Blue Water Healthy Living

Chapter 3 Early Indian Culture and History, Part 1

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. 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 and the many changes of names of waterways, peoples and places. It is 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! Non-fiction 643 pages. BWHL will be sharing excerpts from OTTISSIPPI with the readers each week. The book is available on It is available as an ebook with a searchable Table of Contents and in Print – paperback.

Early Indian Culture and History

The Anishinabeg is the race of all indigenous tribes. It means “Original Men” – Good Beings. They are of one blood, all the nations of the earth (Rev. Peter Jones, History of the Ojibwe Indian, 1861).he aged Sachems of the Ojibwe nation tell the traditional teaching that Gitchi Manito â€“ Keechemunedoo or Kezha-Munedoo – the Benevolent Spirit, or Master of Life, created the Indians and placed them on the continent of America, that every nation speaking a different language is a separate creation, but that all were made by the same Supreme Being. How they were created is not known. They say that when the Great Spirit made the different nations of the Earth and gave them various languages, complexions, and religions, as well as the divers customs, manners, and modes of living. When he gave the Ojebway’s their religion, he told them how they were to act; and with this knowledge, they think it would be wrong and give great offense to their Creator to forsake the old ways of their forefathers.

The Totem â€“ Oten – was a village or clan naming system. The family name and identification, the symbol marked graves, and villages. Totem meant “village”: family, people, not a location. Later, totem meant a mark or symbol or an arms or family mark. It was the means of identification, a link in the genealogical chain by which bands are held together. The totem was not a personal guardian spirit, powerful protector, or guiding spirit.

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The system of totem names served to regulate exogamy or marriage to those who are not near relatives and ensure the continuity of the people. As the people grew in numbers, new totems formed within larger groups. The village was the people, not the place, persons who live in the same lodge under the same chief (Schoolcraft/Schenk).

The people were egalitarian or equals among equals—a consensual democracy.

A band is a group allied with another or a few. Bands averaged 100 people. Later in the 1800s, the bands were larger, having about 450 people. Bands were part of clans and clans were tribes. Each local band was independent and sovereign; no one chief could speak for or represent all the others (Schenk).

An egalitarian band society, no one chief had authority over any other. There was no first or principal chief. Government was run by consensus, including women, yet no one was bound to obey. When a single spokesperson was necessary, it was an orator who was selected, not a chief. Each chief and warrior had the right to speak for his own group. There were no degrees of leadership, nor was the office of chief hereditary for life. The chiefs are seldom so well lodged or well dressed as the others (Schenk).

The patrilineal (father’s line) egalitarian band formerly matrilineal, seemingly without laws or organization, was the very foundation of Ojibwe society. Limited band size and mobility were essential to the survival of the group (Snow 1981/Schenk 1997).

The whole clan are kindred – related, descended from the same ancestor. The family traced by a Totem, a device which marked the division of tribes into clans.

In other tribes, those of the same totem were considered close kin. A person could expect help, and safety, and hospitality from any other tribe of the same totem; even strangers were considered brothers.

Nations are tribes or totems. The people never married within their own totem, always of a different Gens-Totem, creating a great network of intermarried bands and tribes. A great security, they helped one another and were quick to aid in any conflict with other nations. The great numbers of the same totem were called a Phratries group of the tribal nation. Phratries are large divisions consisting of many clans. The totem sign marked territories, villages, and wigwams.

The Clan system was 15 to 20 families, each with a different totem. Allied groups were part of the most important among them. Sauteur’s and others included, the Ojibwe were enlarged.

Fifteen lodges were 250 to 300 people, and 70 warriors. The average family was seven members. There were five to seven families per lodge during fishing season. The clan was made up of men and women from different totems. All the men were of the same totem, the women from other totems.

Originally there were five clans. The original totems were: Catfish (intellectuals), Crane (Ojeejok), Loon (Ahahwauk), Bear (Makwa-Nocke), Moose (Monsone). The Marten was designated for the “Mixed blood of the French Fathers” (Warren 1984, 44–45). Marten were warriors, hunters, and protectors. Marten was made with the totem of the mixed blood (Schenk, “The Voice of the Crane Echoes Afar”, 1997).

