February 23, 2014

Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa


The Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians was considered to be part of the Lake Superior Band of Chippewa, but was not a party to the treaties that group signed. Since 1934, it has been one of the six bands making up the federally recognized Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, which wrote a constitution and initiated its new government in 1936.

The Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians get their name from the nine-mile portage necessary to bypass the cascading waters of the Pigeon River to get inland to the lakes and rivers leading to the fur-rich areas of northern Minnesota.

Official Tribal Name: Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa

Official Website:

Recognition Status: Federally Recognized

Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning: Gichi-onigamiing

Common Name / Meaning of Common Name: Chipewa, Chipawa, Anishinaabe, Anishinababe, Anishinabeg, Ojibway, Ojibwe, Ojibwa, Chippewa, Algonquin,  More names for Ojibwe

Alternate names / Alternate spellings / Misspellings: Chipewa, Chipawa, Anishinaabe, Anishinababe, Anishinabeg, Ojibway, Ojibwe, Ojibwa, Chippewa, Algonquin,  More names for Ojibwe

Lake Superior Chippewa
Minnesota Chippewa Tribe

Ojibwe / Chippewa in other languages:

Aoechisaeronon or Eskiaeronnon (Huron)
Assisagigroone (Iroquois)
Axshissayerunu (Wyandot)
Bawichtigouek or Paouichtigouin (French)
Bedzaqetcha (Tsattine)
Bedzietcho (Kawchodinne)
Dewakanha (Mohawk)
Dshipowehaga (Caughnawaga)
Dwakanen (Onondaga)
Hahatonwan (Dakota)
Hahatonway (Hidatsa)
Jumper, Kutaki (Fox)
Leaper, Neayaog (Cree)
Nwaka (Tuscarora)
Ostiagahoroone (Iroquois)
Rabbit People (Plains Cree)
Regatci or Negatce (Winnebago)
Saulteur (Saulteaux)
Sore Face (Hunkpapa Lakota)
Sotoe (British)
Wahkahtowah (Assiniboine)


Northeast (Eastern Woodland) –> Ojibwa, Chippewa and Potawatomi
Plains Indians  –> Chippewa Indians

State(s) Today: Minnesota

Traditional Territory:

Confederacy: Ojibwe / Chippewa, Council of Three Fires Confederacy


The Grand Portage Indians were members of the Lake Superior Band but were not participants in the early Ojibwe treaties with the United States. They protested being ignored in the 1842 Treaty when Isle Royale was ceded and they then received annuity rights. In the 1854 Treaty they ceded their lands in the Arrowhead region of Minnesota and accepted the Grand Portage reservation. During the allotment era, no serious attempt was made to relocate the people to White Earth. 

Reservation: Grand Portage Reservation and Off-Reservation Trust Land

The Grand Portage Reservation is located in Cook County in the extreme northeast corner of Minnesota, approximately 150 miles from Duluth. It is bordered on the north by Canada, on the south and east by Lake Superior and on the west by Grand Portage State Forest.

The Grand Portage Reservation encompasses a historic fur trade site with spectacular Northwoods Lake Superior shoreline. The reservation extends about 18 miles along the lakeshore and from nine miles to a quarter mile inland.

Land Area:  74.396 sq mi (192.686 km²)
Tribal Headquarters:  The community at Grand Portage contains the tribal headquarters, the Trading Post, Daycare Facility, as well as other tribal businesses. The Gitchi Onigaming Community Center was built in 1994 that offers a wide variety of recreational activities, a swimming pool, a senior center, a teen center, a computer room, library, and powwow grounds. The center also provides services with a Head Start program. The community has its own health clinic, ambulance service, and volunteer fire department.

Grand Marais is the closest city, 36 miles to the southwest, and Thunder Bay, Canada, is 37 miles to the north.
Time Zone:  

Tribal Flag:

Tribal Emblem:

First European Contact:

By the 1730’s the Ojibwe, in their migration along the northern shore of Lake Superior, arrived at Grand Portage. The French record of fur trade over the portage began in 1731. The British took over in the 1760’s and the North West Company built the post at Grand Portage by around 1785-87.

