By Cheryl Morgan
Ottissippi is the collection and compilation of many early writers, historians, and others who recorded something about the Indians of Southeast Michigan, the Great Lakes and the Northwest Territory. It includes, interviews and modern writers who added valuable contributions to the Indian History of Michigan and beyond. Cheryl L. Morgan
Blue Water Healthy Living will be sharing weekly excerpts from Ottissippi beginning the week of May 14th! For those who just can’t wait, we’ve provided a taste of the quality information available in the book. Order copies of OTTISSIPPI from Amazon.com/Ottissippi. OTTISSIPPI is also available as a paperback book – 643 pages and an ebook with a searchable Table of Contents.
There were many tribes connected to the, Ottissippi (clear waters) – the St. Clair, Detroit River Strait, between Lake Huron and Lake Erie. The main people, were The Three Fires People, The Ojibwe-Chippewa, Ottawa and Pottawatomi who were from one group of people who grew and split into the three. The Huron were friendly Iroquois neighbors and traders who grew great crops of corn (15 types), 6 types of squash, beans (over 60 kinds), tobacco, sunflowers and other crops for trading. The Three Fires people traded fur (beaver, bison, moose, bear, elk, deer, wolves, lynxes, wildcat, fox, otter, muskrat, martin, mink, raccoons and rabbit), maple sugar in large makucks (birch bark containers 50-80 lbs.), canoes of all sizes and other items for Huron goods. The Missisauga Ojibwe (River Indians) lived in southwest Ontario and Michigan.
The Thumb of Michigan was called Sagaunaum meaning the outlet. The Saginaw drainage basin drained about half of the State, having about 7,000 miles of rivers and streams.
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The Ojibwe were a very large group of people; they were the government and protectors of the people. The Ojibwe in southern Michigan and Ontario Lived in the territory called Aamjiwnaang meaning at the spawning stream. They were the signers for the treaties of land cessions to the U.S. and British Government in southeast Michigan and southwest Ontario. Aamjiwnaang Territory stretched from Toronto, Ontario to Detroit, west of Lansing, North to Alpena and Georgian Bay in Ontario. It was a beautiful and wonderful place with an abundance of food and everything for a comfortable life.
The people inhabited the waterways fishing and hunting inland for game in winter, for sustenance. They dried large quantities of the abundant fish and meat for winter. They gathered, dried and stored berries, corn, medicinals, seed and many other foodstuffs and supplies for winter. The dried foods were stored in cache pits dug into dry areas of land near the harvest areas. There were also cache pits and storage buildings near the villages and in the wigwams floor. The towering trees of the forest made a warm protected place for winter. The beach and river for summer harvest and cool breezes.
The area was a major trading area between tribes of a large area of the U. S. The Ottissippi was the highway for the great trading between tribes.
There was a delta at the foot of Lake Huron, there were 3 channels flowing into the Ottissippi-St. Clair River. This was a great fishery of the people. There were rock weirs where great quantities of whitefish were caught and dried. The channels were more east of the present mouth of the river. A great storm blew for 3 days and made the new opening where it is today, the other channels filled in with sand. A part of the most easterly channel is yet seen in Canatera Park, in Point Edward, Ontario, it is now Lake Chipican.
The Anishinabe are a very thankful people. There were many thanksgivings throughout the year. At each harvest, each season, and daily for the many gifts from Gitchi Manito -The Great Spirit. There were great celebrations with neighboring families-clans. Tobacco was given as an offering for thanks to Gitchi Manito, the burning of tobacco carried the prayers to the Master of Life. The eagle flies high close to the abode of the Great Spirit, he carries prayers on high. He is the Thunderbird, the messenger. The sun was a divine creation, the sun dance a special time of thanks and renewal at the height of summer. Thousands would gather on the shores to celebrate life, make plans for resources, play games and meet future spouses.
There were many dogs in the villages, they were kept as sheep are kept. Dogs were used as sacrifices for Gitchi Manito’s safety on the great lakes and for many other necessities. Dog Feasts were made on many occasions, a delicacy for the people and warriors-protectors.
Chiefs were the servants of the people. He was not a ruler but carried out the wishes of the people. There was democracy, a consensus government, the consent of all of the people by the people for the people. All the people including the women.
“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 were no old folks’ homes. If one was hungry all were hungry. Chiefs were often the poorest dressed among the people, having given all to those in need.
The Indian is colorblind – all men are created equal; there is no racism among them.
“Racial and religious prejudices of others stand in the way of his true understanding. Strange customs and ceremonies are symbolism; they have inner meaning, hidden from the observer. They are then branded as Pagen, and devil-worshipers. Physical worship was wholly symbolic. He no more worshiped the sun than the Christian the cross. He had a reverence and love for plants, the earth, and the sun. The spirit pervades all creation; every creature has a soul in some degree and is an object of reverence. There are miracles in every hand in life. Charles Eastman, The Soul of the Indian
Medicine was anything good. Totems were not spiritual, they were as a last name among clan families for order. The Black River People were of the Bear Totem, protectors. The Ojibwe trace back to the Crane totem the leader, keeper of records, government. One always married outside of their own totem, this created a great network of support among neighboring clan families.
The women were the gardeners, planting, growing the crops and storing seed. There was a lot of work for the women. During the seasonal move to the fishing places, sugar making camps, winter hunting camps, the women would carry the household goods to the next camp place. Many times, the women would build the home they were to live in. They made clothing, gathered and dried food.
The men were busy making tools, and hunting. There were deer parks, kept green for easy hunting and sustenance. Before 1800 there were buffalo roaming in the southern great lakes. The early settlers thought to make yarn of the wool from the buffalo.
Today Aamjiwnaang is a reservation of the Sarnia Chippewa. It was over 10,000 acres in 1818, much of the land was bought by the Oil and Chemical industry, today it is about 2,000 acres. It lies on the banks of the St. Clair River across from Marysville, Michigan. When the Black River and Swan Creek reservations were sold in 1836, many of the people moved to Ontario and Saginaw, area. Many stayed on the original land buying or renting from others. The people live a peaceful life, Living, loving, working, going to school, college, church and keep mostly to themselves.
The French called the strait between Lake Huron and Lake Erie the “Detret or Detroit”, meaning the strait, long before the city of the same name came into being. The whole area was known as the Detroit.
The finest fur was obtained in the winter the luxurious coats were valuable in trade. The country was swarming with fur bearing animals. The beaver dams caused the waterways to back up extending much further. The rivers and streams were deeper, canoes traveled much farther (lumbering filled them with debris), many are now but drains. The area of the strait in St. Clair County was called Teuscha Grondie “Place of many beavers”.
You may be surprised to learn that our U.S. Constitution was patterned from the Native form of government.
The Turkey is the Peace Eagle, of the south.
*I welcome feedback and questions, there is so much to learn and share. Cheryl Morgan
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Harpers Magazine, Vol. 98, Pokagon, Simon, The massacre of Fort Dearborn at Chicago, 1899, www
Marine City Gazette, 1876, Western Historical Co., Aura Stewart, Early St. Clair County
Michigan Archeology, Vol. 3, 1957, Richard A. Pohrt, War Club
North American Review, 1830, Jackson Treaties
Sarnia Observer, Shirley Brownlee, 1857, Lumbering, Barnes, Ojibwe, 1967
Saturday Evening Post, 1947, Robert Murphy, Mother Rodd
The Detroit News Tribune, 1896, Dixon, Mother Rodd
The Penny Magazine, April 29, 1837, Ontario, Canada
The Smithsonian, 2014, Amanda Foreman, The Birth of American Freedom and the Founding of the Union
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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