The Crane and Loon clan were chiefs. Fish were intellectuals and intermediaries. Bear had the knowledge of medicine and were the “police force”, or protectors and warriors. Moose or Deer were the peaceful artisans and poets (1988, Benton Bane).

The Crane was the government leadership and records totem. They were also protectors and hunters. The Cranes go back to the flood. The lofty crane of ancient bands (refers to) the ancient band of red men whose totem is the lofty crane. (They were) called “bus in aus e”, echo maker or Crane (Warren 1984). The Crane called the tribes together for councils and ceremonies. Ojibwe means “the voice of the Crane”. The Ojibwa or Sauteurs were the original Crane People of the Algonquin’s. (They were the) spiritual leaders of the people.

There were many subdivisions made, and more totems added as the nation grew.

The traditional greeting is “What is your dodem?” to establish social conduct between two meeting parties, as family, friends, or enemies.

The people had a Great Migration from the Eastern Seaboard. They were led by a great cloud shaped like a megis shell (cowrie shell). When the people arrived at Boweeting (Sault Ste. Marie), they grew and flourished. It was decided to split into three great nations and spread out. They became the Three Fires Confederacy – Ishkodaywatomi. This was about 1525 A.D. The Ojibwe, Ottawa and Pottawatomi, some were left along the migration path and were in Southern Ontario and Michigan â€“ Big Water.

Lapointe on Madeline Island in Wisconsin, was the ancient capital and center for spirituality, a key Ojibwe village – castle and trading center for the Northern Ojibwe. Chaqwamegon or Chequamenon in Wisconsin was the metropolis of the Ojibwe.

The Aztecs are believed to be the first occupants of this region. The meaning of their tribal name is “People of the Lakes”.

Of the more modern Indian tribes of this region, the Algonquin race was the earliest. Among their numbers in the Northwest were the tribes of the Ottawa’s, Menominee’s, Sacs, Foxes, and the Chippewa (Ojibwe). In the vicinity were also the tribes of the Miami’s, Pottowatomi’s, Winnebagoe’s, and the Ouendat’s or Wyandotte’s (Huron).

The Ojibwe were a widespread, extensive race. They were the most populous, and important, existing branch of the Algonquin Race. The Algonquins covered one quarter of North America, from Nova Scotia to the Carolinas, to the Rocky Mountains and into Northern Canada (Jenks, History of St. Clair County, 1912).

Ojibwe was the court language, the language used by all Algonquins. The universal language of the continent. They were the largest tribe in North America. There are only 17 letters required to write the language. It is a very expressive, beautiful language. You see it as you speak it.

The oral histories are passed down with very precise accuracy. The people repeat their history often, so it is not to be lost. It is handed down from generation to generation. The elders tell the history exactly, precisely the same, word for word (Tolatsga Whoa, www).

The Chippewa’s, Ottawa’s, Missisauga’s, and Pottawatomi’s inhabited the central area of the Great Lakes (N. Plain). The Pottawatomi, Mascouten, and Miami occupied the southern third of the Lower Peninsula. In 1519 to 1520, the Chippewa-Ojibwe took control of the Northwest Territory.

The Ojibwe were “The Turtle Nation.” Sagaunaum was the thumb of the Michigan region, called Mount Pleasant – Isabella Territory. Islands are called “Turtles”.

Every Turtle has 13 boxes or scutes on its back (Digger, Mike Leon Martin, Cherokee).

The Ozhibiiwe – Those who keep records. The Medewiwin Rites Society, Holy Men, are the keepers of detailed and complex scrolls of events, history, maps, memoirs, stories, geometry, mathematics, visions, music, and pictorial writings or pictographs. The sacred scrolls are kept hidden away until those who are worthy and respect them are given permission to see and interpret them properly.