Some 150 Ojibwe families lived in the vicinity of the post. In 1803, the British company moved to Fort William, Canada, which is now known as Thunder Bay. 

The Indian community that provided services and trade at the Grand Portage continued working with the British in Canada. The population in Northern America declined. For a while in the 1830’s the American Fur Co. used Indian people to operate a commercial fishing station at Grand Portage. It did not last long. To this day close ties continue with the Ojibwe in Canada since the border often splits extended families.

Population at Contact: During the era of the British Northwest Company around 1783, 150 native families were living at the Grand Portage.  In 1824, Schoolcraft reported 60 people. Made up of numerous independent bands, the entire Ojibwe bands were so spread out that few early French estimates of them were even close. 35,000 has been suggested, but there were probably two to three times as many in 1600. The British said there were about 25-30,000 Ojibwe in 1764, but the the Americans in 1843 listed 30,000 in just the United States. The 1910 census (low-point for most tribes) gave 21000 in the United States and 25,000 in Canada – total 46,000. By 1970 this had increased to almost 90,000.

Registered Population Today: The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe reported in July 2007 that the Grand Portage had 1,127 people enrolled with the Band. Collectively, there are 130,000 Ojibwe in United States and 60,000 in Canada. The 190,000 total represents only enrolled Ojibwe and does not include Canadian Métis, many of whom have Ojibwe blood. If these were added, the Ojibwe would be the largest Native American group north of Mexico. 

Tribal Enrollment Requirements:

Genealogy Resources:


Name of Governing Body:  Tribal Council
Number of Council members:   1 councilman and 1 councilwoman, plus executive officers.
Dates of Constitutional amendments:    In 1996, Grand Portage entered the Self-Governance Program by contracting to administer its own programs from the BIA. The State of Minnesota is responsible for criminal and some civil jurisdictions. The Tribe established its own court in September 1997. It collects its own sales tax.

The Tribe, working with the local residents, the State, and the Environmental Protection Agency, established a Land Use Ordinance for the reservation that was approved in 1996. This ordinance designates areas of land use according to tribal priorities for wildlife habitat, timber production, and protection of the resources for recreational purposes. A primitive area had been set aside in an eastern portion of the reservation in 1956. The hunting and fishing rights of tribal members in the ceded lands of the 1854 Treaty are regulated under the Tribal Code and enforced by the 1854 Authority.

Number of Executive Officers:  Chairman, Vice Chairman, Secretary/Treasurer


Elections are held every two years for half of the official positions.  

Language Classification: Algic -> Algonquian -> Central Algonquian -> Ojibwe -> Chippewa

The Ojibwe language is known as Anishinaabemowin or Ojibwemowin. Ojibwemowin is the fourth-most spoken Native language in North America (US and Canada) after Navajo, Cree, and Inuktitut. Many decades of fur trading with the French established the language as one of the key trade languages of the Great Lakes and the northern Great Plains.

Its sister languages include Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Cree, Fox, Menominee, Potawatomi, and Shawnee among the northern Plains tribes. Anishinaabemowin is frequently referred to as a “Central Algonquian” language; however, Central Algonquian is an area grouping rather than a linguistic genetic one.

Language Dialects: Ojibwemowin 

Chippewa (also known as Southwestern Ojibwa, Ojibwe, Ojibway, or Ojibwemowin) is an Algonquian language spoken from upper Michigan westward to North Dakota in the United States. It represents the southern component of the Ojibwe language.

Chippewa is part of the Algonquian language family and an indigenous language of North America. Chippewa is part of the dialect continuum of Ojibwe (including Chippewa, Ottawa, Algonquin, and Oji-Cree), which is closely related to Potawatomi. It is spoken on the southern shores of Lake Superior and in the areas toward the south and west of Lake Superior in Michigan and Southern Ontario.

The speakers of this language generally call it Anishinaabemowin (the Anishinaabe language) or more specifically, Ojibwemowin (the Ojibwa language). There is a large amount of variation in the language. Some of the variations are caused by ethnic or geographic heritage, while other variations occur from person to person. There is no single standardization of the language as it exists as a dialect continuum: “It exists as a chain of interconnected local varieties, conventionally called dialects.” Some varieties differ greatly and can be so diverse that speakers of two different varieties cannot understand each other.

