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OTTISSIPPI Ch. 13, part 3: Indian Culture And Lifeways cont.

By Cheryl Morgan


There is a belief in these little people or fairies (Wiindgookwe) who live around rocks and streams. Myth of Fairy Stories, about men and women beasts who do wonderful things that ordinary people cannot do at all. They partake of the nature of men and beasts or of men and gods. They were about streams whose clear waters went laughing and singing on their way. (Charles Eastman, 1902) Little people, or fairies, love to dwell on rocks (Schoolcraft).


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Mr. Peter and Mrs. Nancy Brakeman attended an Indian feast in 1832 on Walpole Island. An Indian named Ogaw Pickeral came over some time previous and invited she and Mr. Brakeman to attend. Mr. Brakeman gave an invitation to his friend John K. Smith, ESQ to accompany them, which he accepted. When the time arrived for the party, O Gaw came after them with a large canoe, had a nice mat spread on the bottom for the company to sit upon, he, paddling the canoe, when about halfway across the river, he gave a very loud war whoop as much as to say, “we are coming”, his friends on land answered him in the same way with several loud whoops. When they landed, the Chief leading men met them at the river, after shaking hands with them, Mr. Brakeman took his presents of pipes and tobacco for the Chief and Head Men. They had a large tent put up for the occasion with rush mats spread over the ground floor, had a drummer beating the drum, but not during their principal refreshments consisting of pigeons, nicely dressed and boiled whole. They were served in a very peculiar manner, they had long poles arranged up over the top of the tent, one on each side. The pigeons were tied by the legs, two together, and strung on the pole from one end to the other. After drumming, chanting, and visiting for a while, some of the women took down the pigeons and passed to the company, each two in their hands; no plate, no knife or fork was used. They sat and picked the meat from the bones. Had a very pleasant time until late in the evening when Ogaw conveyed them home. 

The sound of the drums took time to become accustomed to, having them at Point Du Chein (Algonac), they held feasts and dances often (Nancy Brakeman Papers).

The Indian had harmless amusement, council about the campfire, peaceful industry, useful precept. They had tragedy, struggle, old graves, sterile garden farms, wild apple trees, buried relics gave a hint of the glory before the White Man. This was his home and rightful kingdom, taken up by the sponge of greed in the name of progress (Ivan Swift, Harbor Springs, Paper, The MI Room SCC Library). “We treat them quite wrongly because we understand them so little. The Indian suffered these losses, not because he was bad but because he was humble, honest, and too kind to his alien guest” (Ivan Swift). 

“They are mild considerate men, not interfering and non-scolding the guest of his wife. A man of few words, when he was displeased, he walked away, his actions acknowledged her right to rule. His pride and manliness exalt him above the folly of altercation” (Schoolcraft).

Anishinaabemowin was the language of the Ojibwe. It is a pictorial language: you see it at the same time you speak it. Some words have different meanings for men and for women (Joe Greaux).

Our language is our spirit, our soul, our identity; it’s everything about us. Every word had great meaning.

We are connected to Mother Earth. We have a relationship to Mother Earth. We are a thankful people. The Western world has a separate Church and State. For the Anishinabe, the spirit world and the physical world are always together. It is all one. Without that, we are nothing but a shell. We are circular thinkers. Without the spiritual, the system self-destructs. 

The Anishinabe Constitution cannot be written because it could not be accurately described. You would mess it up trying to define something that was never meant to be defined. It is of the heart and soul, the role of the Creator. 

The Ojibwe were the most populous important and widespread branch of the Algonquin (means friend” or Allies) race. The Ojibwe were the government leaders and warriors – protectors of The Three Fires, who were the Original Men – Annishinibek – who migrated to Ontario and Michigan. The Anishinaabe had originally migrated to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where they grew and became “The Three Fires” or the Fire Nation. 

The Ottawa were their brothers of The Three Fires, who were the Traders. The Pottawatomi, brothers of The Three Fires, were keepers of the Fires, they were great farmers and were responsible for the hospitality and fires at the yearly or every other year council gatherings. 

Horses were acquired in 1730 to 1740.

The people lived in longhouses and other dwellings, there were pits in the floors where baskets of food were stored. There were fires, built in the center aisle of the longhouses, where families did their cooking. There were rooms on either side of the buildings for bedrooms or apartments. Longhouses were usually about 24 feet wide and up to 200 feet long. They had thick bark roofs with a space about two feet wide in the center for the smoke to escape from their fires. The fires were built on a bed of sand, and rocks were used to cook with and retain warmth. The walls were of bark either slabs or rolled from Birch Bark, in the summer, woven mats were used to give a cooler shelter. Sticks were added to the bark to seal it up and fill holes against the weather.

