The Ojibwe Native Americans

Political Relations

The Ojibwe have had much involvement in the politics of Minnesota in their time, beginning with the first meetings between them and the French. Those that came in the mid 1600s were interested mainly in getting furs from the plentiful territory in and around Minnesota. Initially, the natives in the area knew much more about the habitats and reserves of different animals than the French did, so trading because a common practice. French men traded European goods like cloth, metal, guns and cooking utilities in exchange for animal pelts. Beaver was a popular item at the time, due to Beaver Hats being a high fashion statement in Europe (Fur Trade).


One thing that particularly furthered the relations between the Indians and French was the onset of interracial marriages between Traders and native women. They found it very diplomatic to have in an “In” with the tribes they were trying to make deals with, getting better things out of trading by being family rather than just doing it as an outsider. The tribes also got benefits from their new relations to the traders, having better access to European goods and more of a sway in decisions made. These traders often did not stay in their new marriages long, and would move on to different trapping points yearly, getting a new wife each time. The French that came were lonely single men, so it was not only politically advantages to attain wives, but also satisfied a want for having more a feel of family. The children of these mixed people were called Metís. They became fairly common in Minnesota and Canada, harbouring values, languages, and cultural traits of two different cultures brought together. It was sometimes a struggle as to deciding which cultural influence these children were to be raised with (Jung 1).

The Ojibwe were used in more ways than just for direct trade, though. In order to get the most profit and reliability out of all the tribes in the area, the French had to make sure that peace and stability remained between various tribes. To do this, there were some tribes they had to 'take out of the picture', which the Ojibwe happily agreed to helping with. The Fox Indians were one of the big disruptors, and with the aid of European firearms provided by the French, Ojibwe warriors assisted tribes going against this foe (Ojibwe).

This business did not last forever. Demand for beaver pelts began to go down and areas began to be depleted of animal resources, sending the fur traders looking for new work, and the newly formed United States to move into the area. Ojibwe involvement with whites did not end here, however, but only got more intensified. They had accumulated many debts from the Traders' imbalanced payment books, and had to find a way to repay them (Lass 73). The United States used this as leverage to get the Ojibwe to cede over millions of acres of their land to them as payment for their debts. Many of the treaties with whites were not at all fair to the Ojibwe (or any Indians, for that matter). Interpreters were able to cloak the real intentions of the whites coming in to the land. Indians didn't know how to read English, so they had no idea what they were signing when the papers were pushed at them. They were forced to do what the Europeans wanted them to because they knew they were inferior in force. Also, many of the natives that they got to sign things had no 'right' over the land they signed away, but whites made little distinction over this, seeing that if they got the land handed over to them officially on paper, it didn't matter whose it was (Lass 111).

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Without the land that they had been a part of for centuries, the Ojibwe were packed into Reservations around Minnesota. These were often too small for the numbers they tried to fit in them and contributed to a kind of cultural degradation (Ojibwe). This feeling of misidentity was only furthered along by American encouragement for the Indians to start taking on more civilized, white behaviour. They wanted them to cut their hair, become farmers, and start wearing pants like 'proper' men. Children were sent to white boarding schools where they were not allowed to speak their native tongue, and discouraged from displaying cultural traits (Atkins 82).


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As the Ojibwe sat quietly in their crowded reservations for many years, little was thought of them by whites. They were discriminated against by Minnesotans, who only saw them as lazy, long-haired drunkards with little intelligence. The civil rights movements for blacks left the suffering natives unmentioned, and they continued with their silence for some time (Atkins 240). Finally, in the 1970s, some notice was given the tribe when they decided to start up some cultural fishing traditions in Mille Lacs. According to the treaties made over a century ago, the natives were allowed to carry on what fishing and hunting practices they wanted. Conservationalists became concerned over this when some Ojibwe started spearing and netting walleye during spawning season, and brought the issue to court. The 1854 treaty was dug up, and the contents firmly gave the Indians their rights, stating that, “Such of them as reside in the territory hereby ceded, shall have the right to hunt and fish therein, until otherwise ordered by the President” (239).

In the 1990s, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe decided to start up a Casino as an attempt at pulling themselves out of the financial slum that seemed to be the plight of so many Native Americans (Atkins 240). New types of movies also started popping up, finally depicting the natives in a more positive light than Western movies had in the past. They began showing them as upright stewards of the environment. They looked at the whites in the movie as bad guys for once, showing the harmful effect they had played on their surroundings since they took the land from the Indians. These new types of movies inspired a renewed interest in Native Americans, allowing people to properly reflect the ways in which they had been so wrongly treated in times past. Today they are still often discriminated against, but a greater awareness is being made of the Ojibwe and their significance, along with other tribes in Minnesota (Atkins 241).


Work Cited

Atkins, Annette. Creating Minnesota. Canada: Minnesota Historical Society, 2007.

Fur Trade”. Milwaukee Public Museum. 25 April, 2008. <http://www.mpm.edu/wirp/ICW-146.html>.

Jung, Patrick. “The Creation of the Metís Society”. University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. 26 April, 2008.                  <http://www.uwgb.edu/voyageur/archive_19_2_metis.pdf>.

Lass, William E. Minnesota. New York: Norton, 1998.

Ojibwe History”. Tolatsga. 21 June, 2000. 22 April, 2008. <http://www.tolatsga.org/ojib.html>.