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Chippewa Indian Fact Sheet (Ojibwe, Ojibway)

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

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What is the difference between Chippewa, Ojibway, Ojibwe, and Ojibwa?
There is no difference. All these different spellings refer to the same people. In the United States more people use 'Chippewa,' and in Canada more people use 'Ojibway,' but all four of these spellings are common. Since the Ojibwe language did not originally have its own alphabet, spellings of Ojibwe words in English can sometimes vary a lot, and most people use them interchangeably.

What does "Ojibwe" mean? How do you pronounce it?
Ojibwe comes from an Algonquian word meaning 'puckered,' probably because of the tribe's distinctive puckered style of shoes. The pronunciation is similar to o-jib-way, but many native speakers pronounce the first syllable very short or even drop it, which is why it sounded like "Chippewa" to some colonists. The Ojibway people also call themselves Anishinabe in their own language, which means 'original person.'

Where do the Chippewas live?
The Chippewas are one of the largest American Indian groups in North America. There are nearly 150 different bands of Chippewa Indians living throughout their original homeland in the northern United States (especially Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan) and southern Canada (especially Ontario, Manitoba. and Saskatchewan.) Here is a map showing the location of Chippewa and Potawatomi communities in the US and Canada.

How is the Ojibway Indian nation organized?

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

The political leader of an Ojibway band is called a chief (gimaa or ogimaa in the Ojibway language.) In the past Ojibway chiefs were men chosen by tribal councilmembers, often from among the last chief's sons, nephews, or sons-in-law. Today Ojibway chiefs can be men or women, and they are elected in most Ojibway bands, like mayors and governors.

What language do the Ojibways speak?
Most Ojibway people speak English, but some of them also speak their native Ojibway language. Ojibway is a musical language that has complicated verbs with many parts. If you'd like to know a few easy Ojibway words, aaniin (pronunciation ah-neen) means "hello" and miigwech (pronunciation mee-gwetch) means "thank you." You can listen to an Ojibway man talk his language here and read an Ojibway picture dictionary here.

What was Ojibway culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here is a link to the Mille Lacs Ojibwe tribe of Minnesota. On their homepage you can learn about Ojibwe history and view photographs from the Ojibwe Museum.

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

      Ojibway string game
They do the same things any children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Ojibway 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 Ojibway kids did have dolls and toys to play with, and older boys liked to play lacrosse. Like many Native Americans, Ojibway mothers traditionally carried their babies in cradleboards on their backs. Here are some pictures of Native American cradle boards.

What were Ojibway men and women's roles?
Ojibway 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. Ojibway men and women worked together to harvest wild rice. An Ojibway man used a pole to steer through the reeds, while his wife knocked rice grains into the canoe. Some Ojibway people still use canoes for ricing today.

What were Ojibway homes like in the past?

Ojibway birchbark house
There were two types of dwellings used by the Chippewas. In the woodlands, Ojibway people lived in villages of birchbark houses called waginogans, or wigwams. On the Great Plains, the Ojibwas lived in large buffalo-hide tents called tipis. The Plains Ojibwa were nomadic people, and tipis (or tepees) were easier to move from place to place than a waginogan. Here are some pictures of wigwam, tipi, and other Indian houses. Today, Native Americans only build a wigwam or tepee for fun or to connect with their heritage, not as shelter. Most Ojibways live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

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

  Chippewa chief

 Ojibwa moccasin
Chippewa women wore long dresses with removable sleeves. Chippewa men wore breechcloths and leggings. Everybody wore moccasins on their feet and cloaks or ponchos in bad weather. Later, the Chippewas adapted European costume such as cloth blouses and jackets, decorating them with fancy beadwork. Here are more pictures of Ojibway clothing styles, and some photographs and links about Native American clothes in general.

Traditionally, the Chippewas wore leather headbands with feathers standing straight up in the back. In times of war, some Chippewa men shaved their heads in the Mohawk style, with a single strip of hair standing up high in the middle of the man's head. Otherwise, Chippewa men and women both wore their hair in long braids. A Chippewa warrior might wear a porcupine roach, which you can still see today at pow-wows. In the 1800's, some Chippewa chiefs began wearing long headdresses like their neighbors the Dakota Sioux. Here are some pictures of these different styles of Native American headdress. The Chippewas painted their faces and arms with bright colors for special occasions. They used different patterns for war paint and festive decoration. Some Chippewas, especially men, also wore tribal tattoos.

