The Turtle Mountain Chippewa as we know them today have gone through numerous changes. In the earliest stories, they referred to themselves as Anishinabe , the "Original People." They originated from the Ojibwa Nation of the Woodlands in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Ontario. However, upon following the fur trade onto the Plains, they received the name Plains-Ojibwa. The tribe included descendants of the Cree, Chippewa, and Métis (a mixed race of Cree and French, English, Scottish, or other European background). (Gourneau, 1989)
The first documented contact between the Ojibwa and the whites was in 1640. However, it is believed that some of the first contacts between the two groups occurred circa 1612. The Chippewa lived along the eastern edge of Lake Superior and the upper peninsula of Lake Michigan. They traveled to Montréal and Québec to trade for whisky and firearms. After they had received firearms from their ventures to the north, they returned to begin their conquest of the south and west shores of Lakes Superior and Michigan. One faction of the Chippewa pushed their main enemy, the Sioux, westward. The same faction also pushed the Fox tribe south. Another faction defeated the Iroquois south of Lake Erie. The Iroquois had been trying to dominate the fur trade in the Lower Lakes Region. Forcing them to leave thus kept the trade door open for the Chippewa, who had been trading with the Hudson’s Bay Company since the early eighteenth century. (The Environment and the Fur Trade Experience in Voyageurs National Park, 1730-1870, 2001)
Trading practices and Items traded
There were three main trading companies that dominated the fur trade: the Hudson’s Bay Company, the North West Company, and the American Fur Company. The Hudson’s Bay Company began trading with the Chippewa in the early eighteenth century. A common trading practice was for the trader to bring gifts to the family. Some common gifts were alcohol, tobacco, and different types of clothing. The most popular item for the traders to bring was fabric, accounting for 60% of business. Other popular items were firearms (25% of business), alcohol (6% of business), and jewelry (3% of business). Additional goods that were traded include: blankets, carts, wagons, ammunition, sewing and fishing equipment, as well as other useful items used in this era. (The Trade Goods, 2001) Some of the common animals hunted and traded were: beaver, deer, bear, and buffalo. (Kozlak, 1981)
Women and the fur trade
Marriage between traders and native women was common. These arrangements provided a way to open trade relations. People were married à la façon du pays . To conform to European customs, the wife was often cleansed of the grease women would rub on their skin . She was then clothed in European-style clothing and escorted to the trader’s quarters. The marriage was consummated and they were considered married. This fashion of marriage was important and those who avoided it faced reprisals. (Van Kirk, 1990) Although the Europeans took part in these country ceremonies, it still was important that couples be married in the Church; therefore, many Chippewa women were converted to Christianity after marriage. Missionaries encouraged women to continue with their newly adopted faith and to abandon their native ways. (Brown and Peterson, 1985)
Many wives left their families and moved with their husbands to the trading forts. Physical duties were easier in the trading fort and material goods played a larger role for the native women. (Van Kirk, 1990) Outside of the fort, some of the tasks native women undertook were: building the campfire, cooking bouilli (cubes of meat, boiled with potatoes, salt, pepper, and sage), making moccasins, sewing clothing, drying meat, and pitching the tipi. (A. Gottfred, 2002) Within the trading forts, wives were the liaison between husband and family, and played a strong socioeconomic role in the fur trade. Though life was generally easier as a trader’s wife, the women had to give up their matrilineal society and were forced to adapt to a patriarchal view of home and family. The husband was the head of the household in the fort, unlike Chippewa family units, where descent was from the woman’s family and husbands moved into their wives’ family lodge or tipis. (Van Kirk, 1990)
The children born of these unions were referred to as Métis. There were two distinct types of Métis: "half-blood" and "full-blood." These delineations were not based on biological standards, they were determined by way of life. The members that were named half-blood did not retain "their native culture" and preferred the Caucasian side of their ancestry "because it offered many things that were deemed superior." The members that were named full-blood preferred and practiced the Chippewa way of life. (Gourneau, 1989)
Prior to the end of the eighteenth century, Métis daughters were raised according to their mothers’ customs. By the end of the century, they were reared under European traditions, placing them in a vulnerable position when European women came to the New World. With their arrival, racist views became more prevelant. Métis women and girls did not have a strong sense of identity. They had been forced to abandon one set of values, only to adopt another. The arrival of the white women magnified the differences between the races greatly. (Van Kirk, 1990)
Impact of the fur trade
The fur trade changed the Chippewa forever. In following the fur trade onto the Plains, they aided in the depopulation of the animals they depended on for life. Around the year 1870, the buffalo population began to dwindle. Because the Chippewa's livelihood depended upon the animal population, they were forced to move onto the reservation, and sought help from the government. (Gourneau, 1989)
Initially, the government refused, but later realized that the Chippewa possessed the coveted treaty to ten million acres. The government recognized the Chippewa’s right to the land, but had earlier allowed white settlers to live there. They authorized the removal of the Chippewa. The Turtle Mountain Chippewa refused to leave. In the end, by three Executive Orders, the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation was established in North Dakota. (Gourneau, 1989) This reservation is located in Rolette County. According to the 2000 census, 8,009 tribal members were living on reservation and off-reservation trust land. (Turtle Mountain Population, 1)
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Special thanks go to Caknuck for all of his wonderful ideas.