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Ojibwe History & Culture - The “First” People
People of the Ojibwe First Nations are one of the largest groups of aboriginal people living in Canada and the United States. In some regions, in Minnesota and Wisconsin for example, the name Chippewa is used rather than Ojibwe. The languages that most Ojibwe people speak are typically referred to as, “Ojibwe” or “Oji-Cree,” which are branches of the Algonquian language family.
First Nations People of Canada are known for their incredible sense of humor. We often find humor in most aspects of our lives. One trapper from Eabametoong First Nation once returned to his cabin after being in the bush all day and discovered that his cabin was engulfed in flames. Luckily, no-one was inside at the time. His response was short, precise and yet so very typical, “Well, that sure is a good fire!”
There are approximately 80,000 People of the Ojibwe First Nation living in various regions of Canada, and many have continued to live the traditional lifestyle of hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering from the land. In many First Nations, community elders have continued to pass along the teachings of their mothers and fathers, so the younger generation will stay in touch with their culture and their ancestry.
Ingenuity and Harvest
The birch bark canoe is just one of many Ojibwe marvels of ingenuity that were so much appreciated by Europeans as far back as the early 1500s. The fur trade, which soon developed, could not possibly have become the enormous industry that it did, were it not for the birch bark canoe, all made from local, natural resources and hand tools, also made by hand. The canoe builders couldn’t simply hop in their truck and “head down to Home Depot” to buy rope or glue in those days… it all came from the land.
Many community members still make absolutely beautiful, hand crafted mitts and moccasins, decorated in traditional furs and beadwork. Moose and caribou hides are tanned, conditioned and made into some of the world’s finest leather goods.
In modern times, we, the Ojibwe, are known as the best harvesters of wild rice and our bounty is sold in markets around the globe. If you find some wild rice for sale in your local gift shop or market, it likely came by way of Ojibwe harvesters. Many marshes and bays of our traditional gathering grounds are chalked full of wild rice, which attracts ducks and geese by the hundreds of thousands annually. These delicious fowl remain a staple of our diet to this day and the world’s most “sleep friendly” pillows and down blankets are made from the feathers and down of these wonderful birds.
Many Ojibwe families are designated into clans (“doodem” in our language) that are connected through kinship or descent. Ojibwe clans include the sucker clan, sturgeon clan, pelican clan, caribou clan, and the moose clan, just to name a few.
Spiritual Beliefs and Traditions
Spiritual beliefs are a very important part of the lives of Ojibwe People. While some have converted from their traditional ways of honoring “The Creator,” to one of many Christian faiths, most Ojibwe People live by the same traditional rituals and spiritual beliefs that we have appreciated for thousands of years. These beliefs help to guide us through life.
Dream Catchers, hand made by many Ojibwe people, are sold in many arts and crafts shops around the world and do make nice decorations. But, to us, the Dream Catcher has a more significant meaning. When placed above the beds of our children it is said to stop bad dreams from reaching the young sleeper. According to the teachings of our elders, adults are expected to experience the dream and interpret it, with hopes of the dream guiding them through life.
Traditional ceremonies such as the Sundance, Traditional Drumming and the use of the Sweat Lodge to cleanse the spirit are commonly experienced by many First Nations across Canada. Among the Ojibwe People, tobacco offerings are appropriate when we take something from the land. An eagle is considered a sacred animal and an eagle feather is often held out to The Creator during prayer ceremonies. If an Ojibwe Person offers you an eagle feather as a gift or an expression of friendship, it is a great honor, especially, if the gift is put forth by The Chief of the Band or Tribe.
Treaties of the Ojibwe First Nations
In the northwestern Ontario area, there are three main First Nations regions known as “Treaty Areas.” First, the Robison – Superior Treaty, signed in 1850, comprises most of the areas running north and east of Lake Superior. Encompassing an area a little farther north and continuing up to the shores of Hudson Bay is Treaty 9, first signed in 1905. West of Thunder Bay, over to the Lake of the Woods area and up to the Lac Seul area is Treaty 3, first signed in 1873.
Tribal Councils and Affiliations
Matawa First Nations Management is a non-profit Regional Chief’s Council that represents aboriginal of the First Nations in the region, including the communities that own and operate the Moccasin Trails camps. The management group provides services in terms of advisory services, technical services, administration and finance, education, health and social services, employment and training and economic development. There are many, many valuable natural resources within the Matawa region such as mineral deposits and forestry developments.
The President and CEO of Matawa First Nations Management is David Paul Achneepineskum, who is originally from Marten Falls First Nation on the Albany River. David Paul is also the executive producer of the new television series, “Moccasin Trails with RD,” which is a new program aimed at showcasing the exciting fishing and hunting vacation opportunities of Ontario’s far north.
The other Tribal Councils of Northwestern Ontario are:
Nishnawbe Aski Nation (also known as NAN) ᐊᓂᐦᔑᓈᐯ ᐊᔅᑭ ᐃᔥᑯᓂᑲᓇᓐ ᐅᑭᒫᐎᓐ
There are 49 First Nations communities represented by NAN in northwestern Ontario. The current Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation is Stan Beardy, who is originally from Bearskin Lake First Nation and has family ties in Muskrat Dam First Nation.
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