Annual Cycle of the Anishinabe
(Page 1 of 4)
by Peter Linke
Table of Contents
[Please note that "Ansihnabe", "Ojibway", "Ojibwe",
and "Ojibwa" refer to the same Native people.]
This was a research project I undertook to try to reconstruct the annual
cycle of the Anishinabe of the Lake Superior Region, at the time of initial
contact. (Prior the fur trade) As with all texts of this type, it can only be a
“best guess” at what things were like during that period of time. My
approach was to try to correlate the timing of natural events to the written
material I found. This was to “test” the findings to see if they made
Summary of Survival Related Findings
The Anishinabe (sometimes known as the Ojibwa or Chippewa) were a nomadic
people who had an incredibly fine tuned annual cycle. The knowledge of this
routine was the edge these people had on survival in the Lake Superior region of
Ontario Canada. Here are some of the “Survival Highlights” of the Anishinabe
in their annual cycle:
- They had a defined itinerary of where they were to be at specific times of
the year, based on the occurrence of natural events. Their year started at
their winter hunt camps. They would then move to the location of the family
sugarbush camps. From there they would gather at the locations of the spring
fish spawn, and then head to the summer camps. After summer finished, they
would head for the areas of the wild rice harvest, and after harvest, travel
to the fall fishing sites. Once freezeup came, they returned to their winter
hunt camps to complete the cycle.
- Family ties and relations played a big part in where a family would reside
during the year. I never found any references to conflicts over family
territory, but to be able to cache your tools and provisions in known
locations must have relied on some sort of mutual respect of territorial
- An important part of their routine was to cache and store tools and food
to be used at later times during the year. They would drop off certain
implements, and retrieve others.
- They carried shelter materials with them from location to location.
- Waterways were their main conduit for travel and transport. This was both
in winter and summer.
- Fishing provided the greatest extent of their protein sustenance. They
were well versed in different styles of fishing including the use of gill
nets, seines, and spears.
- Their routine was one where they would gather in great numbers at one time
in the year and disperse into small family units at other times. Different
locations at specific times during the year would support different numbers
of people. The Anishinabe were aware of this and their routine reflected it.
- Division of work was a key part of their survival. Everyone’s role was
well defined. This was to make best use of time, resources and materials.·
Many of the raw materials that the Anishinabe used were scouted for well in
advance. That is so when a major event came such as canoe making, all the
materials they would need for the job were ready and at hand. For example
white cedars were girdled years in advance, so the wood would be dry for
canoe making time
- They used dogs for transport and hunting.
Key Natural Events That Shaped the Anishinabe Annual Cycle
Below is a summary of the natural events that were at the core of the annual
cycle of the Anishinabe (in order)
- Maple Syrup Starts to Run
- Ice Thaws on Rivers and Lakes
- Spring spawn of walleye, northern pike, rainbow trout, sturgeon, muskellunge
- Birch Ready For Harvest
- Summer Wild Plants Ready For Harvest
- Wild Rice Ready For Harvest
- Ducks Begin Migration
- Fall spawn of lake trout, whitefish, salmon, and brook trout.
- Ice freezes up on lakes and rivers
Ref: People of the Lakes, Time Life Books
- Netting was the most common and effective method of fishing.
- Frequently ice still remained on the water and men had to cut through it
to fish. The fishermen would lie flat over the hole with their head and
shoulders covered by a blanket. This veil blocked the sunlight and made it easier for them
to see their prey. A lure was dangled in the water and the fish were speared
when they came up to the surface.
Ref: The Woodland Indians of the Western Great Lakes, Robert Ritzenhaler.
- Night use of torch in a canoe to attract fish. The fish were speared when
they came up to investigate the light.
Anishinabe (Ojibwe) References to Time
Below are excerpts of some of the time references the Anishinabe used:
Ref: The Chippewas of Lake Superior, Edmund Danziger Jr, ISBN 0-8061-1487-8
- "Crusted Snow Supporting Man Moon" -- Late March
- "Putting Away
Snowshoes Moon" -- Early April
- "Flowering Moon" -- May - when the snow was off
- "Strawberry Moon" -- June – Corn was planted at this time.
Moon" -- mid-August
- "Turning of Leaves Moon" -- Early Sept when the people
headed for the rice fields.
- "Leaves Falling Moon" -- People went to the duck
- "Lake Freezing Moon" -- Winter hunt began in November.
The Round Lake Ojibwa, Edward S, Rogers
The year was formally broken up into approximately nine periods. Now there
are only four in use. The periods were known as "ahkiwin":
- nipin -- Aug
takwakin -- Oct
- pipon -- Feb
- sikwan -- May
Ref: Sugar Time, Susan Carol Hauser, ISBN 1-55013-950-9
- "ishpibiboon" -- The time where the Bald Eagles return in spring. They new
this was time for the maple harvest.
- "iskigamizige-giizis" or sugarbush moon
- "onaabanigiis" -- The moon of the crust on the snow.
Copyright © Peter Linke