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Anishinabe Indian Fact Sheet

This website was written for young people seeking Anishinaabe Indian information for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our main Anishinaabe language and culture pages for in-depth information about the Anishinaabe tribe, but here are our answers to common questions asked by kids, with Anishinabe pictures and links suitable for all ages. Photographs are the property of the sources we have credited.

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   Anishinaabe Tribe

Anishinaabe mothers past and present

Who are the Anishinaabe? Are they one tribe, or several different tribes?
They are several different tribes. "Anishinaabe" is an ethnic term, referring to the shared culture and related languages of the Algonquian tribes of the Great Lakes area. Tribes that refer to themselves as Anishinaabe include the Ojibway, Algonquin, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Saulteaux, Nipissing, and Mississauga, as well as some Oji-Cree and Metis communities. These tribes are not identical to each other, and they have their own individual identities and independent leadership. But they all share kinship ties and cultural traditions.

Does everyone in these tribes use the name Anishinaabe for themselves?
Not everyone. Some communities use this word only in religious or spiritual contexts. Others use it as a general synonym for "Native American." And still other communities do not use this name at all, preferring to call themselves by regional names instead. Most people who belong to these tribes do identify as Anishinaabe, though.

What does "Anishinaabe" mean? Why is it spelled so many different ways?
Anishinaabe means "original person." It is spelled many different ways because the different Anishinaabe tribes speak different tribes and dialects. "Anishinaabe" is the Ojibwe spelling of the word, usually pronounced similar to uh-NISH-ih-NAH-bay. In Potawatomi, the same word is spelled "Neshnabé" and is pronounced more like nesh-NAH-beah, rhyming with "yeah." Other common spellings of the name include Anishinabe, Anishnabe, Anishnaabe, Nishnaabe, Nishnabe, Nishnawbe, Anishnawbe, and Anicinabe. When the names end in -g or -k, those are plural forms (Anishinaabeg, Anishinabeg, Anishinabek, Anishinaabek, Anishnabek, Neshnabék, Anishnabeg, etc.) Anishinaabe people who are speaking in English or French will often use plural forms with -s instead (such as Anishinaabes or Anishinabes.)

Where do the Anishinaabe live?
Many different places. There are more than 200 bands of Anishinaabe Indians living throughout the Northern United States and Southern Canada, especially concentrated in the area around the Great Lakes. Here is a map showing the original territory of the Anishinaabe tribes, and more maps showing the location of Anishinaabe reservations in the US and Canada today.

How is the Anishinabe Indian nation organized?
Each Anishinabe community lives on its own reservation (or reserve, in Canada). Reservations are lands that belong to the Anishinabes and are under their control. Communities of Anishinabe Indians are called tribes in the United States and First Nations in Canada. Each Anishinabe tribe or First Nation is politically independent and has its own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country. Some Anishinabe nations have also formed coalitions to address common problems.

The political leader of an Anishinabe band is called a chief (ogimaa, gimaa, or ogema in the Anishinabe languages.) In the past Anishinabe chiefs were usually chosen by clan leaders and elders, often from among the last chief's sons, nephews, or sons-in-law. Today, most Anishinabe bands are governed by tribal councils, and some bands also have a chief. Anishinabe chiefs and councilmembers today are usually elected to their positions, just like mayors and congressmen.

What language do the Anishinabes speak?
Most Anishinabe people speak English and/or French, but some of them also speak their native Anishinabe languages. The Anishinabe languages include Ojibwe, Algonquin, and Potawatomi. These three languages are related to each other and share some vocabulary words, similar to Spanish, French, and Italian. If you'd like to know an easy Anishinabe word, miigwech (pronunciation mee-gwetch) means "thank you." You can read a comparison between some Anishinabe vocabulary words here.

What was Anishinabe culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here is a link to the Anishinaabemdaa cultural center in Michigan. On their website you can learn about Anishinabe history, language, and culture in the past and today. Two tribal homepages where you can learn more about the different Anishinabe peoples are the Kitigan Zibi First Nation (Algonquin) and the White Earth Nation (Ojibwe).

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How do Anishinabe Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?

  Anishinabe string game
They do the same things any children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Anishinabe children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play, just like colonial children. But Anishinabe kids did have dolls and toys to play with, and older boys liked to play ball games like lacrosse. Like many Native Americans, Anishinabe mothers traditionally carried their babies in cradleboards on their backs. Here are some pictures of Native American cradleboards.

What were Anishinabe men and women's roles?
Anishinabe women were farmers and did most of the child care and cooking. Men were hunters and sometimes went to war to protect their families. Both genders practiced story-telling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine. Anishinabe chiefs were most often men, although there were exceptions. Today, these old gender roles have diminished, and there are plenty of male Anishinabe farmers and female Anishinabe leaders.

What were Anishinabe homes like in the past?

Anishinabe birchbark house
There were several different types of Anishinaabe houses. The most common were dome-shaped birchbark houses called waginogans, or wigwams. Each waginogan usually housed one family. Some Anishinaabe people built Iroquois-style longhouses instead. An entire clan would live in such a large building. On the Great Plains, some Anishinaabe lived in large buffalo-hide tents called tipis. The Plains Indians were nomadic people, and tipis (or tepees) were easier to move from place to place than a waginogan. Here are some pictures of wigwams, longhouses, tipis, and other Indian houses. Today, Native Americans only build a wigwam or tepee for fun or to connect with their heritage, not for shelter. Most Anishinabes live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Anishinabe clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?