The Chippewa Language or the Southwestern dialect of the Ojibwe language is divided into four smaller dialects:

  • Upper Michigan-Wisconsin Chippewa: on Keweenaw Bay, Lac Vieux Desert, Lac du Flambeau, Red Cliff, Bad River, Lac Courte Oreilles, St. Croix and Mille Lacs (District III).
  • Central Minnesota Chippewa: on Mille Lacs (Districts I and II), Fond du Lac, Leech Lake, White Earth and Turtle Mountain.
  • Red Lake Chippewa: on Red Lake
  • Minnesota Border Chippewa: on Grand Portage and Bois Forte

Number of fluent Speakers: Treuer estimates only around 1,000 first-language speakers of the Chippewa dialect in the United States, most of whom are elderly.The Chippewa dialect of Ojibwemowin has continued to steadily decline. Beginning in the 1970s many of the communities have aggressively put their efforts into language revitalization, but have only managed to produce some fairly educated second-language speakers. Today, the majority of the first-language speakers of this dialect of the Ojibwe language are elderly, whose numbers are quickly diminishing, while the number of second-language speakers among the younger generation are growing. However, none of the second-language speakers have yet to transition to the fluency of a first-language speaker.


Origins of the Ojibwes: The Ojibwe Peoples are a major component group of the Anishinaabe-speaking peoples, a branch of the Algonquian language family. The Anishinaabe peoples include the Algonquin, Nipissing, Oji-Cree, Odawa and the Potawatomi. 

Bands, Gens, and Clans

The oral tradition of the Ojibwa (Anishinabe, Ojibwa, Potawatomi, Chippewa) tells of the five original clans – Crane, Catfish, Loon, Bear, and Marten – traveling west from the Atlantic Ocean, through the Great Lakes and into what are now Minnesota, Ontario, and Manitoba. See Ojibwa, Chippewa and Potawatomi for a more detailed account of the migration of the bands and clans from the east coast to their present locations.

Related Tribes:

Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians
Chippewa-Cree Indians of the Rocky Boy’s Reservation
Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians of Michigan
Citizen Potawatomi Nation
Forest County Potawatomi
Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians
Hannaville Indian Community
Keweenaw Bay Indian Community
La Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
Lac de Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians
Little River Band of Ottawa Indians
Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians
Match-e-be-nash-she-wish Potawatomi
Minnesota Chippewa Tribe
Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians
Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians
Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians
Saginaw Chippewa Indians
Sokaogon Chippewa Community
St. Croix Chippewa Indians
Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians

Traditional Allies: Ottawa and Potawatomi. These three were once all part of the same Ojibwe tribe and are thought to have separated about 1550. For the most part, the Ojibwe were a peaceful nation.  The Chippewa were located well north of the early flow of European settlement, so they rarely had any conflicts with settlers.They were friendly with the white men, and even served as middlemen in trading between French fur traders and the Sioux. 

Traditional Enemies: Iroquois Confederacy and the Sioux. The Chippewa took scalps, but as a rule they killed and did not torture, except for very isolated incidents. Like other Great Lakes warriors, there was ritual cannibalism of their dead enemies. 

The Dakota Sioux were by far their biggest enemy.  For 130 years, the Ojibwe and Sioux battled contiuously until the Treaty of 1825, when the two tribes were separated.  The Sioux recieved what is now southern Minnesota, while the Chippewas received most of northern Minnesota.

The Chippewa were the largest and most powerful tribe in the Great Lakes area.  The Sioux are perhaps better known today, but the Chippewa were the tribe who defeated the Iroquois in wars, and forced the Sioux from their native lands.

Societies: Their Midewiwin Society is well respected as the keeper of detailed and complex scrolls of events, oral history, songs, maps, memories, stories, geometry, and mathematics.

