Lesson Plans: Grades 3-5

Anishinabe/Ojibwe/Chippewa: Culture of an Indian Nation

Created September 29, 2010


The Lesson


Anishinabe/Ojibwe/Chippewa: Chippewa woman and child

An elderly Native American (Chippewa) woman and "local leader" instructs a young woman "in the ancient tribal craft" of quillwork as the two sit on a blanket at the agency in Minnesota.

Credit: Image courtesy of Photographs from the Collection of the Denver Public Library.

This lesson provides information and activities about one American Indian Nation, the Anishinabe, called Ojibwe in Canada and Chippewa in the U.S., and engages students in research on its history, location, and past and present culture. By focusing on one Native American tribe, students will acquire a differentiated and accurate understanding of one of the many diverse peoples and cultures living throughout the lands that are now referred to as North and South America, in addition to recognizing elements of a common history of conquest and displacement by Europeans that affected all Native American peoples.

Students will be introduced to the past and present cultures of the Anishinabe/Ojibwe people, the tribe's original and contemporary locations, and the meanings and history of their different names. The class will then research together the topic of historical migration of the Anishinabe/Ojibwe, and the lesson culminates with group research projects focusing on different aspects of the culture and traditions of this tribe.

While this lesson focuses on the history and culture of the Anishinabe/Ojibwe people, you can adapt the activities to a Native American tribe that has played an historical or contemporary role in your school's region or community. A related EDSITEment lesson for grades 3-5 is Not "Indians", Many Tribes: Native American Diversity, which studies the interaction between environment and culture for the Abenaki, Hopi, and Kwakiutl Nations.

Guiding Questions

Who are the Anishinabe people, what was their life like in the past, and how do they live today? What historical events led to changes in location, traditions, and culture?

Learning Objectives

  • Identify the different names and locations of the Anishinabe/Ojibwe/Chippewa Nation
  • Discuss the language, history, and culture of the Anishinabe people
  • Name this group's cultural traditions and customs that have changed over the centuries as well as those that have continued into the present
  • Understand the history and background of this Native American tribe and relate these to cultural changes and the group's way of life today
  • Describe the historical and contemporary locations, houses, clothing, food, and cultural traditions of the Anishinabe

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Introduction to Anishinabe/Ojibwe/Chippewa

To introduce the Anishinabe/Ojibwe/Chippewa Nation and its past and present culture to students, obtain and display pictures of traditional and contemporary elements of Anishinabe culture, and, if possible, bring in samples of actual items used in Anishinabe daily life. Examples might be: pieces of birch bark or model birch bark canoes; traditional clothing items such as moccasins or breechcloth; food staples such as wild rice, maple sugar, or maple syrup; stories, legends, and books about Ojibwe culture (some suggested fiction and non-fiction books are listed below); music CDs with traditional or contemporary music made by Ojibwe artists.

Several pictures and explanatory information about clothing, footwear, and everyday items used by the Anishinabe/Ojibwe can be viewed online or downloaded and printed out for class viewing from the following NativeTech (a link on the EDSITEment-reviewed NativeWeb site) pages:

Discuss the items and pictures with students, pointing out which objects were used in the past and which continue to be of use today. Can they identify what the objects are and what they are used for? Which of the objects have they used in their own lives? What similar objects make up part of their daily lives, or their family or community traditions?

Tell students that, after an introduction to the Anishinabe/Ojibwe people and culture, the class will first conduct a research project together on the origins and historical movement of the tribe, and will then divide into groups to research different aspects of the Anishinabe's history and past and present ways of life.

Explain to the class why this tribe has different names, the context in which these different names are used, and their meanings. The Ojibwe History page of the Ojibwe Culture & Language Links, available through the EDSITEment-reviewed resource NativeWeb, explains the derivations of the various names by which the tribe is known, providing the following information: "Called 'Chippewa' in the United States and 'Ojibwe/Ojibway' in Canada, they call themselves Anishinabe meaning 'first men.' They accept the name 'Ojibwe' (even though they prefer Anishinabe), but intensely dislike the name 'Chippewa.' 'Ojibwe/Ojibway' is an Algonquin word that refers to a unique puckered seam on the moccasins of the Anishinabe. 'Chippewa' is considered to be an attempt by the French explorers to say 'Ojibwe.'"

