Resisting Removal: The Ojibwe Clan System

Resisting Removal: The Ojibwe Clan System

The Ojibwe people are descended from an earlier people known as the Lenni Lenape.  Many tribes, such as the Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Cree, Shawnee, and Miami, trace their ancestry to the Lenni Lenape.  But among all the related tribes which have become divided by geography, language, and customs, the first and principal division is that of clan or doodem.  

The division of clan among the Ojibwe and other related tribes is more important than the division of tribe.  Clan is a division based on blood and kindred that is descended in the male line. Each clan is represented by a badge or symbol taken from nature.  There are seven principal clans and within each clan there are several sub-clans. The seven principal clans include the Crane, Loon, Bear, Deer, Bird, Marten, and Fish clans.

This is a re-creation by Seth Eastman of a petition brought to Washington in 1849 by Oshcabawis. It depicts the Ojibwe clan system. Image from Wikimedia Commons – By Bizhiki and other Lake Superior Ojibwe chiefs – Wisconsin Historical Society Library, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3174364.

Each clan plays a unique role within Ojibwe society and governance.  For instance, the Crane Clan are said to be excellent orators who represent the Ojibwe while negotiating with people outside of the community.  The Loon Clan claims to be the chief or royal family because of the collar around a loon’s neck which resembles the royal megis, or wampum, about the neck of a chief.  The Loon Clan are responsible for settling disputes and issues within their home community. Ultimately, each clan has a role that is used for the greater good of the community.

In addition to being known by several different clans, the Ojibwe are also known by several different names.  This includes being called Chippewa and Anishinabe. Each name, Ojibwe, Chippewa, and Anishinabe, are distinct from another, but their origin and usage is not agreed upon.  

The term Chippewa is generally regarded as a mispronunciation of the word Ojibwe.  Chippewa was the name recognized by the U.S. government and used in all dealings with the Ojibwe people.  Ojibwe literally means “puckered up” and is thought to describe the Ojibwe based on their moccasins, which were sewn in such a way to pucker up and keep the snow out.  However, there are several different spellings and interpretations of Ojibwe. Anishinaabe has been translated as “original” or “spontaneous people.” It is most often used when describing themselves and refers to their creation as the first people.

Read History of the Ojibway Nation by William Warren. 

See this blog post on YouTube. 

Mike Swan, “Who We Are as Anishinabe,” Accessed June 6, 2018, http://anishinaabemodaa.com/data/upfiles/media/Who%20Are%20We%20-%20Seven%20Prophets.pdf

Georgian College Aboriginal Resource Centers, “The Ojibwe Clan System,”  Anishnaabeg Bimaadiziwin: An Ojibwe Peoples Resource, Accessed June 6, 2018, http://ojibweresources.weebly.com/the-clan-system.html

William Warren, “History of the Ojibway Nation,” in Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society, Vol. 5, (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1885).

Louise Erdrich, Books and Island in Ojibwe Country: Traveling in the Land of My Ancestors, (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2003). 

Thomas Peacock and Marlene Wisuri, Ojibwe Waasa Inaabidaa: We Look in All Directions, (Afton, MN: Afton Historical Society Press, 2002). 

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