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Traditions of the Ottawa Regarding Their Early History

 Native American Nations | Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan                   


     Very many centuries ago, before the discovery of the American continent by the white people, the traditions of the Ottawa say they lived along the banks of one of the largest tributaries of the St. Lawrence, now known as the Ottawa river. The Ottawa spread over the country around the head waters of this stream, subduing all other tribes of Indians which they happened to encounter, except the Chippewa and Stockbridge Indians. They have been always friendly and closely related with these tribes, and consequently no war-club was ever raised by either of these against the other. Their language is of the same root, as they could quite intelligently understand each other. Their manners and customs in every way correspond. Their legends, particularly respecting the flood, and their belief in the Supreme Being, the great creator of all things --Ketchi-mat-ne-do--is very much the same; also their belief in the evil spirit, whose habitation was under the earth. To this deity they offered sacrifices as well as to the other gods or deities. These offerings were called in those days peace-offerings and down-offerings. They never sacrificed flesh of animals to the evil spirit. Their offering to this deity was parched corn pounded, then cooked into hominy; this was sacrificed to the evil spirit, not because they loved him, but to appease his wrath.
     Although the Chippewa speak almost the same language as the Ottawas and Stockbridge Indians, yet they seem to belong to another family of Indians, as they are much taller than the Ottawa and Stockbridge, and broader across the shoulders--having a full chest, very erect and striding firmly in their walking. They were much more numerous than the Ottawa Indians. They extended from lower Canada north-westward up to Manitoba county. There are three kinds of Chippewa, each kind having a different dialect. The Chippewa in Canada, around the Straits of Mackinaw, the islands in Lake Michigan, Sault Ste. Marie, and west of Lake Superior, are much more enlightened and intelligent, and these, we called common Chippewa; but those on the plains further north or northwest of Lake Superior, "the wild Chippewa;" and those on the north side of Lake Superior going toward Hudson Bay; we called "the Backwoodsmen." This latter race lived entirely by hunting and fishing and endured very great hardships sometimes, particularly, when there was scarcity of game. The Chippewa were very brave people on the war path, and their principal foes were Sioux Indians on the plains. These were called in the Ottawa language "Naw-do-wa-see," and in the Chippewa "Au-bwan." The plurals are "Naw-do-wa-see-wog" and "Au-bwan-og." The "Naw-do-wa-see-wog" are deadly enemies of the Ottawas and Chippewas, and they are the most careless of their lives, for they taught their children from infancy not to fear death. But the Ottawas were, however, considered as the most ancient tribe of Indians and were called by the other tribe "their big brother." Although they are a smaller race, in stature, then many other tribes, they were known as the most wise and sagacious people. Every tribe belonging to all the Algonquin family of Indians looked up to the Ottawa for good counsel; and they were as brave as the Chippewas and very expert on the warpath.
     Every tribe of Indians has a different coat of arms, or symbolical sign by which they are known to one another. The emblem of the Ottawa is a moose; of the Chippewa, a sea gull; of the Backswoodsmen, a rabbit; that of the underground tribe, to which I belong, is a species of hawk; and that of the Seneca tribe of Indians is a crotch of a tree. The Ottawa Indians are very nearly extinct in the state of Michigan as there are only two or three families in the state, whose national emblem is a moose, showing them to be descended from pure Ottawa blood; but those who represented themselves as the Ottawa in this state are descendants from various tribes of Indians, even some are Seneca, of the Iroquois family--formerly deadly enemies of the Ottawa. The cause of this mixture is by intermarriage, and by prisoners of war in former times.
     The first man who signed the treaty of 1886, one of the Chippewa of the Grand River Indians, whose name was "Mixinene," was a descendant of the Backwoodsmen, whose emblem was a rabbit. Therefore, all the rest of those Chippewa who went to Washington to form a treaty with the Government felt displeased about this matter and tried to ignore the signature of Mixinene, because they thought that the first signature should have been made by a pure Ottawa or a pure Chippewa, because they had the first right to the land of Michigan. But the "Backwoodsmen," they considered, had no claim nor title to this land which they ceded to the Government of the United States. But the Government did not know the difference, however,--all she wanted was the land. So all the Chiefs of the Ottawa and Chippewa signed this said treaty, not with free will, but by compulsion.
     The tradition gives no reason why the Ottawa continually moved towards the northwest at this early period; but it is, however, supposed that it was on account of their deadly enemies, the Iroquois of New York, as they were continually at war with the six nations of Indians. Quite often, the Iroquois would attack them, but the tradition says that in almost every battle the Ottawa would come out victorious over the Iroquois. The Ottawa too, in retaliation, would go to the Iroquois country to scalp some of the Iroquois; then have their jubilees over these scalps by feasting and dancing around them. At this stage of their existence they were an exceedingly fierce and warlike people, not only contending with these tribes, but also with many others out west and south, even to the Choctaw and Cherokee country and to the Flatheads, Sioux Indians and the Underground race of people out west.