Today, some Chippewa 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 Ojibway transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?

    Ojibway birchbark canoe
Yes--the Ojibway Indian tribe was well-known for their birchbark canoes. Canoeing is still popular in the Ojibway nation today, though few people handcraft their own canoe from birch bark anymore. Here is a website of birchbark canoe pictures. Over land, Chippewa people used dogs as pack animals. (There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.) The Chippewas used sleds and snowshoes to help them travel in the winter.

Today, of course, the Chippewas also use cars... and non-native people also use canoes.

Chippewa woman    Chippewa man
 harvesting rice         spear-fishing
What was Ojibway food like in the days before supermarkets?
Ojibway bands lived in different environments, so they didn't all eat the same types of foods. Woodland Chippewas were mostly farming people, harvesting wild rice and corn, fishing, hunting small game, and gathering nuts and fruit. Here is a website about Ojibwe wild rice. The Plains Ojibwa were big-game hunters, and bison meat made up most of their diet. Here is a website with more information about traditional Native American food.

What were Ojibway weapons and tools like in the past?
Ojibway warriors used bows and arrows, clubs, flails, and hide shields. Hunters also used snares to catch birds, and when Plains Ojibway men hunted buffalo, they often set controlled fires to herd the animals into traps or over falls. Here is a website with pictures and more information about Native American weapons. Woodland Chippewas used spears or fishhooks with sinew lines for fishing, and special paddles called knockers for ricing.

What are Ojibway arts and crafts like?

    Ojibway beadwork
Ojibway artists are known for their beautiful bead embroidery, particularly floral design. Other traditional Ojibway crafts include Native American baskets and birch bark boxes. Like other eastern American Indians, the Ojibways 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 symbols and designs on wampum belts often told a story or represented a person's family.

Is there an Ojibwe art project I can do for school?
Beadwork and basket-weaving are complicated art forms which you would not be able to learn in time. We recommend trying your hand at making a dreamcatcher. Dreamcatchers are a traditional Ojibwe craft made by children and parents as mobiles for babies. They are often said to ensure good dreams, though their Ojibwe name, asabikeshiinh, just means "little web." Traditionally dreamcatchers were made out of bent twigs and some sinew thread, but you could make one out of any round frame and string. Here are some good online instructions about how to make a dreamcatcher.

What is Ojibwe music like?
The two most important Ojibwe instruments are the drum and the flute. Ojibwe drums were usually large and several men would play them together at tribal festivals and ceremonies. Flutes were carved from wood are were most often used to play love songs. Here is a video of drummers performing a song at the Leech Lake Ojibwe pow wow.

What other Native Americans did the Chippewa tribe interact with?
The most important Chippewa trading partners were actually other Chippewas. There were many different Ojibway bands, and they were closely allied with each other. The Chippewa Indians were also allies with their nearest kinfolk, the Ottawa and Potawatomi tribes. The Ottawa, Potawatomi, and Ojibway tribes called themselves the Council of Three Fires. The Ojibway tribe frequently fought with rivals like the Iroquois and the Sioux tribes.

What kinds of stories do the Chippewas tell?
There are many Ojibway legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Ojibway Indian culture. Many traditional Ojibway stories taught important lessons to children, while others were just for fun. Here is one legend about the origin of the robin, and another about the creation of the Earth. Here's a website where you can read more about Ojibwe mythology.

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

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy The Birchbark House, an interesting historical tale by Native American author Louise Erdrich about an Ojibway girl growing up in the 1800's. Younger readers may like Shannon, Ojibway Dancer, about a contemporary Ojibway girl and her family. If you want to know more about Ojibway history and culture, two good sources for kids are Ojibwe Lifeways and Ojibwe. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended Indian books for kids. Disclaimer: we are an Amazon affiliate and our website earns a commission if you buy a book for sale at 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 Ojibway Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Chippewas

Ojibway Indian Tribe
An overview of the Ojibway Indians, their language and history.

Ojibwe Language Resources
Ojibway language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Ojibwe Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Ojibway people past and present.

Ojibwe Words
Chippewa Indian vocabulary lists.

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