Dome-shaped wigwams covered with birch bark sheets, sometimes over 20 feet long, were carried to each campsite for the seasonal collecting of foodstuffs and planting of garden fields. The women built the houses. A 14 by 20-foot wigwam with comfortable lodging for eight persons could be built and ready for occupancy in less than a day. Sometimes there were more people sleeping snugly in the shelter. In the winter, the Wigwams were banked with pine bows (boughs) and snow for insulation (Quimby, 1960).

The foot of Lake Huron was a great fishing area called Northport before becoming Ft. Gratiot, as were all the waterways. The people tell of having the fish stacked as high as a man stands. The area was a great trading area: all the Native tribes came to this area. To trade for tobacco, fish, canoes, maple sugar, and many other products. Port Sanilac was one of the main stopping areas before the Natives continued to Fort Detroit – Ft. St. Joseph – at the foote of Lake Huron. 

Canoes for the trade of furs and other goods were gigantic, some being up to 75 feet long, typically they were 60 feet long and about five feet wide. Dugouts made of a single log were 30 to 40 feet long and about four feet wide. Basswood, cottonwood, or soft maple were used for dugouts they are light, porous, and very buoyant. 

Trees were so large people actually lived inside of trees. 

The Indian flute has a beautiful, sweet sound. 

The drum is held sacred, its music is the heartbeat of the people. The drum chases bad spirits away. It is a peacemaker. Tobacco, drums, and prayer are all an intricate part of Bimoodiziwin – The Good Way – asking the spirits to protect and aid in the well-being of the Anishinabe. The spirits take our thanks and prayers to “The Great Spirit”. The drum was also used for a code language. 

In many Indian cultures, the women made the decisions. They chose the chiefs, having an innate knowledge, a women’s intuition of each one’s qualities, and what was best for the clan’s welfare. Elder women were called Minimayo – “the one who keeps everything together”. 

From a child, we are taught to exhibit patient endurance of human suffering. With stoical indifference to pain and hunger and the love of a wild forest independence. Children are taught by the elders to obey parents never scoff at the decrepit or deformed. To be modest in their conduct. To be charitable and hospitable (Mason, 1997).

Every act was a religious act. Prayer and daily devotion was more necessary than daily food. All days are God’s days. 

The Indian reverenced game and freed with honor the spirit of his brother. Whose body his need compelled him to take to sustain his own life. Gratitude prayer was made for all food and offering of gratitude were made(Eastman). Animals have a sinless purity. They are innocent, and we paid homage to their spirit with prayers and offerings.

There was great hospitality among the people, unless there was war. To have a friend and be true under any and all trials is the mark of a man (Eastman).

The Indian had a certain innate power and self-poise, wholly independent of circumstances. There is a spiritual mind a physical mind; the body is subdued by fasting and hardship. We had a reverence and love for all nature, plants, earth, and sun. We believed the spirit pervades all creation and is an object of reverence. 

There are miracles on every hand in life.  

The Indian did not envy or desire the achievements of the White man. He rose superior to them; he scorned them. Virtue and happiness are independent of things if not incompatible with them (C. Eastman).


“When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength. Give thanks for your food and the joy of living. If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself” (Tecumseh).

Henry Schoolcraft:  

Indian history is often disguised under symbolic form (Schoolcraft). They followed a spirit who deceived and made miserable, not the Spirit of Truth (Schoolcraft, “Travels in Minnesota, and Wisconsin, 1821).

They are a widespread race (Chippewa). All had the common language (Schoolcraft).

There was oral literature on long winter evenings for the amusement of the Lodge (Schoolcraft).


Chiefs were not what most of us think they were. They were many times the most poorly dressed in their village. The Chiefs, having given their substance to the needy. They were the voice of the people; although they were very influential and respected, a chief was a servant of the people. A chief was many times a son of a previous chief, brought up to learn to care for the needs of the clan family. Learning everything, he needed to know about being a good Chief. Often chosen from the last Chiefs Son’s They were many times also the spiritual leaders of the tribes, bands, and clan families. At times, men were chosen to be chief for a specific task or for a period of time. There were war chiefs, peace chiefs, and head chiefs. They were usually very good orators and were persuasive and kind; they held great influence with the people and were usually good providers and hunters. They did not rule the people, but rather, they were ruled by consensus, much like a jury of today one talks, listens, and votes to make decisions. 

The real power is in the people in Clans in Council. There was one mind and one mouth it is the decision of all. Fusion and fission were choices of freedom and independence. Hunting groups had a spokesman in clans. There are spiritual, warrior groups. War chiefs had tremendous influence, always used to support the civil chief. The elder civil chief was given final authority. Ogimas – civil chief – could also serve as war chief. This was a common practice throughout North America. 