The Huron were friendly Iroquois traders, brothers to the Eastern Iroquois. The Huron lived among the Ojibwe. They were comparatively wealthy people, engaged in extensive trade in tobacco and many other products with the Neutral Missisauga, and Petun – Tobacco Hurons), and other Iroquois Neutrals who lived south of them in Southern Ontario. The Huron traded at Montreal, Canada with the French. They traded with indigenous nations as far as the Lower Mississippi. The Ojibwe were called Neutrals” because they remained neutral in the conflict between the Huron and Iroquois. The Huron forcibly prevented the Neutrals from direct trade with the French and, as such, were able to command huge profits as middlemen.

The Huron (Theonontaternons-Tionontati) were called the Tobacco Hurons, or Petuns. The whole peninsula between Georgian Bay and Lower Lake Huron was known as the “Country of the Ancient Hurons”. Upon the Lake of Huron were the Outaouas – Ottawas, the Nockes, the Fies, the Missisagues – River Indians, the Attikamek, and the Outchipwes – Sauteurs (Ojibwe or Chippewas), good warriors”. The Western Algonquin were destroyed by the Iroquois and small pox.

Saulteurs-Outchibouee, “People of the Rapids”, was the French name for the entire Ojibwe nation at Sault Ste. Marie and elsewhere.

The Iroquois also appeared from time to time. This nation was originally the Onondagas, Cayugas, Senecas, Oneidas, and Mohawks. The Tuscaroroas of North Carolina united with them, and they became known as the six nations (Farmer, The History of Detroit and Michigan).

Black Hawk, a great Sauk leader tells the traditional story:

The Great Father of the Anishinabe people, Na Na Makee, was given dreams of the White man for four years. The Great Spirit gave divine wisdom to the prophet that men with pale skin would be coming across the Great Salt Water. At the same time, the White men across the salt water ocean had dreams. When the White man came, he brought many gifts for the people—guns, spears—and showed them how to use them. Large quantities of gifts and goods, cooking utensils, everything necessary for comfort. Na Na Makee was given a medal of honor by the Great White Father. He became a great chief and was given a great medicine bag.

“Many countries from the European continent came to the Maritimes fishing at an early date.

The sun was a symbol of divine intelligence. Fire was symbolical of purity.

Blood memory is the emotional connection to our ancestors. Blood memory is described as our ancestral (genetic) connection to our language, songs, spirituality, and teachings. It is the good feeling that we experience when we are near these things. Blood memory has been crucial to the survival of our culture”. (Ziibiiwing, Saginaw Chippewa)

The Neutral Nations and Huron Nations cultivated considerable land and had many villages in the St. Clair River region and Niagara. The Iroquois were in hostile conflict with the Hurons and were deadly enemies to all North and Western nations. They coveted the land and furs in the Northwest. Their own land in New York was depleted of fur to trade to the Dutch in Albany. They had a feud of long standing and were bitter enemies (Fowle).

The Huron Petun tobacco nation left the violence and went west, settling in Oklahoma and Arkansas.

The Iroquois Neutrals waged war on the Algonquins of Southeast Michigan in the 1640s, wanting the rich beaver grounds. In 1652 to 1653, the Neutrals fled to the west shore of Lake Huron and then dispersed (Adapted from Rogers/Smith, 1995, Aboriginal Ontario).

In 1649, the Eastern Iroquois wiped out the Huron with “firesticks” (fusees)—guns—supplied by the Dutch in Albany, New York. The Huron sought refuge with the Ojibwe in Michigan and were absorbed into the Ojibwe and Ottawa traders. They were called Wendat, Wyandotte, or Ouendat, meaning “dwellers on a peninsula”. Some went to the north at Baawaating (Sault Ste. Marie) and Chequamenon Bay in Wisconsin, some to Detroit. Six hundred went to Montreal Quebec with the Jesuit (Black Robes) missionaries, and some were absorbed into the Seneca Iroquois in New York. The Michigan and Ontario tribes had no weaponry like the mighty guns that killed from a distance, unseen. All fled before the Iroquois. The Neutrals and the Erie (Cat People) were attacked and destroyed. The Iroquois sought captives to replace losses from epidemics and furs to buy more guns.

