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Spotlight on Culture

People that call this area Home: The Indigenous Nations, our first inhabitants

(Ojibwe people)


Presence in North Dakota

Unidentified Ojibwe woman, about 1885.
Unidentified Ojibwe woman, about 1885.Source: MNHS Collections.

Around the end of the eighteenth century, prior to the advent of white traders in the area, the formerly woodland-oriented people, who had been in what is now Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, moved out onto the Great Plains in pursuit of the bison and new beaver resources to hunt and trade. They successfully reoriented their culture to life on the plains, adopting horses, and developing the bison-hide tipi, the Red River cart, hard-soled footwear, and new ceremonial procedures. By around 1800, they were hunting in the Turtle Mountain area of present-day North Dakota.

For more than a century, as there was no international boundary, the Chippewa freely ranged in the areas that would become Manitoba, Canada and the United States including Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana, where they mingled with Cree and other tribes in the area.

Running battles with the Dakota over territorial disputes, were finally settled in 1858 with the signing of the Sweet Corn Treaty which described the 11,000,000 acres of the Chippewa domain and provided for reparations. The agreement was signed by Mattonwakan, Chief of the Yanktons and La Terre Qui Purle, Chief of the Sisseton Band, Chief Wilkie (Narbexxa) of the Chippewa and witnessed by many members of both tribes.

By 1863, their domain encompassed nearly one-third of the land in what would become North Dakota. White settlers, wanting to take advantage of the Homestead Act petitioned Congress to open up the Red River valley for agriculture and to make treaties with the indigenous people that owned that land.

On October 2nd 1863, at the Old Crossing of the Red Lake River in Minnesota, Red Lake chiefs Monsomo (Moose Dung), Kaw-waskenekay (Broken Arm), Maydwagumonind (He That Is Spoken To) and Leading Feather, along with chiefs of the Pembina Band, Ase-anse (Little Shell II) and Miscomukquah (Red Bear) met with Alexander Ramsey and Ashley C. Morrill, commissioners for the Government, to negotiate the Treaty of Old Crossing. The government stole all 11-million acres obtained in the Sweet Corn Treaty to open it up to settlement. The Chippewa signed the treaty under duress.

As the fur trade and bison hunting diminished available resources, the landless Turtle Mountain Chippewas, though recognized by the Government, found it difficult to ward off starvation. In an effort to provide them with a reservation, Congress approved purchase of lands in March 1873, on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota and attempted to relocate the tribe. The Chippewa refused to move and insisted on remaining in the Turtle Mountains.

Unidentified Ojibwe family, about 1905.
Unidentified Ojibwe family, about 1905.Source: MNHS Collections.

In June, 1884, an agreement had set aside a reservation twelve miles by six miles which was being occupied by the Turtle Mountain Band. By 1891, the US wanted more land, so Agent Waugh of Fort Totten, convened a committee of 16 full bloods and 16 mixed bloods to take a census of the Chippewa and set boundaries for a new reservation. Little Shell III wanted to obtain a 30 square mile tract at Turtle Mountain, but when that proposal was rejected, he and his followers abandoned the meeting. The McCumber Agreement was reached in October 1892, which granted two townships within the traditional area ceding all other lands the Chippewa might possess in North Dakota.

The land granted was inadequate to meet the needs of granting allotments to all tribal members, so negotiations continued. Finally in 1904, Article VI was added which provided that "All members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewas who may be unable to secure land upon the reservation above ceded may take homesteads upon any vacant land belonging to the United States without charge, and shall continue to hold and be entitled to such share in all tribal funds, annuities, or other property, the same as if located on the reservations." With this provision, the Chippewa agreed to the terms and the final agreement was ratified by Congress on 21 April 1904.

In the decades after signing the McCumber agreement and the Great Depression, they adopted farming and gardening as a way of survival. They developed a Big Store in 1922 to sell goods and operated a creamery. They sold farm goods, chopped lumber, farm laborm and medicinal herbs. Under the WPA, men gained training in construction jobs and women started to sew and can goods. Congress approved the first charter of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa in 1932 and because of their successful endeavors and distrust of government programs, the tribe chose not to participate in setting up a new government under the Indian Reorganization Act.

The tribe filed numerous claims for compensation of having been forced to accept a below market value settlement on the lands they ceded to the US in the McCumber Agreement. In 1934, Congress passed a law for the Indian Court of Claims to determine a settlement with the Chippewa, but it was vetoed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in May and June 1934. Finally in 1946, Congress established the Indian Claims Commission. The tribe filed a claims petition in 1948. On June 1964, an Act established their claim and a method of distribution of the judgment award.

George Catlin, Ojibwa Portaging Around the Falls of St. Anthony, 1835-1836, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr., 1985.66.465

In the early 1950s, federal policy changed and the government proposed that some tribes would have their special relationships with the federal government terminated. The intent was to declare these tribes successful in having made progress in assimilation and judged no longer needing special status. Termination of a tribe meant the immediate withdrawal of all federal aid, services, and protection, as well as the end of reservations.

On August 1953, the US Congress passed House Concurrent Resolution 108 which called for the immediate termination of the Flathead, Klamath, Menominee, Potawatomi, and Turtle Mountain Chippewa, as well as all tribes in the states of California, New York, Florida, and Texas. Though termination legislation was introduced (Legislation 4. S. 2748, H.R. 7316. 83rd Congress. Termination of Federal Supervision over Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians), the law was not implemented.

In 1954, at the Congressional hearings for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, tribal Chairman Patrick Gourneau and a delegation spoke in Washington, DC. They testified that the group was not financially prepared, had high unemployment and poverty, suffered from low education levels, and said that termination would be devastating to the tribe. Based on their testimony, the Chippewa were dropped from the tribes to be terminated.

On November 22, 2011 , the Turtle Mountain Chippewa voters were unanimous in banning hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to exploit oil reserves; they were the first tribe to do so out of concern for adverse environmental effects of this practice. They passed a tribal resolution drafted by No Fracking Way Turtle Mountain Tribe, a grassroots group.

The tribal council amended this resolution to direct the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to cancel oil and gas bidding on 45,000 acres of tribal land that was scheduled to begin on December 14, 2011. The BIA cancelled the bids on December 9, 2011.

Fantastic video created by the channel Jaguar Bird on YouTube, explaining the history, culture and affiliations of the Ojibwe people in what is now North America.

Next week we'll continue this series with more information on the culture, art and traditions of the Ojibwe or Chippewa.

Stay tuned for more information on more cultures in future posts. Our area is blessed to be called home by many people of many cultures, and they deserve to be acknowledged.


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