You can show students a picture of the moccasin for which the Ojibwe are named, which actually looks "puckered up," at the Overview of Footwear: Moccasins, available through NativeTech, a resource from the EDSITEment-reviewed NativeWeb. This site contains good graphics and thorough descriptions of different types and designs of moccasins. Clicking on the map brings into focus the varieties of moccasins made and worn in specific areas.

Other information about the tribe's name, from the Ojibwe History website, available through the EDSITEment-reviewed resource NativeWeb:

  • Ojibwe and Chippewa are the versions of the same word pronounced differently because of English versus French accents (placing an "O" in front of Chippewa results in the word "O'chippewa").
  • "Ojibwe" is used in Canada, while Ojibwe living west of Lake Winnipeg are sometimes referred to as the Saulteaux.
  • In United States, Chippewa was used in all treaties and remains the official name.
  • The Ojibwe call themselves Anishinabe (or Anishinaubag or Neshnabek), which means "original men."
  • In the past, the Ojibwe, Ottawa, and Potawatomi were a single tribe.
  • The word "Ojibwe," or "Chippewa," comes from the Algonquin word "otchipwa" (to pucker), referring to the distinctive puckered seam of Ojibwe moccasins.
  • Various spellings are: Achipoes, Chepeway, Chippeway, Ochipoy, Odjibwa, Ojibweg, Ojibwey, Ojibwa, and Otchipwe.

(Please note that this lesson plan uses both "Anishinabe" and "Ojibwe" as the preferred terms for this group. While "Chippewa" is used in the U.S., it is not approved of by the Anishinabe people themselves. The lesson plan also alternates among the three terms, "Native American," "American Indian," and "Indian people" so as not to privilege one designation over the others. For more information about Native American naming issues, please see "Teaching Young Children about Native Americans" by Debbie Reese.

Activity 2. A Class Research Project on Migration and the Anishinabe's Changing Culture

The class as a whole can conduct research on the tribe's origins and historical migration. In the following lesson, students can divide into groups, and each group will develop a research project to present to the class and write up individually on one aspect of the history and culture of the Anishinabe.

Introduce students to the concept and process of a research paper. Summarize for your students the following steps: explore the subject; find a topic; locate relevant information; analyze the issues; organize your arguments; and finally, write the paper.

Explain to students that, like all communities, the Anishinabe/Ojibwe were influenced in their ways of life - clothing, food, lodging, transportation, etc. -- by their geographic location and environment. The Anishinabe were originally a woodland people living in the general area of the Great Lakes that spans what are now Michigan in the United States and Ontario, Canada. Situate the Anishinabe people within their region of the United States by having the class locate the tribe on a map and indicate the historical migration patterns of the group to point out where the people originally lived and where they live today.

Describe how climate changes, trade with Europeans beginning in the 17th century, war with other tribes, and displacement through treaties made during the 19th century that signed away land to the U.S. government, contributed to the relocation of the Ashinabe/Ojibwe people. These factors influenced the movement of most Native peoples throughout North and South America, and during the 1800s, many American Indians were forced by the U.S. government to move onto reservations that continue to exist today.

To use the Internet to do collaborative research on this topic, you can display a computer-projected image to the entire class or assign individuals or small groups to look up specific Web pages on individual computers, or print out the Web pages and distribute copies to the students. You can use the following sources of information as well as other resources for the class research. Please note that some of the Web sites contain material written at a fairly advanced reading level; for purposes of the class research project, you may want to lead the students through the resources to show them how to select information that is appropriate to the topic and also to their reading and comprehension levels.

