Ojibwe or Chippewa?

Monday, February 23, 2015

I am currently researching my next book, which will be about a Native American girl attending an Indian boarding school in 1895.* As I mentioned last week, the protagonist is from the Chippewa tribe. I grew up in Chippewa country in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, so that seemed to be a natural choice.

That isn’t the end of the matter, however. The tribe goes by several names, so what should I call it? In earlier centuries, the members called themselves Anishinaabe, which means “original people.” Others referred to them as Ojibwa or Ojibwe or Ojibway. This may mean “people who make pictographs” (because they passed down tribal history using birch bark pictographs as well as through storytelling) or “puckered” (based on the style of moccasin they wore). Then the English came along and Anglicized it to Chippewa.**

Both Ojibwa (and its variations) and Chippewa are frequently used today, but Chippewa appears to be predominant in the names of the tribal organizations across the upper Midwest. It’s also easier for my middle grade readers to pronounce, so I have chosen to identify my protagonist as a member of the Chippewa tribe.

And because I don’t have enough information to set the first part on a specific reservation, I’m creating a generic one called the Chippewa Indian Reservation.

I also have to create a generic boarding school, and I decided to call it Dewmist Indian Boarding School. Can you guess how I came up with that name?

Find out in next week’s post.


*My reference to Indian boarding schools is not meant to be insensitive or politically incorrect. That is simply what these schools have been called throughout history. In fact, the word “Indian” is in the name of most, if not all, of them.

** This information comes from several sources, but the primary one is The Chippewas of Lake Superior by Edmund Jefferson Danziger, Jr.


The photo shows an Ojibwa family in front of their wigwam around 1860. It is part of the Minnesota Historical Society’s collection and is in the public domain because of its age.

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