Anishinaabe chief

Anishinaabe moccasin
Anishinaabe women usually wore long dresses with removable sleeves. Anishinaabe men wore breechcloths and leggings. Everybody wore moccasins on their feet and cloaks or ponchos in bad weather. The design of Anishinaabe clothes varied a lot from tribe to tribe, however, and Anishinaabe people could often identify each other by their clothing style. Later, the Anishinaabes adapted European costume such as cloth blouses and jackets, decorating them with fancy beadwork. Here are more pictures of Anishinabe clothing styles, and some photographs and links about Native American clothes in general.

Some Anishinaabe warriors shaved their heads in the Mohawk style, using grease to stiffen their hair so that it spiked up. Other Anishinaabe men wore their hair in two braids. Women wore their long hair either loose or in braids. Headdresses varied a lot from band to band. Many Anishinaabe people wore leather headbands with feathers standing straight up in the back. Some Anishinaabe warriors wore a porcupine roach, a turban made of otter fur, or a long feather headdress. Here are some pictures of these different styles of Native American headdress. The Anishinaabes painted their faces and arms with bright colors for special occasions. They used different patterns for war paint and festive decoration. Some Anishinaabes, especially men, also wore tribal tattoos.

Today, some Anishinaabe people still wear moccasins or a beaded shirt, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear feathers or roaches in their hair on special occasions like a dance.

What was Anishinabe transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?

Anishinabe birchbark canoe
Yes--the Anishinabe Indian tribes were well-known for their birchbark canoes. Canoeing is still popular in many Anishinabe nations today, though few people handcraft their own canoe from birch bark anymore. Here is an article with pictures of Indian birch bark canoes. Over land, Anishinaabe people used dogs as pack animals. (There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.) Many Anishinaabe people used tools like snowshoes and sleds to travel in the winter, and some of the bands furthest to the north used dogsleds. Today, of course, the Anishinaabes also use cars... and non-native people also use canoes.

Anishinaabe woman harvesting rice,
Anishinaabe man spear-fishing
What was Anishinabe food like in the days before supermarkets?
Anishinabe bands lived in different environments, so they didn't all eat the same types of foods. Woodland Anishinaabes were mostly farming people, harvesting wild rice and corn, fishing, hunting small game, and gathering nuts and fruit. Here is a website about Anishinabe wild rice. The Plains Anishinaabe were big-game hunters, and buffalo meat made up most of their diet. The Northern Anishinaabe were hunter-gatherers, and moved around frequently shooting deer and small game, fishing in rivers and lakes, and collecting wild plants. Traditional recipes included soups and stews, and a popular Anishinabe food item from the last century is frybread. Here is a website with more information about Native Americans' food in general.

What were Anishinabe weapons and tools like in the past?
Anishinabe warriors used bows and arrows, clubs, and hide shields. Hunters also used snares, and when Plains Anishinabe men hunted buffalo, they often set controlled fires to herd the animals into traps or over cliffs. Here is a website with pictures of these different kinds of Indian weapons. Woodland Anishinaabes used spears or fishhooks with sinew lines for fishing, and special paddles called knockers for ricing.

What are Anishinabe arts and crafts like?

Anishinabe beadwork
Anishinabe artists are known for their beautiful bead embroidery, particularly floral design. Other traditional Anishinabe crafts include birch bark boxes, baskets, and dreamcatchers. Some Anishinabes also crafted wampum out of white and purple shell beads. Wampum beads were traded as a kind of currency, but they were more culturally important as an art material. The designs and pictures on wampum belts often told a story or represented a person's family.

What is Anishinabe music like?
The two most important Anishinabe instruments are the drum and the flute. Anishinabe drums are usually large and several men play them together at tribal festivals and ceremonies. In some communities, however, each individual Anishinabe musician would play a smaller hand drum instead. Flutes were carved from wood are were most often used to play love songs. Here is a video of Anishinabe drummers performing a song at an Ojibwe pow wow.

What other Native Americans did the Anishinaabe tribe interact with?
The most important Anishinaabe trading partners were other Anishinaabeg. There were many different Anishinabe bands, and they interacted with each other often, including trading, intermarrying, and helping each other in times of trouble. The Ottawa, Potawatomi, and Ojibway tribes called themselves the Council of Three Fires, and they frequently allied with each other against enemies like the Iroquois Confederacy and the Dakota Sioux tribes.

What kinds of stories do the Anishinaabes tell?
There are many Anishinabe legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Anishinabe Indian culture. Many traditional Anishinabe stories taught important lessons to children. Others were just for fun. Here is one legend about how dogs came to the Anishinaabe tribe, and another about the creation of the Earth. Here is a website where you can read more about Anishinaabe mythology and symbols.

What about Anishinaabe religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Anishinaabe life, and some people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Anishinaabe people care about them deeply. You can read and learn about them, however. You can visit this site to learn more about Anishinaabe religious beliefs or this site about Native American spirituality in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy The Birchbark House, a historical tale by Native American author Louise Erdrich about an Anishinabe girl growing up in the 1800's. Younger readers may like Shannon, Ojibway Dancer, about a contemporary Anishinabe girl and her family. If you want to know more about Anishinabe history and culture, two good sources for kids are Life in an Anishinabe Camp and Ojibwe Lifeways. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended Native American books in general. Disclaimer: we are an Amazon affiliate and our website earns a commission if you buy a book through one of these links. Most of them can also be found in a public library, though!

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2020.

Thanks for your interest in the Anishinabe Indian people and their language!

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