The displaced people moved to other areas away from the “firesticks” of the Iroquois. Some of the Fox and Sauk moved west of Lake Michigan, some to South Carolina along with the Kickapoo and Shawnee.

The Iroquois then commanded and monopolized all trade in Ontario and the waterways of the St. Lawrence and the Detroit. No one ventured into the southeast of Michigan and Southern Ontario. The land was without occupants. No one was allowed through the Strait (The Detroit) to trade with the Northern and Western tribes. The Three Fires and their allies went through the northern route at the Ottawa River route to trade in Montreal, the headquarters for the French Fur Trade.

The other tribes—Fox, Mascouten, Kickapoo, Pottawatomi, and Illinois—were forced to go west across and around Lake Michigan into other lands east and west of the Mississippi.

The Odawa (Ottawa) were the traders or middlemen between the people and the Huron traders, who were the main suppliers in trade. The Ottawa worked with many tribes.

The Ottawa’s original totems are Bear, Deer, Wolfe, and Turtle. The whole race was interwoven into one great family. The Ottawa traveled hundreds of miles to exchange goods with tribes. They traded corn and other goods for furs. The Ottawa then traded furs for Huron goods. They had a monopoly over the trade routes and trade partnerships by marriage, charging tolls to use the trade routes.

The Ottawa tribes wore a pierced nose with a stone attached that comes down to the mouth which was a charm against medicine spells. The Ottawa and Huron slept with whoever they choose. “Cadillac”

The Pottawatomi were the Keepers of the Fire, responsible for ceremonial fires and the gatherings for the four seasons. They were hospitable and friendly with all the tribes.

Early History

The land of the Saulk’s (also, Sauk or Sac) occupied a large area extending to Detroit, Thunder Bay at Alpena, Michigan, and to Lake Michigan. The Saginaw River and its tributaries reached in every direction like a web. The land was a rich hunting and fishing land. It was much coveted by other tribes, traders, and powers. The Sauk and Fox occupied the eastern lower half of Michigan between Saginaw Bay and Detroit.

The Sauk were always at war with their neighbors, the Pottawatomi, to the south; the Ojibwe to the north and in Canada, along with The Ottawa, Huron, and other nations in Canada. www, History of Saginaw County, James Cooke Mills). They were a fierce, warlike people. Their hunting territory extended into Southern Ontario. The Saulk fought with the tribes who were moving west before the Iroquois, who were seeking furs in Ontario and Southeast Michigan.

A well-known Indian trader, Peter Gruett of the American Fur Company, found the old Indian Puttaguasamine, who was well over 100 years old in 1834. He told the history of the Sauk’s nation. The Sauk’s occupied the country to Detroit, Thunder Bay, and Lake Michigan to the headwaters of the Shiawasee to the south. The balance of Michigan was Potawatomie’s.

In the Lake Superior country were the Chippewa and Ottawa; the Menominee’s in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and the Sioux west of the Mississippi.

In 1519, there was a council of the Northern Confederacy where the tribes, Three Fires, and their allies decided to join forces at Mackinaw to exterminate the Sauk (Reid, Joyce). A great massacre was made on them at Saginaw River and at Flint. They were caught by surprise by a mighty army of warriors, and the Sauk nation was wiped out (Chief Puttamasine, Ojibwe, The Indian and Pioneer History of Saginaw County, www). The Sauk’s were driven from the bank of the Saganaw about the close of the 1500s or beginning of the 1600s (Henry Schoolcraft letter to C.A. Harris, Office Indian Affairs Michilimackinac, 1838. NAM M1R 37:547 – 564). David Plain in his book, From Quisconsin to Caughnowaga, dates the Sauk War as 1618.

