.

A tomahawk or warclub was carried stuffed through a belt or sash at the back or on the hip. Woven woollen sashes were wrapped twice around the waist with the fringe hanging down before. Pouchot describes, ‘The men wear a belt about six inches wide, made of wool of different colours, which the Indian women make very neatly, with flaming designs. They hung to this belt their mirrors and their tobacco pouch, which is the skin of an otter beaver, cat or bird, taken off whole and tanned, into which they put their pipe tobacco and steel. They have also a pocket like a wallet, for carrying their balls and lead for hunting and war. They carry their mirror and tomahawk upon their hips.’


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Larry Burrows for a major overhaul of the entire article