About the Anishinabeg and People of the Three Fires

By the year 1600, three of the tribes living in Michigan before Europeans arrived were the Ojibwa (also called Chippewa), Odawa (Ottawa) and Potawatomi. It is believed that these people migrated to this area from the Northeast coast of North America. But they may also be descendants of prehistoric peoples who lived in what is now Michigan for thousands of years. The word Anisinabeg, means "First People".

We do not know exactly why the Anishinabegs migrated, but it is speculated that it was to escape war or to find better hunting and fishing conditions in warmer climates. Their migration exposed them to different native cultures. Anthropologists are fairly certain that there was a dying off of the Hopewell Culture and an influx of new inhabitants because several characteristics of the Hopewell Culture also died away. Namely the creation of beautiful pottery objects, mining and the use of copper, the use of raised garden beds, and the extensive cultivation of crops. If the Anisinabeg did migrate from Northeastern North America, they probably learned to bury their dead in mounds as the Hopewell Culture people did. Burial mounds were not found in northeastern North America. They may have assumed different beliefs about their natural world which they adapted from the Hopewells. They may have learned how to identify copper and gathered it to trade with other tribes along the Mississippi River. Clearly their canoe technology seems to have been pervasive throughout the Native Americans living near rivers and lakes. The use of snow shoes, sustainable food source (farming), gill net fishing, better garments (weaving), and luxuries like beads, tobacco, alcohol, musical instruments, cooking vessels came to the natives through cultural exchanges with other tribes and Europeans. This intermingling of cultures and technologies altered their way of life and changed the social environment of Michigan Native Americans, even in the pre-settlement times.

When the French came to the Great Lakes in the early 1600, there were approximately 100,000 Native Americans living here. Now there are many more than that. The Europeans had difficulty telling the difference between tribes. For example the French identified the same people as the Ojibwa, the Chippewa and the Saulteaux (people of the falls.) This was understandable because many tribes were widely scattered around the Great Lakes. It was the eventual pressures of the European intruders that compelled the tribes to unite for a common purpose.

Europeans like Samuel De Champlain express respect and admiration for some of the Native Americans he encountered. The fact that the Indians of the Great Lakes were not war-like and were very helpful certainly had an influence on his good opinion. In his writings, Champlain talks about intermarrying between the European and native peoples, blending of races and cultures through the creation of a metis (missed blood) population.

Key Questions

Key questions to pursue with students when studying these Native American tribes are:

  • "How did the Europeans influence the (a) native culture (b) the native economy (c) the native beliefs?"
  • "How did the Native Americans influence the (d) culture of the Europeans in Michigan (e) the settlement of Michigan?

Some topics to pursue that will help illuminate answers to those questions are:

  1. the effects of European-made goods (guns, iron pots, alcohol, blankets)
  2. the effect of European's demand for products the Indians could collect
  3. the effect of missionary efforts to the Indians
  4. the effect of Indian customs like taking sweat baths and living a simple life
  5. the effect of Indian resistance and Indians assistance to the French, English and Americans

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