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Ottawa (tribe)


Ottawa (tribe)

This article is about the North American tribe. For other uses, see Ottawa (disambiguation).

Total population
Regions with significant populations
United States (Oklahoma, Michigan)
Canada (Ontario)
English, Ottawa
Midewiwin, Animism, Traditional Tribal Beliefs, Christianity, other
Related ethnic groups
Ojibwa, Potawatomi and other Algonquian peoples

The Odawa or Ottawa /ˈdɒwə/, said to mean "traders," are a Native American and First Nations people. They are one of the Anishinaabeg, related to but distinct from the Ojibwe nation. Their original homelands are located on Manitoulin Island, near the northern shores of Lake Huron, on the Bruce Peninsula in the present-day province of Ontario, Canada and in the state of Michigan, United States.[1] There are approximately 15,000 Ottawa living in Ontario, Michigan and Oklahoma.

The Ottawa language is considered a divergent dialect of the Ojibwe, characterized by frequent syncope. The Ottawa language, like the Ojibwe language, is part of the Algonquian language family. They also have a smaller tribal groups or “bands” commonly called “Tribe” in the United States and “First Nation” in Canada. The Odawa nation formerly lived along the Ottawa River but now live especially on Manitoulin Island.[2]

Tribe name

Odaawaa (syncoped as Daawaa, supposedly from the Anishinaabe word adaawe, meaning “to trade,” or “to buy and sell”) is a term common to the Cree, Algonquin, Nipissing, Montagnais, Ottawa, and Ojibwa. The Potawatomi spelling of Odawa and the English derivative “Ottawa” are also common. The Anishinaabe word for "Those men who trade, or buy and sell" is Wadaawewinini(wag), which was recorded by Fr. Frederic Baraga in his A Dictionary of the Otchipwe Language as "Watawawininiwok," but he recorded it as meaning "men of the bulrushes", from the many bulrushes in the Ottawa River.[3] This recorded meaning is associated with the Matàwackariniwak, a historical band of Algonquins living about the Ottawa River. Their neighbors applied the "Trader" name to the Ottawa because in early traditional times, and also during the early European contact period, they were noted as intertribal traders and barterers.[4] They dealt "chiefly in cornmeal, sunflower oil, furs and skins, rugs and mats, tobacco, and medicinal roots and herbs."[5][6]

Like the Ojibwa, the Odaawaa usually refer to themselves as Nishnaabe (Anishinaabe, plural: Nishnaabeg / Anishinaabeg), meaning "original people."

The name in its English transcription is the source of the place names of Ottawa, Ontario, and the Ottawa River. The Odaawaa's home territory at the time of early European contact, but not their trading zone, was well to the west of the city and river named after them. The tribe is source of the name for Tawas City, Michigan, and Tawas Point, which reflect the syncope-form of their name.


Main article: Ottawa language

The Ottawa language is considered one of several divergent dialects of the Ojibwe language group, noted for its frequent syncope. In the Odaawaa language, the general language group is known as Nishnabemwin, while the specific language is called Daawaamwin. Of the estimated 5,000 ethnic Odaawaa and additional 10,000 people with Odaawaa ancestry, an estimated 500 people in Ontario and Michigan speak this language. The Ottawa Tribe of Oklahoma has three fluent speakers.[7]

Early history

Oral histories and early recorded histories

According to Anishinaabeg tradition, and from recordings in Wiigwaasabak (birch bark scrolls), they came from the eastern areas of North America, or Turtle Island, and from along the East Coast. Directed by the miigis (luminescent) beings, the Anishinaabe peoples moved inland along the Saint Lawrence River. At the "Third Stopping Place" near what is now Detroit, Michigan, the southern group of Anishinaabeg divided into three groups, of which the second group became the Odaawaa.

The Odaawaa, together with the Ojibwe (Ojibwa/Chippewa) and the Boodewaadamii (Potawatomi), were part of a long-term tribal alliance called the Council of Three Fires,[8] which fought the Iroquois Confederacy and the Sioux. In 1615 French explorer Samuel de Champlain met 300 men of a nation which, he said, "we call les cheueux releuez" near the French River mouth. Of these, he said: "Their arms consisted only of a bow and arrows, a buckler of boiled leather and the club. They wore no breech clouts, their bodies were tattooed in many fashions and designs, their faces painted and their noses pierced."[5] In 1616, Champlain left the Huron villages and visited the "Cheueux releuez" westward from the lands of the Huron Confederacy.

There is archaeological evidence that the Saugeen Complex people, a Hopewell-influenced group who were located on the Bruce Peninsula during the Middle Woodland period, may have evolved into the Odawa people. Some of these peoples constructed earthwork mounds for burials, a practice that ended about 250 CE.[9]

Economic dominance

Due to the extensive trade network maintained by the Odaawaa, many of the North American interior nations became known by names which they used rather than by the nations’ own names. For example, these exonyms include Winnebago (from Wiinibiigoo) for the Ho-Chunk, and Sioux (from Naadawensiw) for the Dakota. From the start of New France, the Ottawa became so important to the French and Canadiens in fur trade, that before 1670, colonists in Quebec, then called Canada, usually referred to any Algonquian speaker from the Great Lakes as an Ottawa. In their own language, the Ottawa (like the Ojibwe) referred to themselves as Anishinabe (Neshnabek) meaning "people".