One group came from the south, the other from the north, to attack and destroy the enemy near Saginaw River at the Bay City area and its tributaries, and at Flint. At the mouth of the Saginaw River, the Sauk’s retreated to Skull Island. Through the night, the water froze over and the allies were able to cross over and destroy the Sauk. There are many mounds, Skull Island in the Saginaw River, was littered with the dead of the Sauk. They were found all along the tributary rivers and exterminated. There were taken prisoner twelve female survivors, who were sent west of the Mississippi to the Sioux.

The Sauk who managed to escape retreated to Lake Michigan near Green Bay and lived on the Door County Peninsula of Wisconsin for a short time before their aggressiveness drove them to the Fox River and southward. They lived among the Fox (Mesquackie), west of Lake Michigan.

A few warriors escaped the slaughter and lay hidden in the woods, living in No Man’s Land. The land was divided among them all as a common hunting ground. A great many who came to hunt never returned or were heard of again. A few Socks, had lingered around, watching for hunters and killing them at every opportunity. The land was believed to be haunted. No one came to hunt, though game was abundant. The tribes were terrified of the area. If they were passing through and thought a Sauk was near, they left everything and fled for their lives. The land was a place of exile, a Penile Colony; criminals would flee to escape punishment or be banished to the “Haunted Hunting Grounds” for serious crimes. However, there were few serious crimes; the people were peaceable most of the time, unless threatened by harm (Reid).

The Fox were driven out of Michigan in the 1640s to Greenbay, Wisconsin. The Saulk were friendly to the Fox (Masquackie) and were allies in wars with other tribes. The Saulk –  Sauk – Sac, became the Osage, who moved to Kansas. The southern tribes are the Osaugee.

Neutral Indians of Western Ontario related that, in the ancient days, a great chief and magician lived at Petegwano (Pointe Edward), where the waters of Lake Huron flowed into the Ottissippi (St.
Clair-Detroit River). Ottissippi means “Clear Waters”. He was known as “The Keeper of the Gates”. There were then three channels and a delta more east and a mile north of the present mouth. There were great rocks and sandbars among these shallow channels. The water was very swift and turbulent; as the waters entered the Ottissippi, they made a deep pool from the churning current. This was the main thoroughfare of water travel: the best and main way. It was known as “The Rapids”. There were many streams, sandbars, hills, and islands in the delta.

Another great magician, Great Bear from Boweeting (Sault Ste. Marie), had a beautiful daughter who was kidnapped from Boweeting. The father came to Petagwano to search for her, suspecting “The Keeper of the Gates”, and in his great wrath, he made “Great Magic so “Keewahdin – North Wind”, filled up the waters of Lake Karegnondi â€“ Lake Huron, and drove the waters over Pointe Edward, washing away the delta at the mouth of the St. Clair River which went downstream to form Stag Island and Fawn Island (John T. Barnes, Ontario).

The St. Clair River had three mouths in 1670 (Hennepin, Explorer, and Missionary). Two channels of the delta at the foot of Lake Huron were open in 1770.

The Ottissippi was much narrower and shallower with islands and sandbars throughout its length. There were many rocks, streams, hills, and stones. Poles were used to cross the river in certain places; the people were known to pole vault across. They also swam and used canoes, rafts, and horses were swam across. The shallow waters were an easy crossing. The land was very wet and swampy. Land on the east side was called O Dan Non Sing. There were several lakes in the area near the rapids of the Ottissippi. Below the rapids, the river grew very deep with a strong current, the same as it is today.

The Gathering Place of the waterways of now western Ontario and Eastern Michigan were one of the favorite camping, fishing, hunting, and resting places, along the great travel routes of the St. Clair River Lake Huron, Black River, and the Thumb. It was a beautiful place; there was plenty of food and a large trading and staging area for any wars the alliance would be involved in. It was the great stopping place on the way to St. Mary’s (Walpole) and other islands near the Strait (The Detroit), the Huron, River Rouge, and all points south and in every direction.

Port Huron (Aamjiwnaang) was the resort of the Indians from time immemorial. They indulged in games of athletic sports and skill. It was a ground of neutrality, and common assemblage (hence the name “The Gathering Place”) for various tribes over a large section of the country. There was easy access by way of the Black River and St. Clair River. They came from near and far to enter the games with rival tribes (History of St. Clair County Andreas 1883).