Ceremonies / Dances:

Modern Day Events & Tourism:

The Grand Portage area has several other attractions for tourists. The Grand Portage National Monument, built on reservation land, features the reconstructed fur trade fort of the 1700’s. The original portage trail to historic Fort Charlotte on the Pigeon River is operated by the National Monument.

From the bay, ferries take visitors to Isle Royale National Park, 19 miles out in Lake Superior. Grand Portage State Park, located on the Pigeon River, has made the great falls accessible to the public since it opened in 1995.

In a unique relationship, the Nature Conservancy and private donations purchased 2.5 miles of land along the river. The State acquired the land, donated it to the Tribe, and then the Tribe leased it back to the State to operate as a state park.

The agreement provides that staff positions should be held by those with significant knowledge of Indian culture, preferable knowledge of the Grand Portage Band. (Laws of MN for 1989, Chap 359, Subd 27a, Sect 7-11). There have been funds allocated by the State to build a new State Park Welcome Center.

The 300 year old Manito Geezhigaynce, a twisted cedar known as the little spirit cedar tree, is located on the north side of Hat Point on a stone ledge. This tree has great significance to many generations of Grand Portage Indians and boatmen on Lake Superior.

The land with the tree was offered for sale in 1987. A group was formed and $100,000 was raised to buy the land for the Tribe in 1990. To protect their heritage, the Grand Portage Indian community requires that to visit the tree, there must be a tribal guide.

The John Beargrease Sled Dog race is held annually from Duluth to Grand Portage and back. It is in honor of John Beargrease, a Grand Portage member, who from 1887 to 1899 delivered the mail from Two Harbors to Grand Marais. Depending on the weather conditions, he would hike, come by boat and in the winter by dog sled.

Legends / Oral Stories:
Anishnaabek (Ojibwe) interpretation of the medicine wheel
Creation of Turtle Mountain
Father of Indian Corn How Bats Came to Be How dog came to be
How Rainbows Came to Be
Mother, we will never leave you
Nokomis and the spider: story of the dreamcatcher
Ojibway Creation Story
Ojibway Migration Story
Ojibway Oral Teaching: Wolf and man
The close your eyes dance
The Dreamcatcher Legend
The First Butterflies
Thunderbirds and Fireflies
Why birds go south in winter
Winabojo and the Birch Tree

Arts & Crafts: The Chippewa is best known for birch bark contaniners and intricate beadwork, usually with a floral pattern.

Are Dream Catchers Losing the Native Tradition?

Animals: Woodland Ojibwe rarely used horses or hunted buffalo, although there was a now extinct species of Woodland Bison in the Northeastern woods.  Dogs were the only domestic animal and a favorite dish served at their feasts.

The more southerly Chippewas did adopt the horse and hunted buffalo like other Plains Cultures.

Clothing: The Chippewa wore buckskin clothing, with a buckskin shirt and fur cape in colder weather. In warmer weather men wore just breechcloths and leggings. Women also wore leggings with long dresses with removable sleeves. Later, the Chippewas adapted European costume such as cloth blouses and jackets, decorating them with fancy beadwork.

The Chippewa had distinctive moccasins with puffed seams that were colored with red, yellow, blue and green dyes.  Men wore their hair in long braids in times of peace, and sometimes in a scalplock during wars. Women also wore their hair in long braids.

Many Chippewa warriors also wore a porcupine roach. In the 1800’s, Chippewa chiefs started wearing long headdresses like the Sioux.

Adornment: The Chippewas painted bright colors on their faces and arms for special occasions,using different patterns of paint for war and festive decoration. The Chippewas, especially men, also wore tribal tattoos.


They lived in pole structures similar to the Plains Tipi, but their homes were covered with long strips of bark instead of animal hides. 


 While they were primarily hunter/ gatherers, they did develop limited farming once they became a mostly stationary village at the Portage.

The primary mode of transportation was the birch bark canoe.

Economy Today:
The Grand Portage Development Corporation was established in 1971 to spur economic development on the reservation. Their most successful operation is the Grand Portage Lodge and Casino that opened in 1975. It has provided an ever-increasing source of employment for band members and income for the Tribe.

