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Ojibwe Customs

Ojibway Spear Fishing

Ojibway spear fishing was done at night using flaming torches at the the front of a birchbark canoe to attract fish.The Ojibway (Chippewa) reservation of Lac du Flambeau in Northern Wisconsin was named so by early French fur trappers because of the hundreds of torch-lit canoes spear fishing at night on the lake. This traditional Ojibway fishing method came under attack in Northern Wisconsin in the 1980s when the Wisconsin Chippewa attempted to reassert their treaty rights to fish in non-reservation waters. After numerous legal delays the Wisconsin Chippewa's right to spear fish in non-reservation waters was upheld by the Supreme Court.The controversy didn't end there however, as white resort owners and sport fisherman began a campaign to harass and physically prevent the Wisconsin Chippewa from continuing their centuries old tradition of spear fishing, despite the court ruling in favor of the Chippewa. Makah filmmaker Sandra Osawa's documentary "Lighting The Seventh Fire" accurately exposes the underlying motivation behind the Non-Indian forces working against Northern Wisconsin's Chippewa people, and particularly those attempting to carry on their court-upheld right to fish. By presenting the facts related to catch totals and fish populations, it becomes clear that Chippewa fishing clearly presents no threat to sustainable fish stocks. By contrast, it is the Non-Indian recreational fishing and Non-Indian industry surrounding Northern Wisconsin's many lakes and rivers which are reducing fish stocks and hatcheries. Finally, using amateur video shot at the scene, Osawa exposes the real cause for dissension and scapegoating by the Non-Indian protesters - Racism!

Ojibway Megis Shells

The Megis Shell plays an important part in Ojibway customs, oral traditions and religion. In addition to it's use for bead work and as jewelry, the Megis shell was extensively used as a means to barter and trade up and down the Eastern Seaboard. The Ojibway people, who originally lived near the St. Lawrence Sea Way in what is today Canada, were a part of the this system of trade. Furthermore, many of the neighboring Nations along the East Coast used the Megis Shell to construct Wampum Belts which were used as a "written" record for agreements between different tribes, and later for treaties between the Indians and the new White Race. For the Anishinabek; Ojibway, Potawatomi and Odawa, the Megis Shell played an important part in their migration from the St. Lawrence Sea Way area west to what is today Northern Michigan, Northern Wisconsin, Northern Minnesota, Southern Ontario, and as far west as Manitoba, and Northern Montana. According to Ojibway Oral History, each major stopping point during the Anishinabeg's migration would be marked by the appearance of the Sacred Megis Shell. According to Anishinabe Prophecies, the Ojibway people were to follow the direction of the Megis Shell and by doing so would find their final destination; a place identifiable because it was where"food grows on water". After centuries of following the Sacred Megis Shell's appearance, the Anishinabeg were eventually led to Northern Minnesota where they found Manomin (Wild Rice) growing on water. This marked the end of the last great migration of Ojibway people; although many bands continued to move west and north in the decades to follow because of the encroaching White Man.

Ojibway Manomin (Wild Rice)

"Manomin" or wild rice is an essential part of Ojibway culture, and as described above, figures prominently in Ojibway Oral History. The harvesting of wild rice has always been an important part of life for Ojibway people. In addition to the contribution of food, "Manomin" has played a key role in the social life of Ojibway people; as harvest time provided an opportunity to visit with nearby relatives and friends in neighboring bands. Wild rice has always been regarded by the Ojibway as the sacred gift of their chosen ground. Any effort today to over-harvest or commercialize wild rice by Non-Indians has met with failure. Wild rice has always been generous to those who gather and use her in a respectful way. Today, many Ojibway families still harvest "Manomin" just as our ancestors did; one person steers the canoe and another sweeps the rice into the canoe and beats it with a stick, knocking the husks to the floor of the canoe.

Ojibway Maple Sugar

Like wild rice, the Ojibway people have for centuries tapped the abundance of Maple Trees in their woodland homeland for Maple Sugar. Small bands would break up into smaller groups of families usually around early springtime and move into temporary "mapleing" camps. These camps,located in preselected areas for each family, would then become home for a few weeks to a few months while the family tapped, collected, processed and stored Maple Syrup and Maple Sugar. The sugar was then used for trade as well as to augment the Ojibway diet of wild rice, fish, venison, bear and moose meat.


Ojibway Beadwork

In addition to Porcupine Quill work, the Ojibway women were known for their exquisite work with seed beads. "Manido-min-esag" which means "Little spirit seeds, gift of the Manido" is what Anishinabe women called seed beads. The need to have good feelings when one is beading continues today: that these little things were a gift of beauty from the spirits. This floral pattern is an example of the "look" and style of Ojibway bead and quill work. Moccasins, leggings, bandolier bags and aprons were customarily adorned with intricate bead and quill work. With the exception on 20th century ethnographer Francis Densmore, anthropologists have long ignored native use of "trade" beads in their study of native subsistence, craft and ornament. Native women were inspired to invent beadwork techniques unknown to Europeans, as well as beautiful and sometimes spiritually or historically-inspired culturally unique designs.


Ojibway Moccasins

The word "Ojibway" is believed to translate as "to pucker". One theroy is that this reference to "puckering up" was originally in relation to the style of moccassins made by the Ojibway. The seams of the moccassin puckered up and thus the Anishinabeg were given this name by neighboring Tribes. However, another old theroy atributes the "puckered up" reference to the method of torture used by Ojibway warriors after capturing enemy Dakota and Iriquois warriors. It was said (probably by Europeans) that the Ojibway were well known for torturing their captives by roasting them over a fire until they "puckered up." Most historical records, particularly those recounting the stories of Ojibway Elders, acknowledge the moccassin translation as the true origin of the word "Ojibway."



     Ojibway Birchbark Canoe

    Perhaps no other symbol so readily identifies the Ojibway culture (as well as other Woodland Tribes) as the birchbark canoe. Although the traditional birchbark canoe has long since been replaced by aluminum and fiberglass canoes, today there is a resurgence of the making of birchbark canoes by members of Ojibway Bands throughout the Great lakes Region. Once considered too difficult and time consuming, many Ojibway people are again crafting their canoes from birchbarck as a means to reconnect with their traditions. This is one example of a growing movement throughout Ojibway land to embrace the crafts, traditions and customs once nearly abandoned due to aculturation and assimilation in order to reconnect with the legacy of Ojibway culture and heritage. This movement is proof that the legacy of Ojibway Culture is still alive and greatly influencing the lives of Ojibway people today, nearly 400 years after the first contact with the White World.