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

By Rebecca Kugel | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
"In Religion and Other Things I Ought to Be the Main Leader of My People": The Ojibwe Reassess An Alliance, 1852-1882

I n June of 1868 supporters of the civil leaders among the Mississipi Ojibwe villages moved to the newly created reservation of White Earth. Persuaded that removal from central Minnesota would happen whether they wanted it or opposed it, they hoped at the new reservation to embark on the program of Ojibwedirected social change that had kindled the interest of some civil leaders dating back to the 1830s and influencing their earliest dealings with the ABCFM missionaries. These Mississippi Ojibwe had come to believe that they could regenerate their communities, sundered over the previous two decades by the political disputes with the warriors. In the process of reasserting the primacy of civil over war leaders, the leaders of the emigrants also sought to solidify their individual leadership positions. Social reform would thus address several interrelated problems.1

Conversion to Christianity and increased reliance on male agriculture were the mechanisms by which this social redirection would occur. Fully aware of the longstanding American Indian policy goals of Christian conversion and civilization, the Mississippi emigrants believed a community of interest existed between themselves and Euro-American reformers and government officials. They dramatized their commitment to the mutual reform agenda with a telling symbolic gesture. The "chiefs & Braves," they announced, "throw down their blankets & put on the white man's clothes." Additionally, they requested "teams, ploughs & tools of all kinds for farming." And finally, "most" of the emigrants "renounced" Ojibwe religious practice and "embraced the faith of the palefaces." Lest Euro-Americans miss the point of these actions, the Ojibwe provided an explanation. They had begun to follow "the steps of the palefaces"; actions they understood as "the first move" in a program of social and economic reorientation designed to enable them "to raise from our present poor condition."2

These startling actions by a particular segment of the Mississippi villages are as significant as they are unexpected. Little in the preceding twenty years suggested

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