By Cheryl Morgan
OTTISSIPPI is written by local author – Cheryl Morgan. It is the New Native History and culture of Southeast Michigan and beyond that has been untold. The sweeping history of the Anishinabe – Three Fires of the Bluewater Area. It was inaccessible due to the complexity of the many tribes, governments, states, and boundaries. The history was hidden and scattered everywhere due to time, complexity and the many changes of names of waterways, peoples and places. The Amazing history is now clarified, the result of 4 years of intense groundbreaking research that clarifies and reveals what happened here and in the Northwest Territory. Now available in one volume; Ottissippi is a 643-page non-fiction gem!
BWHL will be sharing excerpts from OTTISSIPPI with the readers each week. We begin with the Prologue, Introduction and Chapter 1 Origins. Chapter 2 is A Sense of Place, it will be shared later this summer, it is about the names of waterways and places. Next week Chapter 3 Early Indian Culture and History will follow.
It is my pleasure to share the groundbreaking research with the Bluewater Area. I hope you enjoy the journey. Cheryl Morgan
Who were they? Where did they go? Why do we rarely learn about the Indians? We saw the racism and stereotyping on TV. We know they have Pow Wows, casinos, and lawsuits. What is their history?
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Discover the true history, hidden for centuries. The land, chiefs, peoples, culture, and lifeways!
The Anishinabe believe the East Coast Salt Ocean peoples came by land, either by foot or a short boat ride, and were here very early to inhabit it. Due to continental drift, the lands divided and—according to the Anishinabe—spontaneous man, they have always been here.
The great family of the Algonquin’s extended right up through the centre of the continent (N. Plain).
Ottissippi, meaning Clear Water, was the Indian name for the strait- the Detroit, the St. Clair River, and the Detroit River.
Aamijiwnaang—where the people gather by the rapid waters, territory at the foot of Lake Huron- Karegnondi, and the Ottissippi – St. Clair – Detroit River, strait, was a natural trade center, a huge trading area of great commerce for the Native Americans. It was a strategic military position on the largest inland water transportation system in North America and the world. It was the natural gathering place that was easy to reach from all directions.
The rock weirs of the Ottissippi Delta, at the head of the Ottissippi – St. Clair River, at the foote of Lake Huron, were the great fishery of the tribes in the surrounding area. The Anishinabe—First People—gathered to spear and net large quantities of whitefish and sturgeon swarming in shallow waters and through the narrow channels (D. Plain).
The mouth of the St. Clair River once flowed more east of the present channel mouth, from Lake Huron into the St. Clair River. There were three channels which flowed into the St. Clair River. The river was much shallower, with sand bars throughout it. There were rocks and more islands.
The tribes were Traders, the whole continent traversed by Indian trails and trade routes. They traded copper, jade, obsidian, soapstone, mica, paint, stones, and shells for wampum and buffalo robes.
The Indians had a well-developed religious and social system. It made sense, was effective and comfortable. They had no reason, or desire, to change their customs or beliefs. Their way of life did change with new trade items, and their life decisions had complex ramifications.
“In the Early Days, in the Northeast, Norsemen Fishermen brought diseases, around 1001 A.D. There were very high death rates. The estimates are about 70 – 90%” (Tanner, “The Ojibwe”).
Revenge, booty, and hatred were not the only motives for Indian raids. Often children and young men were taken as captives to replace a beloved warrior lost in the fighting. The captive became part of the family and was adopted.
The hidden history of northern slaves and plantations is ignored or forgotten. Detroit and the vicinity was a haven of slave trade with the Indians.
In 1761, Chief Minavavana said to the English at Fort Michilimackinac in his speech:
We, are not conquered. The Great Spirit provides for us, we will not be slaves. These lakes, woods, mountains, were left to us by our Ancestors. They are our Inheritance and we will part with them to none. Your Nation supposes that we, like the white people, cannot live without bread and pork and beef! But you ought to know, that He the Great Spirit and Master of Life, has provided food for us in these spacious lakes, and on these wooded mountains.
