White Earth Nation

History

 

Click here to download an interactive experience with our history, our culture and our traditions!

For best results right click on the link above and save  (save target as) this presentation to your desktop!

 

All Indian tribes have names for themselves. The largest Indian group in Minnesota calls itself Anishinaabe, which means "the original people." Europeans named them Ojibwe. No one is exactly sure how this name developed. Perhaps it came from the Anishinaabe   word   "ojib,"   which describes the puckered moccasins worn by the people. Some Europeans had trouble saying Ojibwe, pronouncing it instead as Chippewa. But both these names refer to the same people. In Canada, the Anishinaabe call themselves Ojibwe. In the United States, many tribal members prefer the name Chippewa. So that is the name we will use in this history of White Earth Reservation.

   White Earth Reservation is located in Becker, Clearwater, and Mahnomen counties in north-central Minnesota. Created in 1867 by a treaty between the United States and the Mississippi Band of Chippewa Indians, it is one of seven Chippewa reservations in Minnesota. Although the White Earth Chippewa no longer live as their ancestors did, they have kept alive their tribal heritage. Almost every aspect of their present-day life has been strongly influenced by the past.

   As is true for all Chippewa living in Minnesota, the story of the White Earth people begins in ancient times in the eastern part of the United States. There their ancestors lived before coming to the forest and lake country of eastern and northern Minnesota. To understand the history of White Earth Reservation, it is necessary to understand the times that went before. Much of the story of American Indian people has been left out of history books. Most of these books were written by white historians who thought that the history of this land did not begin until Europeans visited it. But Indians, including the Chippewa, had full, rich cultures long before that. And they played a key role in the history of this country and state.

   Some of the mistakes of white authors have been corrected by Chippewa historians like William W. Warren, whose relatives and descendants lived at White Earth Reservation. Warren was born in 1825 and died at the age of 28. His father was a New Englander, and his mother was a granddaughter of White Crane (Waubojeeg), a hereditary Chippewa chief at LaPointe, Wisconsin. After arriving in Minnesota in 1845, Warren lived with the Mississippi
Chippewa Band at Crow Wing and Gull Lake. He spoke the Anishinabe language perfectly and held many long talks with tribal chiefs and elders. Based on these interviews, he began publishing Chippewa stories and legends in a St. Paul newspaper, the Minnesota Democrat, in 1851. A year later he wrote a History of the Ojibway Nation. Residents of White Earth Reservation also have written their own history. In 1886, they established a reservation newspaper called The Progress, which was later succeeded by The Tomahawk. These newspapers recorded daily events on the reservation and published many articles on Chippewa customs and traditions.

   In addition to written history, another method of learning about the past is through archaeology. This is the study of objects left behind by ancient peoples.  Since objects sometimes decay, archaeologists never find a complete record of an older civilization. Like written history, archaeology gives only a partial picture of the past. Indian people rely on still a third method oral history to learn about the past. In Chippewa societies, assigned story tellers have the duty of passing along the story of the people from one generation to another. They tell how the earth came to its present form and how people share the earth with all living things. They believe that knowing the spiritual meaning of events is more important than knowing exactly when things happened.

   There are also other methods of history that can help us learn about the past. But none is complete in itself. Even all the methods together do not paint the whole picture. Nevertheless learning about the past can help us understand our present. In search of such understanding, let us pick up the story of the Chippewa in those distant times when, as they say. the earth was new and tribal people reigned supreme in North America.