Resisting Removal: Ojibwe Lifeways

Resisting Removal: Ojibwe Lifeways

For centuries the Ojibwe people have sustained themselves through traditional seasonal practices of hunting, fishing, and gathering.  Over time, they learned the best survival practices that were handed down from generation to generation. Through hard-work and respect for all plants, animals, and natural objects, they flourished throughout vast northern regions.  Eventually, their traditional lifeways were threatened by the encroachment of settlers and the assimilation policies of government agents and missionaries. But the Ojibwe maintained their survival traditions through challenging times and still practice many of their traditional lifeways today.

“Indians Spearing Fish 3 Miles Below Fort Snelling” by Seth Eastman. MNHS Collections


Spring Sugarbush:  The spring was a time of joy and renewal for the Ojibwe.  Families gathered in the sugarbush after being separated during the long, hard winter.  The sugarbush was any large grove of maple trees where the Ojibwe could tap the trees to gather maple sap.  This could only be done in the spring when the the sap would rise up the trunk during the warm days and then back down during the cold nights.  Using birch bark baskets, the Ojibwe collected the sap which they boiled down into maple sugar and syrup. At the end of every spring, one family might pack out hundreds of pounds of sugar that could be stored and used throughout the year.

Summer Gathering:  Summer was a time of plenty and so the Ojibwe worked hard to gather as much food as possible because it was so scarce at other times during the year.  The Ojibwe often fished during the summer, using nets, spears, traps, and hook and line. They also harvested mushrooms and other forest plants such as cattail roots, wild onions, grapes, butternuts, hazelnuts, and all kinds of berries.  They also trapped and hunted wild game such as beaver, mink, deer, bear, and moose. The Ojibwe made sure to use every part of the animal and always gave thanks for the food they captured and gathered with an offering of tobacco. What the Ojibwe did not eat during the summer they dried and stored for use later.

“Gathering Wild Rice” by Seth Eastman. From “American Aboriginal Portfolio” by Mary Eastman and held by the Newberry Library of Chicago.

Fall Ricing:  Long ago, while the Ojibwe people were living near the Atlantic Ocean, they were told by their prophets to travel west “where the food grows on water.”  After many years migration, they found that land. The food they discovered growing on water was wild rice. In the fall, the Ojibwe gathered and processed wild rice for use during the long winter.  Wild rice grows in shallow water near the shores of lakes and bays. In order to gather the rice, the Ojibwe use a canoe that one person pushes slowly through the rice stalks, while another uses knocking sticks to shake the rice off the stalks and into the canoe.  Once ashore, the Ojibwe process the rice by drying it, roasting it, and then separating the hull from the kernels. During times of abundance, most families could process hundreds of pounds of rice every fall.

Winter Trapping:  Winter was a long, hard season in Ojibwe country.  Families often spread out to make it easier to get food since it was so scarce.  Winter was marked by the trapping of wild game that the Ojibwe used for food and for pelts that could be traded for necessary goods.  The Ojibwe developed many techniques for hunting, trapping, and snaring wild game. A favorite among most Ojibwe was the snowshoe hare, a white rabbit that was seen as a right of passage for Ojibwe youth.  Once a young person snared a snowshoe hare, they went from someone who only eats food to someone who provides it. The Ojibwe also fished through holes in the ice during winter and they survived on the food stored away during the spring, summer, and fall months.  

Read Anton Treuer’s Ojibwe Lifeways. 

See this blog post on YouTube


Anton Treuer, “Ojibwe Lifeways,” in Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, October-September 2012,  http://files.dnr.state.mn.us/mcvmagazine/young_naturalists/young-naturalists-article/ojibwe/ojibwe.pdf

“The Four Seasons of the Ojibwe,” Minnesota Humanities Center, http://www.earthscope.org/assets/uploads/misc/Seven.The_Four_Seasons.pdf

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