To Be the Main Leaders of Our People: A History of Minnesota Ojibwe Politics, 1825-1898

By Rebecca Kugel | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
"We Did Not Understand It So": Political Division Becomes a Resistance Strategy, 1838-1868

T he warriors' anti-American stance, while well-known and often aired, remained a majority position on Ojibwe communities during the 1830s and 1840s. In the decades, most Ojibwe remained committed to a political alliance with the United States. As Ojibwe life deteriorated in the 1850s, however, the warrior-led and warrior-driven opposition gained large numbers of adherents. Fortified by more and angrier supporters, the warriors scorned alliance with the United States and advocated their militant, resistance-oriented strategy more insistently. In a related move, one with troubling if familiar long-term implications, the warriors began to act independently of the civil leader-dominated village councils, pursuing their own political strategy. The warriors' actions thus forced the Ojibwe to confront their central political dilemma -- warrior participation in village governance-and to do so at a time when they could least afford it, during years of unprecedented economic and social crisis.

In opposing the civil leaders' policy of alliance with the United States, the warriors advanced several alternatives. They explored the possibilities of alliances with other European powers and urged the various Minnesota Ojibwe communities to act in concert on political matters. They frequently reminded Minnesota Ojibwe of the wretched removal experiences of the Menominee and Winnebago from Wisconsin in the 1840s, and the attempted removal of the Wisconsin Ojibwe in 1850-52, as evidence that the Americans could not be trusted. Their most popular tactic, though, was armed resistance. They reasoned that the United States respected displays of force and needed to be reminded that not all Ojibwe were acquiescent old men who could be repeatedly persuaded to sign land cession treaties. Ojibwe cooperation and friendliness were dependent on mutual political respect. The Americans needed to remember that the Ojibwe sought an alliance from a position of strength. The warriors were the ones who demonstrated that strength in this critical time. In recognition of their new

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