Gradually it became known that the new race had a definite purpose: to chart and possess the whole country. Regardless of the rights of its earlier inhabitants. Still the old chiefs urged patience, for the land is vast—both races can live on it in their own way. “Let us befriend them and trust their friendship.” – Charles Eastman
The vast resources of the Michigan Indian lands became known. There was great pressure to exploit the country’s riches. The land itself, fur, timber lands, and mineral lands were the major causes of wars to strip the Natives of their country. Fraud and manipulation were the actions used by the government and men who were in business as land speculators, timber barons, and fur traders. Most all were abusing the Indians and the people’s trust. There was great corruption in the 1800s.
“In the 1819 Treaty of Saginaw we asked where will our children sleep, we will not sell our lands.
Underhanded ways were used to quell dissenters, and special land deals were made. A large quantity of liquor was used before, during, and after the Treaty, to convince a sale. This Treaty gave half of Michigan to the U.S. government, six million acres. (Diba Jimooyung, Ziibiwing)
There were great oil and coal reserves in this territory. There were 114 signers, chiefs and head chiefs of the Chippewa Nation. Their totems affixed to the Treaty, all friends to Jacob Smith, their generous friend and trader.
The European, American, colonialism, capitalist economic globalization had from its beginning a genocidal tendency. It was an ethnic cleansing. A game of divide and conquer, not only to extermination and removal, but also to the disappearing of the prior existence of Indigenous peoples (A Fake History); this continues to be perpetuated in local histories, writing Indians out of existence.
“Tell your people that, since we were promised, we should never be moved, we have moved five times.”—An Indian Chief in 1876
The facts are that the Americas were occupied by millions of people who had achieved technological development, similar to contemporaries in Europe, Africa, and Asia. They had excelled in many specific areas. They did have weaknesses, like trust, honesty, and kindness, that were used to abuse, steal their land, life, and all. (Adapted from, BC OPEN TEXTBOOKS, opentexcbc.ca, Canadian History, Preconfederacion).
An Indian exodus from Detroit never occurred. Many bought land and homes to stay on the original Indigenous Homelands. They are our neighbors at work, school, college, and church and are living, loving, and raising families.
There were no tranquilizers, drugs, alcohol or ulcers. There was, thousands of years of peace before 1492. There are no taxes, borders or boundaries, no Insane asylums, jails or prisons, no orphanages. There was honest leadership selection, bravery and courage. There was no Religious Animosity, no poor and no rich.
—Will Antell, Ed McGaa, DSS Publication, St. Paul Minn.
There is not a need to challenge Indians Traditional beliefs. Appreciate their Spirituality and join them in coming nearer to God. Rev. Lewis Church, Chairman of Michigan’s Commission on Indian Affairs, Lansing /Methodist Ministries in Michigan, Dorothy Reuter 1993.
The Anglo-American majority needs to be educated concerning the Native Americans, their cultural values and contributions they can and have made. The Indian has insights which can contribute to the renewal and, indeed, perhaps the survival of us all. Rev. Lewis Church.
Origins of the Anishinabe of Ontario; Lake Superior, Michigan; Saginaw, Michigan; Black River and Swan Creek, Michigan; and the Ojibwe and Three Fires Peoples
The Anishinabe or Anishenahbek—First or Original men, or Spontaneous men—migration story tells of living on the Great Salt Water of the Eastern Seaboard. Anishinabeg means “from whence lowered the male of the species”. They were part of a great confederacy of Algonquin-speaking peoples, tribes, and nations in about 600 to 900 A.D. The confederacy was called the Waabinaki Confederacy – “People from the Daybreak Land”. The Daybreak people were Waubun U Keeg – Abnake. There were great gatherings and debates among them.
Their prophets of old received divine instructions from the Creator – “The Great Mystery”, “The Great Spirit”, “The Master of Life”, “Gitchi Manito”, or God. The divine revelation warned of a race of men with light skin, who would come to this land over the Great Salt Water and be the cause of great changes and threats to the Anishinabe. The people were to move west to a place where manoomin (“food”) grows on water, to escape destruction.
THE SEVEN FIRES
The prophets—nee gawn na kayg—also gave seven fires—neesh wa swi ish ko day kawn—or prophecies, eras of time to the people which they had received from Gitchi Manito. The people believe the present era of time is the beginning of the Seventh Fire Time era, a time of new birth and great blessing.