The hotel is located on the shore of Lake Superior, off Highway 61. It has 95 rooms, conference facilities, an indoor pool, and gift shop. The reservation has over 100 miles of hiking trails, a marina, and campgrounds.

A casino opened in 1990 and expanded in mid-1990s. Eighty percent of their customers come from Canada and is the largest employer in Cook County. Approximately 18% of the employees are First Nation Ojibwe from the Thunder Bay, Ontario Area.

Some of the Indian people work as loggers and commercial fishermen. Off-reservation employment is at Grand Marais and Thunder Bay, Canada.

Religion & Spiritual Beliefs: The original religious society is known as Midewiwin or Grand Medicine. In modern times, the people may belong to the Midewiwin, one or more of the Big Drum societies, or a Christian Sect, primarily Catholic and Methodist.

Burial Customs:

Wedding Customs:  A person is not allowed to marry someone within the same clan. Polygamy was rare.


Ojibwe / Chippewa People of Note

  • Marcie McIntire – artist
  • George Morrison – artist

Catastrophic Events:

Sandy Lake Tragedy – The Sandy Lake Tragedy was the culmination of a series of events centered in Sandy Lake, Minnesota, that resulted in the deaths in 1850 of about 400 Lake Superior Chippewa when officials of the Zachary Taylor Administration and Minnesota Territory tried to relocate several bands of the tribe to areas west of the Mississippi River.

Tribe History:

 The Grand Portage Chippewa are descendants of the northern division of the tribe who migrated several centuries ago from the Atlantic Ocean.

Grand Portage is on the site of one of the earliest Ojibwa settlements in Minnesota. The protected bay and flat shoreline on Lake Superior made it an ideal gateway for the eastern headquarters and western supply depots of the fur trade. By 1731, French traders had built a cabin, blacksmith shop and warehouse. After 1760, the British took over, and by 1783 the British Northwest Company built a large complex of buildings which became known as Fort Charlotte.

During this time about 150 Ojibwa families lived in Grand Portage and along the North Shore of Lake Superior. They were skilled trappers and provided traders with high quality pelts. They also taught the traders how to make and repair canoes and supplied them with essential food supplies such as deer, moose, wild rice and maple sugar.

Village leadership was provided by hereditary chiefs who became adept at dealing with a growing number of outsiders. Aysh-pay-ahng, born at Grand Portage in 1783, became principal chief in 1838. Other hereditary chiefs included Shaganahshing, Addikonce, Joseph Louis, and May-maush-ko-waush, the last principal chief of Grand Portage.

After the War of 1812, the Americans took over the territories formerly held by the British. The Americans were less interested in trade and more interested in land. In the 1840’s, the first cession by the Grand Portage Band occurred when Mingong island was turned over to the state of Michigan. In the Treaty of 1854, lands at the western tip of Lake Superior and the lands north to the Canadian border were ceded to the federal government. The Treaty set aside two small reservations for the Ojibwa, one of which was Grand Portage.

Permanent houses were built in Grand Portage village around 1856. Day schools were established and were well attended. Some families added farming to the traditional activities of hunting, fishing and plant gathering. As the century closed, village men found additional work at the Grand Marais boat dock, in lumber camps and in nearby Canadian mines.

The Dawes Act of 1887 and the Nelson Act of 1889 allowed speculators to grab up large portions of reservation land. With the passage of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 the Grand Portage Band voted to join the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. By 1939, a new tribal government was in place at Grand Portage. Under the leadership of tribal chairman, Alton Bramer, the tribe bought back some of the land that had been taken by the speculators.

During the Great Depression, Grand Portage men worked in the Indian Division of the Civilian Conservation Corps, on archaeology excavation projects around the old Northwest company stockade and in logging camps at Nett Lake. The schoolhouse and community center became a permanent structure of the village during the 1930’s.

During the 1960’s, the installation of a new telephone system and the construction of Highway 61 through the reservation improved communication and accessibility. The Reservation Business Committee negotiated with the Radisson Hotel Corporation in the 1970’s to build a Radisson at Grand Portage. This lodge is now a tribal enterprise called Grand Portage Lodge & Casino.

In the News:

Further Reading:

US Tribes E to G
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