The Ojibwe Peoples and Their Culture

The Ojibwe, Anishinaabe or Chippewa (also Ojibwa, Ojibway, Chippeway, Aanishanabe, or Anishinabeg) is the largest group of Native Americans/First Nations north of Mexico, including Métis. They are the third largest in the USA, surpassed only by Cherokee and Navajo. They are about equally divided between the United States and Canada.

Because they formerly were located mainly around Sault Ste. Marie, at the outlet of Lake Superior, the French referred to them as Saulteurs; Ojibwa who subsequently moved to the Prairie provinces of Canada have retained the name Saulteaux.

The major component group of the Anishinaabe, in the US they number over 100,000 living in an area stretching across the north from Michigan to Montana.

Another 76,000, in 125 bands, live in Canada, stretching from western Québec to eastern British Columbia.

They are known for their birch bark canoes, sacred birch bark scrolls, the use of cowrie shells, wild rice, copper points, and for the fact that they were the only Native Americans to defeat the Sioux at times and were never defeated by the US Army.

The Ojibwe Nation was the first to set the agenda for signing more detailed treaties with Canada's leaders before too many settlers were allowed too far west.

The M'dewiwin Society was well respected as the keeper of detailed and complex scrolls of events, history, songs, maps, memories, stories, geometry, astronomy, and mathematics.

The autonym for this group of Anishinaabeg is "Ojibwe" (plural: Ojibweg). This name is commonly anglicized as "Ojibwa". The name "Chippewa" is an anglicized corruption of "Ojibwa". Although many variations exist in literature, "Chippewa" is more common in the USA and "Ojibwa" predominates in Canada, but both terms are used in both countries.

The exact meaning of the name "Ojibwe" is not known; however, two most common explanations are 1) it is derived from "Ojiibwabwe" meaning "[Those who] cook until it puckers" referring to their fire-curing of moccasin seams to make them water-proof and 2) the most likely, it is derived from the word "Ozhibii'iweg" meaning "[Those who] keep Records of a Vision" referring to their form of pictorial writing, and pictographs used in Midewiwin rites.

Across many Ojibwa communities across Canada and the US, the more generalized name of "Anishinaabe(-g)" is becoming more common. Anishinaabeg call each other "Shinobs."


Many still speak the Ojibwe language known as Anishinaabemowin or Ojibwemowin. The language belongs to the Algonquian linguistic group, and is descended from Proto-Algonquian. Among its sister languages are Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Cree, Fox, Menominee, Potawatomi, and Shawnee. Anishinaabemowin is frequently referred to as a "Central Algonquian" language; however, Central Algonquian is an regional grouping rather than a genetic one.

Ojibwemowin is the fourth most spoken Native language in North America (after Navajo, Cree, and Inuktitut). Many decades of fur trading with the French established the language as one of the key trade languages of the Great Lakes and the northern Great Plains.

The Ojibwe presence was made highly visible among non-Native Americans and around the world by the popularity of Longfellow's 1855 epic poem, The Song of Hiawatha. Many toponyms with an origin in Ojibwa words are found in this epic. "Nokomis" means "grandmother" and "Gitchie Gumie" means "Great Lake" or "Sea".