The history of the Ojibwa people (this is without doubt one of the best history sites for an overall examination of the Ojibwa people in America between the years 1400 and present day) is interwoven with the history of North America. The Ojibwa people were interactive with the first white men who came to North America from the earliest days. Their history is especially rich and plays itself out in a most colorful manner. There is evidence that these people met with Jacques Cartier, Fr. Marquette, and Fr. Alouez in the 1500s when the interior of America was just beginning to be explored by the Europeans.
In the 1600s and 1700s, the French were the primary traders with the Ojibwa, Ottawa and Potawatomi (all consider themselves members of the 3 Fires) and are considered to have their roots from a common background as their language is Algonquian. The Ojibwa people constitute the largest Indian group north of Mexico. The French made alliances with them, often engaging them within their struggles with the English and their allies - the Iroquois. The enmity between the Ojibwa and the Iroquois precedes European influence and thus the alliances for trade and warfare was a natural alliance between two groups of people who had long struggled with each other.
As France and England fought for control of Canada, much of the fight involved the fur trade that both the Iroquois and the Ojibwa wished to dominate. As a result of French alliances and the trading of furs for goods and arms, the Ojibwa made a powerful push against the Lakota people who once lived in Northern Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, driving them out of the entire Lake Superior Basin and finally out onto the plains of the the Dakotas and Iowa. Only when the Lakota people took to horseback where they able to drive the Ojibwa from the plains. They never did regain any of their previous territory in the Lake Superior Basin. In 1825, William Clark, of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, engineered a Treaty between the Lakota and the Ojibwa establishing the general boundaries for the tribes. This treaty failed almost immediately and the tensions between the Lakota and the Ojibwa continued until 1862 when the Americans finally pushed the Lakota out of Minnesota during the Minnesota Valley Uprising.
The American Revolutionary War had little impact on the Ojibwa people, but the aftermath of the war did. After the Treaty of Paris in 1783 which ended the American Revolutionary War, the Treaty of 1785 or the Ft. McIntosh Treaty, became the first treaty between the US Government and the Ojibwa. It established American authority in the Ohio and established a boundary between white and native lands. After this failed to affect encroachment of whites into the Ohio and battles broke out between the new settlers and the Ojibwa, the treaty of 1789 or the Ft. Hamor Treaty pushed the boundaries further back.
Many alliances continued to exist between different Native American tribes, some where in concert with the British who wished to retain control of the Ohio, others existed to fight the Americans who continued to move Westward, and others existed to fight their tribal enemies. When the Jay Treaty of 1794 was made between the US and Britain, Britain abandoned all alliances they had made with the different tribes and pulled back into Canada. From this point the US government saw Native Americans as an enemy to be defeated. Whenever possible, the government would relocate Native people further and further West. The Ojibwa narrowly escaped this fate in the mid 1800s and were one of the rare peoples that never were relocated.
As the story of copper in the Copper Country unfolded in the early 1800s, the Treaty of 1826 was signed with some leaders of certain bands of Ojibwa tribes of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota which gave the government the right to "search for, carry away, any metals or minerals from any part of their country. This treaty established the precedent of allowing select minority of leaders to voice the opinions of many whom they had no right to speak for.
The local Ojibwa people of KBIC never lived in one location and were bonded together through their relationships as intermarriage took place within their different clans. As the Ojibwa were hunters and gatherers of food, they did not identify themselves with specific location so much as they did in their identity as Anishinabeg (The People). As treaty after treaty ceded land which the Ojibwa never identified as their own possession but rather a place in general where they lived, the final Treaty of 1854 created the reservation life-style and finalized the ultimate defeat of a once proud people. The reservations stripped them of their way of life, disintegrated all concepts of cultural leadership as it was known through the clan system, forced localization, prevented normal commerce of gathering and hunting, and sought to establish an agrarian culture on a people who had no experience with agriculture on land that was hostile to agriculture.
Not only did the treaties mentioned above finally forced the people into centralized areas and limited their access to the land, but private ownership of land, which was always something foreign to the Ojibwa people, was forced upon the Ojibwa by the US Government. The Dawes Act of 1887 broke up the reservations into individual allotments of land. Due to inexperience with agriculture, many native people, forced by increasing debt, sold their parcels of land and went to work as laborers in the woods. Others were defrauded out of their land by avaricious predators. Today the KBIC reservation looks like a checkerboard with individual allotments, Tribal land now being purchased when available, and property owned by non-native people dominating the reservation map.
Three major communities (Zeba, L'Anse, and Baraga) dominate the KBIC reservation today. While L'Anse is the French word for "bay," Baraga derives its name from one of the most influential Christian missionaries ever to bring Christianity to the Ojibwa people. Bishop Baraga came from Ublana, Slovenia, one of the Balkan states. He was born in 1797, and after becoming a priest and spending several years in pastoral work in Slovenia, he made his way to the United States in the early 1800s. His first missionary work was in the Lower Peninsula amongst the Ottawa people - one of 3 groups of people belonging to the Three Fires of People who consider themselves one people - the Anishinabeg. After establishing several solid groups of Christian Native American people in Grand Rapids and the Traverse City area, he traveled to Lake Superior and to LaPointe, Wisconsin. He ministered there for several years and eventually found his way to L'Anse and Baraga. He came to the Ojibwa people at a critical historical time.
The US Government was interested in relocating all Ojibwa people of Northern Michigan and Wisconsin and Minnesota to Kansas. In 1850 President Zachary Taylor ordered their removal, but his death that year postponed the implementation. This allowed time for opposition to organize and Baraga, along with many Ojibwa chiefs fought politically for the Ojibwa people to remain in their lands. Taylor's successor, Millard Fillmore, rescinded the order and the government then needed to assign reservations. Within this historical context, the Treaty of 1854 at LaPointe was signed in which the Lake Superior Ojibwa gave up seven million acres in exchange for six reservations too small to support them. It took twelve years and eight additional treaties to finalize the Ojibwa reservations in Minnesota.
Bishop Baraga championed the peoples' rights, recognized that the way of life they once knew was ending and began to help them, within the confines of their new realities, make the necessary living adjustments. His work helped the local Ojibwa maintain their dignity, moved them into decent housing and began an education system which eventually faced great obstacles as the US Government embarked on various programs of destroying the people as a community.
(We will continue with the story of the KBIC Ojibwa in the next few weeks).