    • Information about the different migration patterns of the tribe can be found at History of the Ojibway People, available through NativeWeb. You need to scroll down to the fourth paragraph to find the appropriate text; then view the map.
    • The following information is from the Ojibwe History website, available through the EDSITEment-reviewed resource NativeWeb:


  • The Ojibwe most likely originally lived along the Hudson Bay, near the Ottawa and Potawatomi tribes.
  • The first Ojibwe, Ottawa and Potawatomi bands moved to the east side of Lake Huron around 1400, when the North America climate became colder.
  • Ojibwe moved west to Lake Superior and Wisconsin's Apostle Islands.
  • By 1623, the Ojibwe were concentrated in the eastern half of upper Michigan.
  • Through fur trade with the French and war with other Indian Nations such as the Iroquois, the Ojibwe expanded to the east, south, and west after 1687.
  • During their wars with the Iroquois, the Ojibwe moved down both sides of Lake Huron, and by 1701 controlled most of lower Michigan and southern Ontario.
  • The Ojibwe followed the French fur trade west during the 1720s, moving beyond Lake Superior and into a war with the Dakota (Sioux) in 1737.
  • Over the next century, the Ojibwe forced the Dakota out of northern Minnesota and Wisconsin.
  • In the late 1700s, some bands reached Manitoba and North Dakota and adopted the plains lifestyle, continuing west into Montana and Saskatchewan.
  • Meanwhile, other Ojibwe moved south to settle in northern Illinois.
  • By 1800, Ojibwe were living in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Michigan, Minnesota, Michigan, North Dakota, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.
  • White settlement ultimately took most of their land and forced them onto reservations, but with the exception of two small bands, the Ojibwe have remained in their homeland.
  • Canada recognizes more than 600 First Nations - more than 130 of which are Ojibwe (at least in part). These are located in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.
  • In the United States, 22 Chippewa groups have federal recognition.

Useful maps and information written at a fairly high reading level about several contemporary Ojibwe/Chippewa reservations in Wisconsin are located at the Great Lakes Intertribal Council Website, available through NativeWeb. Reference this site for a list of tribes with links to locations and current cultural events for specific Ojibwe/Chippewa bands, scroll down to the bottom of each page for the link to the tribal band website. Tribal bands include: Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians; Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians; Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa; Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Sokaogon Chippewa Tribe (Mole Lake); and St. Croix Chippewa Tribe.

Using these and other resources, you can have students take turns writing notes on the board for the entire class. Have each student supply the main ideas and details for the topic of migration and changing culture. Then, allow the class to dictate sentences and write up a short essay based on the information acquired through the collaborative research process. You can also create a Works Cited list to demonstrate the format for bibliographic citations. This essay can serve as a model for the small group research projects in Activity 3.

Activity 3. Group Research Projects on Aspects of Anishinabe Life

Divide students into groups and assign each group a separate element of Anishinabe life to research, write about, and report to the class. Topics could include:

      1. Natural Environment of the Great Lakes


      2. Obtaining and Preparing Food


      3. Clothing and Dwellings


      4. Tools and Crafts


      5. Stories and Legends


    6. Historical Relations with Europeans and Other Native Groups

Students can use the following Web resources, among others, to conduct research and gather information about their topic. (Note: Unless otherwise noted, the resources listed below are linked from the EDSITEment-reviewed resource NativeWeb.

General Information about the Anishinabe/Ojibwe

  • Ojibwe History website (There is a great deal of data here for research. Reading level is at a level for advanced grade 4 and grade 5 students.)
  • The Ojibwe Culture & Language Links, a link from NativeTech: Native American Technology and Art, contains links to information on their location, history, language, and daily life. Some examples with resources for researching the history and culture are:
    • Ojibwe (This contains short "bites" of general information about the tribe, easy to read, particularly good for younger students.)
    • Ojibwe History (Like the site above, this site contains short pieces of general information, easy to read.)
    • An Ojibwe language word list includes such words and expressions as greetings, family members, parts of the body, animals, plants, colors, seasons, and numbers. (This site contains many lists of words of the Ojibwe language. It is very useful as resource for the language project.)
    • The Great Lakes Intertribal Council Native Wisconsin Homepage contains information about contemporary Ojibwe life on several reservations in Wisconsin. (This site, which is at a reading level for 4th and 5th graders, contains information about the locations of specific Ojibwe bands today. It contains data about the geographical area and local industries.)
  • The Midwest Treaty Network is an alliance of Indian and non-Indian groups that promotes Native American sovereignty and works on issues of cultural respect and on building cultural and economic ties between Native and non-Native communities.
  • Students can also use the following information from the Ojibwe History website, available through the EDSITEment-reviewed resource NativeWeb: (There is a great deal of data here for research. Reading level is at a level for advanced grade 4 and grade 5 students.)