The seven major prophets each gave a prediction about what the future would bring. Each prophecy was called a “Fire”. Each Fire, is a period of time or era. It is also a place where the people lived.
The First Fire tells that the people would follow a Sacred Shell-a cloud. The people would follow the Megis Shell (cowrie shell) west to an island shaped like a turtle. This island would be linked to the purification of the earth. Such an island would be found at the beginning and the end of the journey. They would find a river connecting two large sweet seas. It would be narrow as though a knife had cut through the land. There would be seven stops, or Fires. The journey would be complete once they found the place where food grows on water. But if they did not leave to begin their journey, they would suffer and be destroyed.
The Second Fire told of stopping by a large body of water where they would lose their direction. At this time the dreams of a little boy would point the way back to the true path, the traditional ways, and the islands – Turtles, stepping stones to the future.
The Third Fire tells of continuing, on the path to the West, to the place where food grew on water.
The Fourth Fire was two who came as one. The first tells of the light-skinned men who would come over the Great Salt Water. The future would be known by the face, or intention, that the light-skinned people would wear. If they came in brotherhood, it would be a time of wonderful change. New knowledge would be joined with old and the two peoples would join- together to make a mighty nation.
The second being of the fourth prophet warned the light skin might wear the face of death that would look almost the same as the face of brotherhood. If they come carrying a weapon and if they seem to be suffering, beware. Behind this face is greed. You shall recognize the face of death if the rivers are poisoned and the fish unfit to eat. The face of this race remains uncertain.
The Fifth Fire tells of a great struggle that was to come. The way of the mind of the light skinned people and the natural path of spirit of the many nations. They are told of one who holds a promise of great Joy and salvation. If the people abandon the old teachings, the struggle of the Fifth Fire will scorch the people for many generations. It will nearly destroy the people.
The Sixth Fire tells about grandsons and granddaughters who would turn away from the teachings of the elders. The promise of the Fifth Fire was false. The spiritual ways of the people would almost disappear. Those who were deceived would take their children away from the teachings of the elders. The elders would lose their purpose in life, many will become sick and dying. A sickness will plague the people, many will be out of balance, and the cup of life will become the cup of grief.
The prophet of the Seventh Fire was younger and had a strange light in his eyes. He told of poisoned waters, forests gone, the air would begin to lose the power of life. The people of the whole earth would be in danger. A new people will emerge, from the clouds of illusion. A retracing of steps to find the treasures left beside the trail. A returning to find strength in the way of the circle, a searching for the Elders’ teachings and guidance. But many of the elders have passed on, and many have forgotten their wisdom. The sacred fire will be relit, and there will be a rebirth and renewal. This fire would give the light-skinned people a choice to choose the right road.
The Seventh Fire would light the Eighth and final Fire. An eternal fire of peace, love, and brotherhood/sisterhood. The wrong road would bring suffering, death, and destruction”.
The Seven Fires Prophecies are the Traditional Ojibwe Teaching, Adapted in part from Edward Benton Banai/The Mishomis Book.
The Seven Prophecies are also found in Chapter 13: Culture and Lifeways Part I.
THE GREAT MIGRATION
The great migration to the Great Lakes began about 900 A.D. (Joyce Reid, Papers, Timeline)
Each tribe of Indians has their own migration story of where they traveled on the route to the West. Their migration stories were precisely recorded on scrolls of birch bark, skins, wood, or copper sheets. The scrolls were handed down from generation to generation, showing all the prominent landmarks, stopping places, and events along the migration routes. The records were kept and preserved as sacred by the Mide, or Medicine Men. These were the Holy Men of the Tribe. The Mide were learned men who cared for the people’s whole being. They knew medicines of every kind to bring health to the people. They were the spiritual leaders of the people. (Medicine means everything that is good.)
Fires were the stopping places where the people lived for a time. Fires were also long periods of Time – Eras.
The people were led by a Sacred Cloud, that looked like a Megis Shell (cowrie shell), that rose in the sky leading the Anishinabe in the Great Spiritual Migration. There were 7 Fires or places where the migration stopped for a time over many generations. The Migration taking about 500 years.