Pine Grove Park was the trading place. The original riverbank can still be seen; it is about 30 feet below and 70 feet out from the present bank. The stumps of trees that lined the shore are still preserved under water.

The islands in the Ottissippi were spiritual places; councils, Pow Wows, and dances were held on these islands.

The foot of Lake Huron was a great fishery. Many tribes gathered there during spring, summer, and fall for the great catch of whitefish, sturgeon, salmon, and more. The Anishinabe dried great quantities of fish for the winter months. The drying racks were stacked eight feet high at the foot of Lake Huron during the seasonal gathering.

Thousands of Anishinabe kin groups met here to renew friendships, meet future spouses, celebrate with dancing, Religious ceremonies, play games, trade from near and far. To make future plans, share ideas, discuss concerns and share information.

The Sun Dance was the culmination of brotherhood and worship of the God of Creation and sustainer of the people. It was the highlight of the religious ceremonies, held in July when the sun was at its highest of all seasons. The preparation for the Sun Dance took several days, and the Dance lasted three to four days. The Buffalo Dance celebrates the buffalo, which gave it’s all and supplied every need of the people: food, shelter, clothing, and many others. Many other dances were performed. Spiritual renewal and balance were reaffirmed.

Kinship speaks of the philosophy of interconnectedness and balance between all living generations, as well as all generations of the past and future.

Lake Chipican in Canatarra Park, north of Point Edward, Ontario was part of the original east channel, which was part of the delta of the Ottissippi at Lake Huron (Karegnondi).

Black River, Elk River, and Cass (Huron) River were popular places, waterways, and were the Indian highways. Canoes the vehicle of transportation.

In the thumb of Michigan, there were numerous villages and camps every few miles along the shore of Saginaw Bay and the islands. The Huron lived in palisaded villages. The Ojibwe did not use palisades.

The fishing was superb, and there were maples along the shoreline that supplied sugar. The stone quarries at Bayport and Grindstone were used for tool and weapon making. Many clans lived here, artifacts by the truckload were found (Al and Dave Eicher, The Indian History of Michigan’s Thumb).

Pipes were made of stone found along the Cass River (Joyce Reed, Deckerville).

A legend tells of a lead mine along the Cass River. The Indians died with the secret of its location.

Runners delivered messages to tribes everywhere. They were endurance runners who quickly conveyed important news (Reid).

The Indians were very spiritual people; they knew that all life in the whole universe is sustained by God (Gitchi Manito), and it was given by him to the human race for sustenance, and the Indian was never known to kill wantonly. All the days were God’s. The people worked for the good of the tribe as a whole and held that land belonged to the tribe and not to the individual. If a member of the tribe was in want, it was because the whole tribe was also. “All for one and one for all” was the motto (Nicholas Plain).

Heaven was ponemah: “perfection”. A beautiful sunset was the headdress of the Keeper of the Land of Souls. The splendor of this headdress was most beautiful.

Mitchi Manito was the evil spirit or Snake. Pauguk was the Spirit of Death (Fragments of the Ojibwe of the Great Lakes, Ralph E. McCarry, SCC library MI Room).

There were no written laws that bound the liberties of individuals. All were in common, shared freely, and helped one another. Indians were kind, honest, and truthful. Children were taught by example and encouragement.

Annual festivals, harvest time, and thanksgivings, were times of ceremonies and public games. The prizes: an eagle wing, a sash of braided grass, a belt of wampum, the bark of mountain ash, a polished oar of Mtn. Ash, or a bark canoe (Hathi Trust, adapted from, Teucsha Gronde, 1870, A legendary Poem).

There were no borders to separate states and provinces. Waterways were the boundary lines of the many indigenous people. (Peter Schmaltz, “The Ojibwe of Southern Ontario”).

This excerpt is from Chapter 3, next week we will continue with Chapter 3.

 Thank You for learning about The Blue Water Anishinabe Peoples. ~Cheryl Morgan


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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