I am currently undecided on what my future intentions are. But here is a research paper on a topic that is of interest to me.

The Ojibwa Culture

The early Ojibwa people, also known as the Chippewa, resided mainly in the northeastern regions of the United States and some further north in parts of present day Canada. The Great Lakes region was a popular location for the benefit of the abundant source of fresh water fish and forest resources. There are differing stories and myths attempting to explain the origin of these people but that is not the focus of this particular essay. The primary goal is to explain their overall way of life and methods of survival; covering aspects of their culture like the food they ate, types of houses they lived in, their location and environment, family life, social system, and spiritual or religious views. This research paper is limited to covering the culture and lifestyle of the Ojibwa excluding contact with the Europeans for the purpose of maintaining the focus of the essay.

During the late 1600s and early 1700s the Ojibwa were primarily living in the northern Great Lakes region, currently known as the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and parts of Michigan. This area was largely covered by deciduous and coniferous forestland. The Ojibwa took advantage of the forestland in many ways. They used saplings and bark to build their homes as well as harvesting the wood from different trees to build things like toboggans and snowshoes for wintertime travel.  Also, for travel during the summer they constructed canoes. These canoes were mainly made out of birch bark and the gum from spruce and pine trees. Not only was birch bark used to build canoes but also as a source to craft many of their daily use items like baskets and receptacles. The mention of canoes brings up another main feature of the land, which was the great amount of rivers, lakes, and streams. Living in this type of environment was very important to the survival of the Ojibwa. 

Another contributing factor to their survival was the variety of food available to them. The Ojibwa diet differed based on the time of year. Living through four seasons brought on the extra stress of finding a food source year round but they were well equipped to overcome this. Being semi-nomadic, the Ojibwa moved around based on the different areas of land providing better sustenance for the particular time of year. During the summer they moved to areas where crops could be grown. If the land and length of the summer season allowed for it, they would grow such crops as corns, beans, and squash. Women took a great part in gardening and harvesting crops to store for the winter. They also gathered nuts, berries, and other wild plant foods. Wild rice was harvested from the lakes during the summer. In the winter the men spent time hunting and trapping large and small animals. Some of the animals they hunted included caribou, deer, foxes, otters, and birds. Fishing was an important source of food and occurred all year round. During the spring month’s sap was gathered from maple trees. They boiled this sap until sugar was formed.

Having so many different sources of food at different times of the year required a shelter that could be easily constructed and was reliable in all sorts of conditions .The shelter of choice by the eastern woodland Ojibwa was the wigwam. This was a dome shaped structured made out of saplings and tree bark. The first step to constructing the wigwam was to build the frame. The frame was made by bending flexible tree saplings vertically across and tied in the middle to form the shape of the roof. Then more tree saplings were bent around these vertical poles to form the sides of the structure. These poles were all tied together with strips of tree bark. Panels made of bark, cloth, and sometimes-even hide from animals were used to cover the frame. On the inside the floor was covered with mats and grass. An opening was left for a doorway and a hole through the top for fire smoke. Usually one wigwam was a home big enough for a family consisting of a married couple and their children.

Marriage was most of the time based on a traditional view of marrying for survival. An Ojibwa woman would want to marry a man who was economically secure. In early times this meant having enough food and supplies to support a family. The man was looking for a woman who could take care of his family and be a nurturing mother. When it comes to kinship the basic family consisted of a husband, wife, and their children. From an early age the Ojibwa children were taught morals through storytelling and as they got older would be taught how to take on certain tasks like hunting for the young men and gathering of food and crafting for the young women. The children were expected to give respect to their parents, grandparents, and siblings. Brothers and sisters had important relationships. For example, before a sibling married it was customary to gain approval from the sibling of the opposite sex.

The Ojibwa usually lived in groups of around 100-150 people. These groups were called bands. Usually a band was formed with people related to each other, either through blood or marriage. The different bands of people had good relations with the other bands but would usually gather only for religious ceremonies or trading purposes. As far as class was set up, their society was relatively egalitarian; those who accomplished great things received greater respect and status. The early Ojibwa used a clan system. Each clan was represented by a different animal name, called a totem. Some examples of these totems were the Crane, Eagle, Bear, Marten, Catfish, and Moose. In the beginning, these totems were created to distribute different responsibilities and duties to each clan in order to benefit the survival of the nation as a whole. An example of this is that the people of the Fish clan were the teachers and scholars whereas the people of the Martin clan were responsible for the hunting and food gathering. It is also known that relations of people in the same clan could be stronger than that of people related by blood in certain situations. Also, people of the same clan were forbidden to marry. Your clan name was passed down based on your father’s clan name.

Other than their belief in the clan system, the Ojibwa had many spiritual beliefs. They believed that certain spirits inhabited objects in their surroundings such as trees, plants, and animals. These spirits controlled different aspects of their survival like the amount of harvest they received, whether they would have a successful hunting trip and also the weather. They would often give offerings the spirits. One item commonly offered to the spirits was tobacco. Shamans were the religious leaders of the Ojibwa. A shaman was a man or woman who was said to have magical powers and could control the availability of certain resources like having a plentiful source of fish. Also, in a more practical sense, they were medicine people, able to cure illnesses and provide remedies. The Ojibwa people took their belief system very seriously and gave great respect to these people of shaman status.

The Ojibwa tribe is considered to be one of the largest Native American tribes to ever exist. This is attributed to their successful adaptation to the environment of the eastern woodland region. They used almost every resource that the Earth provided them with and took nothing for granted, showing their respect for what they were given through their spiritual beliefs. This group of people was able to survive for several hundred years with limited technological advancements using only their knowledge of agricultural techniques and skills in hunting and gathering. Though the social system of the early Ojibwa wasn’t as complex and developed as some of today’s societies, their ability to sustain life through a basic lifestyle is something that can be admired by all.           


Harold Hickerson. The Chippewa and Their Neighbors. Waveland Press, Inc. 1970


Priscilla K. Buffalohead. “Farmers Warriors Traders: A Fresh Look at Ojibway Women”. Minnesota History. Vol. 48. pp. 236-244. 1983


J. V. Wright. “A Regional Examination of Ojibwa Culture History”. Anthropologica. Vol. 7. pp. 189-227. 1965


Penny Gonzalez. “Ojibwa Women and Marriage from Traditional to Modern Society”. Wicazo Sa Review. Vol. 8. pp. 31-34. 1992


Stephen T. Boggs. “Culture Change and the Personality of Ojibwa Children”. American Anthropologist. Vol. 60. pp. 47-58. 1958