MIGRATION SCROLLS – MZINIGAANSAN
The migration scrolls, or mzinigaansan, were made and kept by the Mide priests. A typical scroll—wee gwas—could be nine feet long and one or two feet wide. They were charts or maps showing locations, stops, and events along the way. The scrolls were often rubbed with red ochre dye or paint, a red vermillion color, to show their sacredness. Each tribe had their own chart to show the way they traveled from east to west. The records were also passed down through a very precise oral tradition.
“All things are bound together all things are connected”. Chief Seattle
The Anishinabe grew in numbers and arrived at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and Lake Superior, where they flourished; it was decided to split into three groups or tribes: the Ojibwe—Chippewa, Pottawatomi—Bodawatomi, and the Ottawa—Odaawaa. They were known as the “Three Fires Confederacy”. The Three Fires were established throughout Michigan in 1200 to 1300 A.D.
As the migration moved, some of the people stayed along the migration route to live, help others who came after, and maintain the lands. They grew crops, stored food, gathered, and hunted.
In 1525, after being led to Lake Superior by the Megis Shell Cloud over the water, the Three Fires peoples separated into three groups.
Some of the Indigenous people groups are believed to have arrived in the Americas by coming from the West along the Pacific.
The book of Genesis in the Bible tells of the lands dividing and the people being scattered. It also tells of the languages being confused so the people were dispersed to populate the whole earth as God commanded. Therefore, nations, tribes, and peoples were dispersed to populate the Earth.
The Anishinabe believe the East Coast Salt Ocean peoples came by land and were here very early to inhabit the Land, either by foot or a short boat ride. Due to continental drift, the lands divided and—according to the Anishinabe—spontaneous man, they have always been here.
“The Norsemen were in Newfoundland in 956 A.D. Other countries had been in the Americas very early also”. (Metis History Timeline, Canadian History a Distinct Viewpoint)
“In the early days, in the Northeast, Norsemen Fishermen brought diseases, around 1001 A.D. There were very high death rates. The estimates are about 70 – 90%.” (Tanner, “The Ojibwe”)
“The Lennapi, Algonquin speaking Tribes have a tradition, that their ancestors coming from the Westward took possession of the whole Country from Missouri to the Atlantic, after driving away or destroying the original inhabitants of the land whom they termed Alligewi. In the Migration and contest, which endured for a series of years, the Mengue, or Iroquois kept pace with them, moving in a parallel but a more Northern Line and finally settling on the St. Lawrence, and the Great Lakes from which it flows.” (The Penny Magazine, April 29, 1837)
America was known as “Turtle Island”. For centuries, the Anishinabe traveled widely throughout the Great Lakes. The population at European contact in the 1600s numbered upwards of 500,000 in the Great Lakes.
When the people were living at Boweting (Sault Ste. Marie area), the people grew large and decided to divide into the “Three Fires”. The Ottawa remained at Michilimackinac and became the Eastern Vanguard. The Pottawatomie (Oday Watomi) went south into lower Michigan, and the Northern Ojibwe settled around Lake Superior. There were five original clans of Ojibwe: Fish, Loon, Crane, Bear, and Marten. All were related within clans and were obligated to serve or assist brothers and sisters of extended kinship. There was an atmosphere of security and well-being, giving and sharing of personal wealth. Misfortune could befall any member; it was not manipulative, but rather a selfless sharing in time of need. They were super-families, a network of support.
The Crane and Loon clans represented the chieftainship, or leadership. Fish consisted of philosophers and mediators; Turtle were Chief of the Fish Clan and were also intellectuals. Bear were guardians, protectors, and healers—herbal medicine people. Marten were warriors, hunters, and providers and became the totem of the Metis, or mixed blood.
Other clan totems were added as the people grew in number. The Deer clan were reconcilers and negotiators, gentle people. The Bird clan were spiritualists and pursuers of knowledge. Chief of the Bird clan was called the Bald Eagle. They were knowledgeable of soil and seeds, growing and harvesting Seasons.