Wars and refugees

The Odaawaa had disputes and warfare with other tribes, particularly over the lucrative fur trade. For example, the tribe once waged war against the Mascouten.

The Odaawaa allied with the French against the British in the Seven Years War, known as the French and Indian War in the North American colonies. They made raids against Anglo-American colonists. In 1763, after the British had defeated France, the Odaawaa Chief Pontiac led a rebellion against the British, but he was defeated.[10] [Pontiac's allies won the war and captured 12 of 14 British forts and brought the British to negotiate a treaty in which they agreed to establish a permanent boundary (Proclamation Line) that let to the Treaty of Fort Stanwix of 1768 and another line from Florida to Fort Stanwix and eastward - Sir William Johnson Papers]

A decade later, Chief Egushawa led the Odaawaa in the American Revolutionary War as an ally of the British.[11] The defeat of the British by the United States had a far-ranging influence on Native American/First Nations tribes.

In the 1790s, Egushawa fought the United States in a series of battles and campaigns together with other regional tribes in what became known as the Northwest Indian War. The Indians hoped to repulse the European-American pioneers coming to settle west of the Applachian Mountains, but were finally defeated.[11]

Treaties and removals

In 1807, the Odawa joined three other tribes, the Ojibwe, Potawatomi and Wyandot people, in signing the Treaty of Detroit. The agreement, between the tribes and William Hull, representing the Michigan Territory, gave the United States a portion of today's Southeastern Michigan and a section of Ohio near the Maumee River. The tribes were able to retain small pockets of land in the territory.[12]

Extinguishment and survival

Modern history

The population of the different Odaawaa groups is not known with certainty. In 1906 the Ojibwe and Odaawaa on Manitoulin and Cockburn Island were 1,497, of whom about half were Odaawaa; there were 197 Ottawa under the Seneca School, Oklahoma, and in Michigan 5,587 scattered Ojibwe and Odaawaa, in 1900, of whom about two-thirds are Odaawaa. The total Ottawa Tribe is about 4,700.

Known villages

The following are or were Ottawa villages:

Former villages not on reserves/reservations

Former reserves/reservations and their villages

  • Auglaize Reserve, Ohio – Oquanoxa's Village
  • Blanchard's Fork Reserve, Ohio – Lower Tawa Town, Upper Tawa Town
  • North Maumee River Reserve, Ohio – Meshkemau's Village, Wassonquet's Village, Waugau's Village
  • Obidgewong Reserve, Ontario – Obijewong, Ontario (located 2.5 kilometres (1.6 mi) east of Evansville, Ontario)
  • Ottawas of Blanchard's Fork Indian Reservation, Kansas – Ottawa
  • Ottawas of Roche de Bœuf and Wolf Rapids Indian Reservation, Kansas
  • Roche de Bœuf Reserve, Ohio – Nawash’s Village, Tontaganie's Village
  • South Maumee River Reserve, Ohio – McCarty's Village ("Tushquegan")
  • Wolf Rapids Reserve, Ohio – Kinjoino's Village ("Anpatonajowin" (Aabitanagaajiwan))

Current reserves/reservations and associated villages


Recognized/status Odaawaa governments
Other recognized/status governments with significant Odaawaa populations
Unrecognized/non-status Odaawaa governments
  • Burt Lake Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Michigan (formerly Northern Michigan Ottawa Association, Unit 8, currently recognized by Michigan)
  • Consolidated Bahweting Ojibwas and Mackinac Tribe, Michigan[15] (currently recognized by Michigan)
  • Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians, Michigan (formerly Northern Michigan Ottawa Association, Unit 3, currently recognized by Michigan)
  • Gun Lake Band of Grand River Ottawa Indians, Michigan (currently recognized by Michigan)
  • Mackinac Bands of Chippewa and Ottawa Indians, Michigan[15] (currently recognized by Michigan)
  • Maple River Band of Ottawa, Michigan
  • Muskegon River Band of Ottawa Indians, Michigan (formerly Northern Michigan Ottawa Association, Unit 5)
  • Ottawa Colony Band of Grand River Ottawa Indians, Michigan (currently recognized only as part of the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Potawatomi Indians of Michigan)

Notable chiefs

  • Chief Pontiac. An Ottawa chief, born about 1720, probably on Maumee River, Ohio, about the mouth of the Auglaize. In 1769 he attended a large meeting at Cahokia, Illinois, where drinking took place and he was assassinated by a Peoria Indian.
  • Chief Ningweegon (aka Negwagon). A chief of the Ottawa of the Michilimackinac region of Michigan, sometimes known in English as "The Wing," or "Wing." Although some sources refer to him as "Little Wing", this does not have supporting documentation.

See also


  • Cappel, Constance, Odawa Language and Legends: Andrew J. Blackbird and Raymond Kiogima, Xlibris, 2006.
  • Cappel, Constance, The Smallpox Genocide of the Odawa Tribe at L'Arbre Croche, 1763: The History of a Native American People, Edwin Mellen Press, 2007.
  • Wolff, Gerald W., and Cash, Joseph H. The Ottawa People, Phoenix, Arizona: Indian Tribal Series, 1976.

External links

  • Official website
  • "Ottawa History" Shultzman, L. 2000. First Nations Histories.
  • by Frederick Webb Hodge.
  • The Archaeology of Ontario-The Middle Woodland Period
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