Culture -- Food, Housing, Clothing

  • The Ojibwe were the largest and most powerful Great Lakes tribe.
  • Most Ojibwe lived in the northern Great Lakes with a short growing season and poor soil.
  • The Lakota people used buffalo to provide everything they needed to survive.
  • The Ojibwe were hunter-gatherers who harvested wild rice and maple sugar.
  • Woodland Ojibwe had no salt to preserve food and generally mixed everything with maple syrup as seasoning.
  • They were skilled hunters and trappers, which were useful skills for war and the fur trade.
  • Fishing provided much of their diet and became more important in the northernmost bands.
  • Woodland Ojibwe rarely used horses or hunted buffalo.
  • Dogs were the only domestic animal and were also served at their feasts.
  • Birchbark was used for many purposes: utensils, storage containers, and, most importantly, canoes.
  • Birchbark canoes were lighter than the dugouts used by the Dakota (Sioux) and other tribes.
  • Birchbark was also used to cover their houses - elliptical, dome-shaped wigwams.
  • When a family moved, the covering of the wigwam was rolled up and taken with them.
  • In summer, Ojibwe wore buckskin clothing.
  • Fur outer garments were worn in winter.
  • Men wore breechcloths, and both sexes wore leggings.
  • Moccasins had distinctive puffed seams, for which Ojibwe were named.
  • Moccasins were often colored with red, yellow, blue, and green dyes made by the women, who decorated them with intricate quill and moose-hair designs.
  • The Ojibwe often spent the long, cold winters by telling stories, an art for which they are still renowned.
  • Generally, men and women wore their hair long and braided.
  • In times of war, men might change to a scalplock.
  • Before contact with Europeans, Anishinabe were only connected to one another by clans and a common language.
  • Their hunter-gatherer lifestyle required them to separate into small bands and move in a fixed pattern to take advantage of available resources.
  • During winter, they separated into extended families in isolated hunting camps, which allowed the men to cover a large area without competition from other hunters.
  • During warmer months, they gathered in bands of 300-400 at known locations where they could live on fish, berries, and wild rice.
  • After the beginning of the fur trade with the French, different Ojibwe bands began merging.
  • The Ojibwe became heavily involved in the French fur trade, which brought the Ojibwe wealth and power.
  • However, Ojibwe became dependent on the French and trade goods.
  • Trade with the French brought weapons to the Ojibwe, who increasingly made war with other Nations.
  • Ojibwe bands became larger and began to cooperate on a greater scale, especially during the Beaver Wars (1630-1700) with the Iroquois.
  • Trade also brought the Ojibwe their first experiences with European epidemics.
  • Before contact with Europeans, there was little formal religious ceremony.
  • For healing, they relied on medicinal herbs gathered by the women and shamans.
  • The new diseases brought by the Europeans overwhelmed the Ojibwe and were deadly beyond anything they had seen.
  • In response to the new diseases, the Midewiwin (Grand Medicine Society), a secret religious society, formed.
  • The Midewiwin was open to both men and women, and its members performed elaborate healing ceremonies to deal with sickness.
  • The Midewiwin kept written records on birchbark scrolls, which was unique among the Great Lakes tribes.

Natural Environment of the Great Lakes

Obtaining and Preparing Food

  • Wild Rice -- Mahnoomin The story of the sacred wild rice
  • Sugar Bush (iswi-baakwa-togan): An Ojibwe/Metis Account of Maple Sugaring (This is a very readable and interesting primary source about maple sugaring: it offers an opportunity for students to think like a native and sense the importance the natural environment of the Great Lakes region to native life.)
  • Ricing (This site describes the history of ricing in Minnesota, but includes a description of the ricing process, including harvesting, drying, parching, and winnowing rice, which is still used by Native Americans today.)
  • Maple Sugar -- Boiling Month The month in early spring in northern Minnesota (late March through April) when the process of maple sugaring took place   