“All things were part of Creation, gifts given to men, they were thankful and respectful, they honored the earth, now called Conservation and Environmentalism. They were part of The Sacred Circle, the relatedness of all things. Open quarreling and bickering were unacceptable behaviors. Conflict and criticism of others was avoided. Self-discipline and control, were highly valued. Conflict and hostilities, detracting from wellbeing.” (H.H. Tanner)
In the beginning, only Kitchie (Gitchie) Manido existed; he created the earth, stars, sun, moon, plants, animals, and man. The Great Flood came. The world was created when muskrat brought mud from the bottom of the flood to be placed on the turtle’s back.
THE THREE FIRES
The Three Fires lived in all of Michigan and Western Ontario prior to the time of the Iroquois dispersion of the peoples to upper Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as other places north and west. During the Great Iroquois Purge that came about after the Iroquois acquired guns or “fire sticks”, the people who had been moved to safe places far away and inland returned to their homeland.
They were called the “Fire People”—Ish ko day wa tomi. The waterways were teaming with life, wetlands were extensive, and the beaver (castor) was King. The area of the strait was called Tucsha Grondie, “Place of many beavers”.
The people gauged time by moons; every moon had a name. There are 13 moons in a calendar year, known as the lunar cycle. Each moon is named for a seasonal activity, influenced by natural phenomena, animal activity, and cultural practices and beliefs. In the vast area of North America, the same names are not used by all the peoples. The months of the year depend on the location, weather, and seasons.
The turtle shell was the original calendar. The turtle has 13 central plates or boxes, called scutes, surrounded by 28 smaller plates. The larger plate represents the 13-moon lunar cycle, and the smaller plate, the 28 days in each moon.
For the Ojibwe, the moons are as follows:
- January – Great Spirit Moon, Gitchi Manidoo Giizis
- February – Sucker Moon, Namebini – Giizis (OOG), also called Mullet Fish Moon and Bear Moon
- March – Snow Crest Moon, Bebookwaadaagame (OOG), also Wild Goose Moon
- April – Walk on the Lakes, Broken Snowshow Moon, Iskigamiziege – Giizis (OOG), Frog Moon, Sugar Moon
- May – Blossom Moon, Waaabigwani – Giizis, also Bloom Moon
- June – Strawberry Moon, Ode Imini – Giizis
- July – Raspberry Moon, Aabita – Niibino – Giizis
- August – Ricing Moon, Berry Moon, Miini – Giizis, also Huckleberry Moon
- September – Rice Moon, Manoominike – Giizis, also Falling Leaf Moon and Changing Leaves Moon
- October – Falling Leaves Moon, Binaakwe – Giizis
- November – Freezing Moon, Gashkadino – Giizis (OOG)
- December – Small Spirits Moon, Manidoo Gizsoons, or Spirit Moon
(Adapted from, Phil Konstantin), Ojibwe Calendar, www
Each tribe had their own name for the seasonal moons, and each season has a name.
- One Week – Ningo Anami’e Gizhig
- One Month – Ningo Giizis
- One Year – Ningo Biboon
A stick was used to record each day and month of the year, with a new stick for each year. Days were represented with a small notch, and months a large notch, for each new moon, or month. Years were called biboon and were counted by winters. For example, a person’s age was counted by the number of winters that had passed since their birth.
This is the beginning of the Anishinabe Three Fires People history in the Great Lakes, Michigan, Ontario, and the Ottissippi – Strait of St. Clair and Detroit River area.
The light skinned people would become a very large part of the history of the Anishinabe throughout Turtle Island – North America, and forever change their lives.
The prophecies have been fulfilled, and it is the time of the Seventh Fire; the time of the Eighth Fire is near.
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This book came about after a visit to the library where I could not find local Indian History. I grew up in the St. Clair and Black River area of Michigan, fishing on all the area waters with my father and brothers. I loved books, libraries, horses and puzzles; I was not a tech person. I love to cook, garden, travel, and camp. I was determined to find and share the truth. This has been a difficult journey in every way. I give you, the reader, the truth and blessings I also reaped. Cheryl Morgan
Cheryl Morgan lives near Port Huron, Michigan with her husband Tom and dog Fred.
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