Lake Superior Chippewa

The Lake Superior Chippewa (Anishinaabe: Gichigamiwininiwag) are a large number of Ojibwe (Anishinaabe) bands living around Lake Superior; this territory is considered part of northern Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota in the United States. They migrated into the area by the seventeenth century, encroaching on the Eastern Dakota people who historically occupied the area. The Ojibwe defeated the Eastern Dakota and had their last battle in 1745, after which the Dakota Sioux migrated west into the Great Plains. While sharing a common culture and Anishinaabe language, this group of Ojibwe is highly decentralized, with at least twelve independent bands in this region.

In the nineteenth century, the leaders of the bands negotiated together as the Lake Superior Chippewa with the United States government under a variety of treaties to protect their historic territories against land theft by European-American settlers. The United States set up several reservations for bands in this area under the treaties culminating in one in 1854. This enabled the people to stay in this territory rather than to be forced west of the Mississippi River, as the government had attempted. Under the treaty, the bands with reservations have been federally recognized as independent tribes; several retain Lake Superior Chippewa in their formal names to indicate their shared culture.


Sometime earlier than 1650, the Ojibwe split into two groups near present-day Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. This is believed to have been one of the stops which their prophets predicted in their migration; it was part of the path of the Anishinaabe, which they had traveled for centuries, in their passage west from the Atlantic Coast.

The Ojibwe who followed the south shore of Lake Superior found the final prophesied stopping place and "the food that grows on water" (wild rice) at Madeline Island. During the late 17th century, the Ojibwe at Madeline Island began to expand to other territory: they had population pressures, a desire for furs to trade, and increased factionalism caused by divisions over relations with French Jesuit missions. For a time they had an alliance with the Eastern Dakota.

Beginning about 1737, they competed for nearly 100 years with the Eastern Dakota and the Fox tribes in the interior of Wisconsin west and south of Lake Superior. The Ojibwe were technologically more advanced, having acquired guns through trading with the French, which for a time gave them an advantage. They eventually drove the Dakota Sioux out of most of northern Wisconsin and northeastern Minnesota into the western plains.[1][2]

The Sioux (Lakota) were pushed to the west, where they eventually settled in the Great Plains of present-day Nebraska and the Dakotas. The Ojibwe successfully spread throughout the Great Lakes region, with colonizing bands settling along lakes and rivers throughout what would become northern Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota in the United States. La Pointe on Madeline Island remained the spiritual and commercial center of the nation. The island is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


The Lake Superior Chippewa are numerous and contain many bands.

A separate sub-nation, known as the Biitan-akiing-enabijig (Border Sitters), were located between the Ojibwe of the Lake Superior watershed and other nations. The Biitan-akiing-enabijig were divided into three principal Bands:

Treaties and reservations

In a series of treaties with the US Government in the mid-nineteenth century, the Lake Superior Chippewa were formally grouped as a unit, which included the

  • Mississippi,
  • Pillager,
  • Bois Forte,
  • Muskrat Portage,
  • Red Lake
  • Pembina and
  • La Pointe bands. The various villages had been politically independent and did not have a centralized tribal authority.

In the winter of 1851, President Zachary Taylor ordered the removal of the Lake Superior Chippewa west of the Mississippi River, as had already been forced on most other tribes in the east. During the course of it, the US Army attacked the people in what has become known as the Sandy Lake Tragedy, during which several hundred Chippewa died, including women and children. The La Pointe chief Kechewaishke (Buffalo) went to Washington, DC to appeal to the government for relief. National outrage had been aroused by the many deaths of the Ojibwe, and the US ended attempts at Ojibwe removal.

The final treaty in 1854 established permanent reservations in Michigan at L'Anse, Lac Vieux Desert, and Ontonagon. In 1934 under the Indian Reorganization Act, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community was defined as successor apparent to the L'Anse, Lac Vieux Desert, and Ontonagon bands. Government functions were centralized with it, although all three reservations were retained. In 1988 the Lac Vieux Desert Band of Chippewa Indians succeeded in gaining federal recognition as a separate tribe.[3] Together with the Keneewaw Bay tribe, it is part of the Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan, which represents 11 of the 12 federally recognized tribes in Michigan. These include tribes of Potowatomi and Odawa peoples who, together with the Ojibwe, have made up the Council of Three Fires.

In Wisconsin, reservations were established at Red Cliff, Bad River, Lac Courte Oreilles, and Lac du Flambeau. The St. Croix and Sokaogon bands, left out of the 1854 treaty, did not obtain tribal lands or federal recognition until the 1930s after the Indian Reorganization Act.

In Minnesota, reservations were set up at Fond du Lac and Grand Portage. Other bands, such as the Bois Forte Band, continued independent negotiations with the US government and ended political affiliation with the Lake Superior Chippewa.


Today the bands are politically independent and are federally recognized as independent tribes with their own governments. They remain culturally closely connected to each other. They have engaged in common legal actions concerning treaty rights, such as fishing for walleye. Many bands include "Lake Superior Chippewa" in their official tribal names to indicate their historic and cultural affiliations (Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, etc.)

Historical bands and political successors apparent are the following:

In addition to the full political Successors Apparent, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe (via the St. Croix Chippewa Indians of Minnesota), Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe (via Removable Fond du Lac Band of the Chippewa Indian Reservation), and the White Earth Band of Chippewa (via the Removable St. Croix Chippewa of Wisconsin of the Gull Lake Indian Reservation) in present-day Minnesota retain minor Successorship to the Lake Superior Chippewa. They do not exercise the Aboriginal Sovereign Powers derived from the Lake Superior Chippewa.


  1. ^ James K. Bokern, History and the Primary Canoe Routes of the Six Bands of Chippewa from the Lac Du Flambeau District Archived 25 December 2012 at, unpublished Masters Thesis, 1987, prepared under supervision at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
  2. ^ "Lac Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa", Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council, 2005, Retrieved 1 September 2012
  3. ^ "Lac Vieux Desert Band of Chippewa Indian Community", Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan, 2012
  • Loew, Patty, 2001. Indian Nations of Wisconsin: Histories of Endurance and Renewal. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press.