Clothing and Dwellings

Tools and Crafts

Stories and Legends

Historical Relations with Europeans and Other Native Groups

  • The following information is provided on the History section of the Ojibwe History website, available through the EDSITEment-reviewed resource NativeWeb (Note: the reading level for this website is for advanced grade 4 and grade 5 students):
  • The movement of the Ojibwe brought them into conflict with other tribes.
  • Around 1500, Ojibwe arrived at Sault Ste. Marie (this area is now in Michigan in the U.S. and in Ontario, Canada), displacing several resident tribes.
  • The Menominee were pushed south into an alliance with the Winnebago, and the Cheyenne and Arapaho started a series of movements which led them to the Colorado plains.
  • Continued Ojibwe expansion west along the shores of Lake Superior brought them into conflict with the Dakota (Santee or Eastern Sioux) and Assiniboine.
  • The date of the first meeting between the French and Ojibwe is uncertain, because the French at first did not distinguish between Ottawa and Ojibwe.
  • Champlain is reported to have met some Ojibwe at the Huron villages in 1615.
  • It is not until 1623 that a meeting between the Ojibwe and the French is certain, when Étienne Brulé reached the falls of the St. Marys River (Sault Ste. Marie).
  • Ojibwe traded furs with the Ottowa for French trade goods and weapons, which meant that these items reached the Ojibwe years before they had regular contact with French people.
  • The western Great Lakes were relatively peaceful before 1630, but the fur trade changed this.
  • Fur traded for steel weapons allowed the Ojibwe to take hunting territory from other tribes, through which they acquired more fur to trade for more weapons to expand even farther, increasing wars with the Dakota and Winnebago tribes.

Have students write the information they have gathered on note cards, which they can use to create individual essays on their topic. As a group, they can then use the note cards to present their topic orally to the class. An alternative would be to have student groups produce online slideshows and powerpoint demonstrations of their topics, for classes that have access to the necessary technology.

Students can accompany their essays with hands-on projects such as a diorama of an Anishinabe village; drawings created to portray scenes of everyday life; a construction of a model wigwam or canoe.

Extending The Lesson

  • Create a class Museum of Ojibwe history and culture. Bring in authentic items from the Ojibwe or other Native American tribes' culture. Students can act as curators and docents, selecting and creating materials to display that cover aspects of Ojibwe traditions and everyday life such as geography, dress, foods, etc., and can guide other classes through the museum, explaining the exhibited items and background information on the tribe.
  • Divide students into groups and have each group select an Anishinabe/Ojibwe story or legend to analyze. Students can write individual book reports, and groups act out the story or legend to the class.

Suggested books to use in introducing Anishinabe/Ojibwe culture to the class:

  • King, Sandra. (1993).Shannon: An Ojibway Dancer. Lerner Pub.
  • Regguinti, Gordon. (1992). The Sacred Harvest: Ojibway Wild Rice Gathering. Lerner Pub.

Books About the Ojibwe from the Oyate website, available through the EDSITEment-reviewed resource NativeWeb:

  • Broker, Ignatia, Night Flying Woman. 1983, b/w illustrations. Dunn, Anne, Grandmother's Gift: Stories from the Anishinabeg. 1997, b/w illustrations.
  • -----, When Beaver Was Very Great: Stories to Live By. 1995, b/w illustrations.
  • Erdrich, Louise, The Birchbark House. 1999, b/w illustrations.
  • Gaikesheyongai, Sally, The Seven Fires: An Ojibway Prophecy. 1994, color illustrations.
  • King, Edna, and Jordan Wheeler, Adventure on Thunder Island. 1991.
  • Martinson, David, ed., A Long Time Ago is Just Like Today. 1976, b/w illustrations.
  • Otto, Simon, Ah-Soo-Can-Nah-Nah: Storyteller. 1997, b/w line drawings by the author
  • -----, Grandmother Moon Speaks. 1997, b/w drawings by James McCann (Ottawa).
  • Roman, Trish Fox, ed., Voices Under One Sky: Contemporary Native Literature. 1994, b/w illustrations.
  • Wittstock, Laura Waterman, Ininatig's Gift of Sugar: Traditional Native Sugarmaking. 1993, color photos.


Selected EDSITEment Websites

The Basics

Time Required

3 class periods

Subject Areas
  • Art and Culture > Subject Matter > Anthropology
  • History and Social Studies
  • History and Social Studies > People > Native American
  • Art and Culture
  • Analysis
  • Historical analysis
  • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
  • Research
  • Writing