     As the Ottawa continued moving up on this beautiful stream of water, they at last came to a large lake, the head waters of the river. The surrounding scenery of the lake was most surprisingly beautiful. They immediately named this lake Ke-tchi-ne-bissing, which name it bears to this day. Here the Ottawa concluded to stop and occupy the surrounding country. Therefore, they pitched their tents and formed a great village. They continued to reside around the lake for untold ages. And here too they had many hard battles with the Iroquois; but the Iroquois were not able to conquer them or drive them from the country. But at last the Ottawa became discontented with the place. They concluded that the place was haunted by some presiding deity who was not favorable to them. They probably obtained this idea through having sometimes great disasters in war with the Iroquois at this place. I will here relate an incident which happened to the Ottawa at about this time, and which was the origin of their belief that the deity of the place was unfavorable to them. It may be considered as purely fictitious, but every Ottawa and Chippewa to this day believes it to have actually occurred.
     A woman went down to the beach of lake Ke-tchi-ne-bissing to wash some of her clothing, taking along her infant child, which was tied up on a board, according to the fashion of the Indians. When she reached the beach, she set her child down very near the edge of the water that it might watch its mother while at work. Her wigwam stood not far from the lake, and in a few moments she ran to it for something. On her return to the spot she was terribly surprised not to find her child where she had left it but a few minutes before. She ran frantically through the village, crying and screaming, and saying that some one had stolen her baby. A few days after this, two lovers sat upon the top of the highest hillock which stood back of the village. While they were talking very much love to each other, they heard an infant crying bitterly, in the ground directly under them. Every one who heard the report said at once that it must be the same baby who was mysteriously missing on the beach a few days before. The next day all the magicians were called together and requested to divine this mystery. Some went and put themselves into the state of clairvoyance, which was a very common practice among the Ottawa and Chippewa within my time, and is still practiced to-day where there is no Christianity predominating among the Indians. Other magicians built themselves lodges in which to call their favorite spirits in order to commune with them. This, which we might call Spiritualism, was practiced among the Indians much as among the whites at the present day. The form of these lodges was like a tower in circular form built with long poles set deep in the ground ten or twelve feet high, then covered tight all around with canvass or skins of animals, except the top is left open. Now the magician or the performer comes with the little flat magician's rattle like a tambourine. They always build a fire close to the lodge so that the attendants and spectators could light their pipes, as they generally smoke much during the performance. The magician sits by the fire also, and begins to talk to the people, telling them that he could call up various spirits, even the spirit of those who are yet living in the world, and that they should hear them and ask them any questions they wish. After which he begins to sing a peculiar song which scarcely any one could understand. Then he either goes into the lodge by crawling under, or sits out side with the rest of the audience, and simply throws something of his wear in the lodge--his blanket or his robe or coat. And immediately the lodge begins to tremble, appearing to be full of wind. Then voices of various kinds are heard from top to bottom, some speaking in unknown tongues, and when the spectators ask any questions they would receive replies sometimes with unknown tongues, but among the spirits there is always a special interpreter to make known what other spirits says.
     After the magicians had finished their incantations, one of them, whom they thought greatest of all, went down to the beach to the place where the child had been missing. The water was very deep there along the beach quite close to the shore. He plunged in the lake and was gone under water for a long time. At last he came up and reported that he had discovered a doorway under deep water for a passage which seemed to lead toward the top of the hill. He believed through this passage the child was conveyed to the top of the hill by some evil monster, and all the rest of the magicians agreed with this opinion. Therefore, they returned to their village to hold another council and they concluded to dig down wherever the magicians would direct and try to find the passage. They found the passage after making a very deep hole which to this day is said to be yet visible at Ke-tchi-ne-bissing. While they were digging, two supernatural monsters ran out of the place; and at last at the top of the hill they found a cavern where the dead form of the child was discovered.

Chippewa History | Ottawa History

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