Chiefs, elders, and grandmothers were reverenced and highly respected. When they came to the meetings and councils, not a word was said as a path was made for the elder to walk up to speak. 

The chief was treated as any regular citizen when not engaged in chieftain duties. A chief was a servant who had proved he was a generous, sensible, caring man. His traits were emergent, seen as he grew to manhood, being taught the chief’s role from a child. He was an eloquent orator, a spiritual leader, a teacher. His role was to be the voice of the people and to resolve conflict. He was chosen by consensus from the people, based on his virtues, not a position of power or wealth. He was generous to the poor, needy, and elderly. Leadership was exercised upon need and circumstances, neither constant or permanent. 

He was only the Chief, as long as the community and the Elders chose to respect and follow his lead. A chief could only suggest, they did not demand. All members were part of a consensus, Clan Groups sat together in councils. Women were honored and recognized for their intuitiveness. The women’s support was crucial to the decision-making process (Kugel 1998, Harry Flocken, UMN, Dissertation, 2013). And Sometimes decisions took days, weeks, months or never. The fluidity was a strength that allowed leaders to interface and reestablish common ground between them as change occurred. If some did not accept the decision, they were free to leave and become part of other related groups or start a new settlement. 

The councils gathered together to share their thoughts, advise, and make potential plans. The act of passing the pipe was central to any important meeting. Councils usually lasted several days. Carefully considering all aspects before acting. Debate was no part of it. 

When they gave their word on a decision, it was final, a binding pledge, irrevocable. It was a test of being true. Keeping their word was the measure of a person’s integrity. 

The system is spiritual, holistic, consensual, and egalitarian. People first, familial and spiritual – it empowers people. 

The chiefs are now chosen by vote; a man or woman can be Chief. 

Each tribe was independent, each clan independent, each individual independent. Having great latitude to do whatever he pleased. 

Leadership was not something contended for, it Is a burden. Leaders emerged, chiefs took a vow of poverty when they came into office. Chiefs were relied upon to steer the community through trial and tribulation, and successfully lead the people to a larger place. The chief preserves and protects. This required spiritual assistance. Almost all leaders are Midewiwin members. Leaders were very spiritual. They were also the leaders in the ceremonies for the tribe, teaching Bimaadiziwin – The Good Way – healthy ways of living, for the good and blessing of the people.

Spiritual leaders were the most prominent people in the village to cure, guide in hunting, war, and lead the ceremonies. Hunting was very spiritual with ceremonies before and after the hunt. War was the same: ceremonies were conducted before and after the war parties left and returned. A war chief was an influential man whose achievements grew and so did his followers, spreading through the bands. 

Poor behavior resulted in negative spiritual consequences. Behavior was governed through inner control rather than outward coercion. Children were taught by example and encouragement, not by ridicule. 

The chief always sought the benefit of the whole nation. The chief always reminded the European Americans that their views shared represented those of the whole community. The choices were of freedom and independence. The elder was the head of the family. 

The related villages sometimes worked together and had a head chief over all (Smith, 1973). At councils with area chiefs, a leader was chosen from the chief’s present. He was the head chief. A head chief would preside over the council chief. Greater Area councils had a tribal chief over a territory. He was Gitchi Ogema – Big Chief – for the council meeting. This was a position situational only for important problems. The great council met every, one to two years. If issues impacted larger regions, grand councils were called, and the head chief would attend. At various levels of council, the most articulate and charismatic chief was chosen to preside over the rest of the chiefs (Roufs, 2006).

The best listeners and persuasive speakers were chosen as chiefs. The people were free to replace him. This empowered the people and their voice. 

At the national level, the chief was called Grand Chief – Nitom – meaning “foremost”. 

The Crane and Loon clan were chosen by default as the traditional leadership clans. 

Principal chiefs, carried out the head chiefs of council’s edicts.

Band chiefs were over a clan family of villages. A convention of district chiefs formed the Band Council. An Ogima was selected to lead. There were Ogima for each major area in Anishinabe country. 

The local council was called “Smoking”. There was much talking, listening, and dealing with problems. Great Smoking was called the district council. A sacred fire was kept for the duration of the meeting. 

The pipe bearer was responsible for keeping and presenting of the sacred pipe, used in council before Gitchi Manito. He officiated in all public councils, making known the wishes of his chief to gain his goodwill.  

During Great Councils, the pipe was passed, the Pipe having an ax on one side and a peace pipe on the other. With the ax up when passed, it meant War, pipe up meant peace. The pipe was called the sacred pipe, prayer pipe, ceremonial pipe, or truth pipe. It was to be smoked in truth and brotherly love, seeking God’s will, with God as witness to all that transpired.

