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Who are the Ottawa Indians?

The Ottawa Indians, known as the Odawa, are an Indigenous group whose traditional territory spans parts of Ontario, Michigan, and Ohio. Renowned for their trade networks and craftsmanship, the Odawa played a pivotal role in the Great Lakes region's history. Discover how their rich cultural heritage continues to influence their communities today. What will you uncover about the Odawa's enduring legacy?
Kevin P. Hanson
Kevin P. Hanson

The Ottawa Indians are Native Americans who originally lived in the Lake Huron region of the modern day Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. Europeans began settling in the area in the 1600s. In about 1740, the Ottawa Indians became Ohio Indians by moving to the northern part of that state. Ottawa Indians or Ohio Indians share ancestry with several other American Indians, including the Ojibwe, Algonquian, Delaware, and Shawnee Indians. They considered the Iroquois Indians their enemy, and historical accounts indicate that they were also rivals with the Wyandot Indians because of the latter's family relationship to the Iroquois.

The spiritual beliefs of the tribe included a supreme being, called the "Master of Life." Among the other spirits revered by the tribe were the Underwater Panther, a water spirit, and the Great Hare, creator of the world.

Ottawa Indians lived in the modern day Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
Ottawa Indians lived in the modern day Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

The word Ottawa means "to trade" or "to buy and sell." It stands to reason, then, that the Ottawa Indians were well-known as consummate traders and barterers. The tribe's primary merchandise consisted of cornmeal, furs and skins, and tobacco. One of the reasons they relocated from Canada to Ohio was their desire to take part in the fur trade with the British settlers. Although trading with the British became a successful venture for the Ohio Indians, the British sought to increase their presence in the region by erecting forts and towns.

In about 1740, the Ottawa Indians became Ohio Indians by moving to the northern part of that state.
In about 1740, the Ottawa Indians became Ohio Indians by moving to the northern part of that state.

During this volatile period of American history, the Ottawa Indians allied themselves with the French. This alliance spurred the tribe's chief, Pontiac, to rebel against British forces in 1763 after they gained control of some French colonies. Even though Pontiac and the Ohio Indians destroyed nine of the 11 British forts in the region, the rebellion proved unsuccessful.

For the duration of the American Revolutionary War, the Ottawa Indians fought against the Americans. After England's surrender to America, the British essentially turned their backs on their Native American tribal allies. The Ottawa Indians, however, continued to battle the Americans until the tribe and other Ohio Indians were defeated at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. As a result, the Ottawa Indians signed the Treaty of Greeneville in 1795, surrendering a significant portion of their lands in Ohio. Their remaining lands in the area were taken by the United States government in 1833, and most members of the tribe were sent to a reservation in Kansas.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who are the Ottawa Indians?

The Ottawa Indians, also known as the Odawa, are a Native American people who originally inhabited the area around the Ottawa River in what is now Ontario, Canada. They are an Algonquin tribe known for their trading prowess and played a significant role in the fur trade during the 17th and 18th centuries. Today, Ottawa communities can be found in Michigan, Ohio, and Oklahoma in the United States, as well as in Ontario, Canada.

What is the historical significance of the Ottawa Indians?

The Ottawa Indians were crucial intermediaries in the fur trade between French traders and other tribes. Their strategic location and diplomatic skills facilitated the exchange of goods and furs, which had a significant impact on the economy of North America during the colonial period. They also allied with the French during various conflicts, including the French and Indian War, which shaped the geopolitical landscape of the continent.

What are some cultural aspects of the Ottawa Indians?

The Ottawa Indians have a rich cultural heritage that includes traditional ceremonies, storytelling, and crafts like quillwork and beadwork. They are known for their totem poles, birchbark canoes, and wigwams. The Ottawa language, part of the Algonquin language family, is still spoken by some members of the tribe, and efforts are underway to preserve and revitalize it.

How do the Ottawa Indians live today?

Today, the Ottawa Indians continue to maintain their cultural identity while also participating in modern society. Many live on reservations in the United States and Canada, where they govern themselves and manage their lands. They engage in a mix of traditional and contemporary economic activities, including tourism, crafts, and gaming, which support their communities and help preserve their heritage.

What legal recognition do the Ottawa Indians have?

The Ottawa Indians are recognized as sovereign nations by the United States government, with several bands having federally recognized status. This recognition allows them to self-govern and manage their affairs independently. In Canada, the Ottawa are recognized as First Nations, with rights and treaties that acknowledge their historical presence and land claims.

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    • Ottawa Indians lived in the modern day Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
      By: Anna
      Ottawa Indians lived in the modern day Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
    • In about 1740, the Ottawa Indians became Ohio Indians by moving to the northern part of that state.
      By: Iryna Volina
      In about 1740, the Ottawa Indians became Ohio Indians by moving to the northern part of that state.