Chippewa Culture and Customs

Traditions of and Resources for the First Americans


Aanii!  Welcome to our site, dedicated to respecting and understanding the customs and cultures of the Chippewa Tribe of American Indians.

My wife is a member of the Fond Du Lac Band of Ojibwe (Chippewa) and I have been working on this so I may honor her, her mother and the rest of her family.  As for me, I have a drop of Cherokee blood in me, but it is many generations past.  These people are my family and they have welcomed me into their clan.  I do not feel as lost in the world as I did at one time, as I once again belong to a family.  They have honored me at veteran Pow-Wow's and treat me as if I am one of their own.  Because of this, I am humbled and (though I am no expert on the subject) have decided to embark upon this quest of collecting information about the Chippewa, in hopes that our future generations do not forget their collective past.

Below you will find a very brief overview of the Chippewa people.  The Blog section and the Links are also full of a lot more (and even more useful!) information.  Much of the information you will find displayed here has been collected from various sources and is credited when possible.

Giminadan Gagiginonshiwan!

Giminadan Gagiginonshiwan! 

Do you want to know the meaning of the words above? See this quick reference or  Click this link and find out more! 

Chippewa Culture & Traditions: A Brief Overview

The Chippewa--also known as the Ojibwe--are a tribe of Native Americans. They are the third largest tribe in the United States, after the Cherokee and Navajo. Approximately 56,000 Chippewa Native Americans live in areas between Michigan and Montana.

Recorded History

In European recorded history, the Chippewa tribe were first mentioned by Jesuit missionaries in 1640. By buying guns from French traders, they managed to defeat their traditional enemies in the Sioux and Fox tribes, and they drove them out of the Upper Mississippi region, eventually becoming/taking over the current Michigan, and parts of Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Canadian province of Ontario.

When the French were defeated. the Chippewa allied themselves with the British against the United States, since settlers were encroaching on their lands. The agreements signed by the Chippewa Nation was the first with Canadian leaders, allowing settlers in the prairie provinces.

After several attempts by the United States government to remove the tribe--including several wars and massacres--they were finally allowed to live in reservations. Treaty land entitlements and settlements were continuously being re-negotiated by tribal leaders and the government. When they were signed, the Chippewa had no notion of land ownership, considering it as free and unbound as air or sunshine.

Family Structure

Traditionally, the Chippewa people were divided in clans, each band identified by the leading clan. The band was led by a council of leaders representing the clans of the community. Each clan was named for its animal totems.   According to oral tradition, in the beginning there were only five (possibly seven) totems: The Bullhead (Wawaazisii), Crane (Baswenaazhi), Pintail Duck (Aan'aawenh), Bear (Nooke) and Moose-tail (Moozwaanowe).

Traditionally, the Bear was the largest clan, and the Crane was the most vocal. Warren indicated the English name for the more extensive list of 21 totems to be as follows: Crane, Catfish, Loon, Bear, Marten, Rein Deer, Wolf, Merman, Pike, Lynx, Eagle, Rattlesnake, Moose, Black Duck or Cormorant, Goose, Sucker, Sturgeon, White Fish, Beaver, Gull, and Hawk. (Warren 1885:44-45)

The family structure was also derived from the clans. The family includes the immediate family as well as cousins, since they are members of the same clan. Older and younger generations than the speaker are addressed with the same collective term. Generally, inter-clan marriage was not allowed.  This promoted peace and even then unknown benefits of genetic variations.


The Chippewa considered themselves guided by spirits through life. They believed in creation, and the Chippewa had extensive teachings regarding the origin of ceremonies and ritual. They used birch bark scrolls and petroforms (shapes of rock piled on top of each other) to document the ceremonies. These were only used as memory aids for the oral tradition. The knowledge was passed along in sweat lodges, which are still used to teach the younger generation about the history of the nation, in the form songs and chants.


Traditionally, the Chippewa were hunter-gatherers. Women cultivated corn and squash, and they harvested wild rice. Men went hunting and fishing. The Ojibwe originally lived in wigwams.

The tribe created birch bark scrolls with writing used in the religious rites, but also containing knowledge of religion, geometry and mathematics. They used petroforms, and medicine wheels were a way to teach astronomy, which was used to determine the seasons. These scrolls are hidden and guarded by societies, who also are responsible for their interpretation.


The original Ojibwe language is still spoken among the members of the Chippewa tribe, and it's the fourth largest of the still spoken Native American languages. The language is a member of the Algonquian family of languages, which have a very different linguistic structure than English.

The Chippewa hold social gatherings (pow-wows or "pau waus") in summer in their reservations. That words like pow-wow and wigwam have made their way into English are largely due to their use in the "Song of Hiawata" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, published in 1855. Singers Buffy Sainte-Marie and Shania Twain are also members of the Chippewa tribe.  Many of the old traditions are still observed, even today.

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By Johan Hjelm, edited and corrected by this site

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