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HomeNative People

Annual Cycle of the Anishinabe (Ojibway)
(Page 1 of 4)

Original Research
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 sense. 

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 boundaries.
  • 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 and bass.
  • 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

Fishing Methods

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 the ground.
  • "Strawberry Moon" -- June – Corn was planted at this time.
  • "Blueberry 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 hunting grounds.
  • "Lake Freezing Moon" -- Winter hunt began in November.

Ref: 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. 

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Copyright © Peter Linke