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Ojibwe Women and the Survival of the Community

by Brenda J. Child

Pub Date: Feb. 20th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-670-02324-0
Publisher: Viking

In a follow-up to her prize-winning study, Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families: 1900-1940 (2000), Child (American Studies/Univ. of Minnesota) chronicles the “history of Ojibwe community life in the Great Lakes,” with special emphasis on the role of women.

As a member of the Red Lake Ojibwe Nation, the author has an intimate connection to her subject. Beginning in the 1830s, with the U.S. government’s policy of forced relocation of Native Americans to reservations, Child chronicles the destruction of their way of life, which had been based on the cultivation of wild rice, traditionally woman's work, and hunting, which was done by men and boys. When the Ojibwe were forcibly removed from their homes and land in Michigan and Wisconsin to a reservation in the territory of Minnesota, their standard of living was reduced to bare subsistence. Forced to depend on food shipments and a meager annuity from the government, their population was decimated by starvation and disease. Remarkably, they preserved the core of their cultural beliefs, and traditional spiritual values survived despite the pressures and hardships of their new circumstances. The author writes of the unsuccessful but relentless drive of the institutions of the dominant American population to impose its core values, such as the inferior position of women in society and the replacement of traditional religious practices with Christianity. In some ways, the situation of the Ojibwe improved during the New Deal when the policy of forced assimilation ended. Poverty-relief programs run by New Deal agencies offered new employment opportunities, and the Ojibwe received funding to farm wild rice using modern methods. During World War II, Indian men were subject to the draft while women worked in defense plants. Today the vast majority live in cities while maintaining ties to the reservation and their traditional way of life.

A fascinating account of a resilient culture that has survived despite oppression.