Anishinabe (Ojibwa or Ojibway) are the Indigenous People with whom I have had the most contact.
To begin with, my son Nicholas married Debbi a woman who is the daughter of an Anishinabe woman and one of the most wonderful women I have ever met. Her daughter is cut from the same cloth and we are very proud to have her part of our life. Not only that they have produced 2 wonderful children who are now our grand children.
I also have a significant connection with the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation because I was part of a group that partnered with them to establish an ecological reserve near their reserve and we would never have got it established if it were not for their co-operation.
I have also got to know Anishinabe people at Buffalo Point where we have a cottage on land leased from them in their reserve. As a result I have got to know a number of Anishinabe people personally.
All of this is to show that I am not entirely unbiased when it comes to the Anishinabe people.
According to John L. Steckley and Bryan Cummins in their book, Full Circle Canada’s First Nations, “Anishinabe” is the name that the people of all groups of Ojibwa (or Ojibway) usually use to call themselves. “Ojibwa” is the name given to them by Europeans, though some groups have adopted the European names. For example, the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation in Manitoba uses the name “Ojibway”. As far as I am concerned each group can use whatever name they choose, and the rest of us should usually respect that choice. In the United States they are often called Chippewa.
Like so many other First Nations or Indigenous People, the name of Anishinabe for themselves is the word for “human beings” or “people.” Scholars believe that the original Anishinabe came south from the Eastern Subarctic. They may have moved to the Atlantic coast and then to the north shores of Georgian Bay and Lake Superior. Later many moved to the prairies when European traders arrived there.
Three of the bands survived: Mississauga, Saulteaux, and Ojibwa. Did you know that the following words are all based on Ojibwe words: “chipmunk” (referring to squirrels), “totem” (referring to clan), and “pecan” (meaning nut.)
In the area of the Great Lakes the Anishinabe/Ojibwa people occupied the region of the boreal forest north of the lakes . I love that country. We drove through it last year and I had to stop many times to take photographs. There they hunted moose beaver, and other animals and collected berries, tubers, and birch bark. As far as I know, there they were mainly hunter/gatherers.
These people were traders long before Europeans arrived to teach them how. Groups farther north were generally not as active traders because trading partners were spread out more. It is difficult to trade with someone 1,000 kilometers away. The Ojibwa traded beaver pelts of the area they occupied to the Odawa and Huron peoples farther to south and east in exchange for horticultural products like corn and tobacco.
Like the Cree farther west, the Ojibwa lived mainly in small family hunting groups and were constantly in search of game and fish. It was a pretty good life.
Gradually the Anishinabe moved further west into the territory of the Cree for reasons that are not entirely clear, but probably to trade with the Europeans who had arrived there by then. In the prairies in particular, they also farmed, particularly wild rice. I will have more to say about this later. Anthony Hall, in his wonderful book, The American Empire and the Fourth World, called there manner of farming “Among the most vital living expressions of Aboriginal agriculture in North America.” I will discuss this in greater detail later.