Councils drew all together, furnished excitement, recreation, recounted exploits, offered tributes of respect to the deceased, listened to laws and regulations by sages, athletic games with Olympic zeal, national dances, rattle and drum, pleasure and amusement, trade, and the opportunity to meet a future spouse. (Lanmar, Redbook). Councils usually met annually for warfare and resource allocation. 

No laws restricted individual freedom – this was true freedom! Major crimes were usually amended through restitution. There were no written laws that bound the liberties of individuals. Gossiping and politics were considered evil. 

All wisdom came to them in dreams, and knowledge was shared with others. These were gifts from the creator. Including medical, spiritual, leadership abilities and responsibilities. 

Direct communication to the Creator was too powerful for any person. Animal spirits were the intermediaries for the Creator (Warren 1885). This belief was Biblical, too, as animal sacrifices were used extensively in the Old Testament of the Bible (Flocken). Dogs were kept as sheep, they were a delicacy at feasts, they were used for sacrifice. Each man had a dog, they were also used for hunting. The villages had many dogs. 

Gifts were offered to people and spirits when requesting their assistance. Tobacco was mostly used. Every request came with a gift. Every gift came with a reciprocal obligation of some kind. 

Manido, Manito, or Muneedog means “spirit”. The Anishinabe believe in a Supreme Being, but intervention and assistance come from the spirits. All things and beings have a spirit, even emotions have a spirit. The physical world is not separated from the spiritual world. All political, religious, economic, and social life depended on and incorporated the spirits (Flocken). The Manido interacted with the people; some were helpers, some mischievous, and a few were evil. They had human-like qualities and could change depending on circumstances. Life was an illusion, an imitation of the real world, which was the spiritual realm. Dreams were messages and direction (D. Plain).

Every village was a temple, every forest a school (Henry Schoolcraft, 1848).

The Anishinabe Constitution is not a written document. It is from the Great Spirit and is written on the heart, mind, and soul. Without the spiritual – the life force – the system self-destructs. The only way to survive is to return to the Creator (Flocken, 2013).

We are one with everything; we are connected to all creation. That is who we are. Unity was very important; bickering and pettiness was not the Anishinabe way. Complaining was not a virtue. Giving helping, sharing, are our way of life. We are not accumulating or materialistic. Bimaadiziwin – The Good Way. It is Life Flow, life is good, healthy, and flowing smoothly. The good way – God’s way. Good conduct led to good life. It is the good blessing of the people. Values for the good way were love, respect, honesty, truth, bravery, giving, and humility. 

Warriors were the Ojibwe policemen (Flocken, 2013). Clan families are responsible for the behavior and actions of all clan members. They are responsible for justice and retribution among each other.


Totems – ododem – were clan symbols of family names, going back to ancient ancestors. The word “band” is now used for the totem clan family. Traced back to the beginning, there were five totems: theCatfish, Crane, Loon, Moose, and Bear groups. These groups were subdivided and given other totem names. The Marten clan was the Metis, or mixed-blood.  

The mother always had a different Dodem than the father. Marrying within the same Doodem, was forbidden. Cousins are considered as brother and sisters. Paternal uncles and their wives had complete disciplinary privileges. 

Many tribes are represented within a band through intermarriage and migration. Band leadership is by the dominant tribe (Herman Cameron 1988).

Totems were represented by badges of identification worn by clan members; they were a source of religious power and spiritual clout in complex social relationships of the root or familial stock. The people consider themselves blood relatives of every Indian sharing the same totem. Within every tribe, a member could approach any totem relation and expect assistance. Each totem word sign, defines a blood-related extended Indian family. The totem practiced communal living. Nothing was owned by an individual. 

Totem poles were a family crest depicting the totems of the clan family and their territory. Before the White men, Indians did not have a last name, the totem sign was their last name. A very large family. Many Indians used the name of a respected White friend as their last name. 

When dissension arose, the elders in the totem settled the dispute. Each generation and sex had a well- defined place and responsibilities in the tribal structure. Infants and children were held in high esteem, with little discipline. There was never hitting involved in correcting of any children; they learned through example, encouraged with positive conversation, and were indulged with love.

By the late 1800s, there were 21 Ojibwe totems. Due to the repeated division and relocation of the people. They are now the most widely dispersed peoples in the North American continent (Wm. W. Warren).

Phratries are divisions of clan groups within tribes. A tribe includes all the Indians within one nation. bands are members living within a designated area. 

Elders were revered. Their knowledge gained through experience was respected and sought. They were the totem’s historians, teachers of nature’s methods, and religious leaders. 

Responsibilities were not seen as work or chores. They were contributing to a joyous life. 



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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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