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The Odawa (pronounced /oːˈdɒwə/ in Canadian English) or Ottawa, said to mean "traders," are a Native American and First Nations people. They are one of the Anishinaabeg, related to but distinct from the Ojibwa nation. Their original homelands are located on Manitoulin Islandmarker, near the northern shores of Lake Huronmarker, on the Bruce Peninsulamarker in present day province of Ontariomarker and in the state of Michiganmarker. There are approximately 15,000 Ottawa living in Michigan, Ontario, and Oklahomamarker. The Ottawa language is considered a divergent dialect of the Ojibwe, characterized by frequent syncope. The Ottawa language, like the Ojibwe language, is part of the Algonquian language family. They also have a smaller tribal groups or “bands” commonly called “Tribe” in the United States and “First Nation” in Canada. The Odawa nation formerly lived along the Ottawa River but now live especially on Manitoulin Island.

Tribe name

Odaawaa (syncoped as Daawaa, supposedly from the Anishinaabe word adaawe, meaning “to trade,” or “to buy and sell”) is a term common to the Cree, Algonquin, Nipissing, Montagnais, Ottawamarker, and Ojibwa. The Potawatomi spelling of Odawa and the English derivative “Ottawa” are also common. The actual Anishinaabe word for "Those men who trade, or buy and sell" is Wadaawewinini(wag), which has been recorded by Fr. Frederick Baraga in his A Dictionary of the Otchipwe Language as "Watawawininiwok" but was recorded to mean "men of the bulrushes", from the many bulrushes in Ottawa River, though this recorded meaning is associated with the Matàwackariniwak, a historical band of Algonquins living about the Ottawa River. Nonetheless, the "Trader" name was applied to the Ottawa because in early traditional times and also during the early European contact period, they were noted among their neighbors as intertribal traders and barterers, dealing "chiefly in cornmeal, sunflower oil, furs and skins, rugs and mats, tobacco, and medicinal roots and herbs."

Like the Ojibwa, the Odaawaa usually refer to themselves as Nishnaabe (Anishinaabe, plural: Nishnaabeg (Anishinaabeg)), meaning original people.

The name in its English transcription is the source of the place names of Ottawa, Ontariomarker, and the Ottawa River, even though the Odaawaa's home territory (at the time of early European contact), but not their trading zone, was well to the west of the city and river named after them. It is also the source of the name for Tawasmarker, Michiganmarker, and Tawas Pointmarker, which reflect the syncope-form of their name.


The Ottawa language is considered one of several divergent dialects of the Anishinaabe language group, noted for its frequent syncope. In the Odaawaa language, the general language group is known as Nishnabemwin, while the specific language is called Daawaamwin. Of the estimated 5,000 ethnic Odaawaa and additional 10,000 people with Odaawaa ancestry, an estimated 500 people in Ontariomarker and Michiganmarker speak this language. The Ottawa Tribe of Oklahoma has three fluent speakers.

Early history

Oral histories and early recorded histories

According to Anishinaabeg tradition, and from recordings in Wiigwaasabak (birch bark scrolls), they came from the eastern areas of North America, or Turtle Island, and from along the east coast. Directed by the miigis (luminescent) beings, the Anishinaabe peoples moved inland along the Saint Lawrence Rivermarker. At the "Third Stopping Place" near what is now Detroit, Michiganmarker, the southern group of Anishinaabeg divided into three groups, of which the second group became the Odaawaa.

The Odaawaa, together with the Ojibwe and the Boodewaadamii , were part of a long-term tribal alliance called the Council of Three Fires, which fought the Iroquois Confederacy and the Sioux. In 1615 French explorer Samuel de Champlain met 300 men of a nation which, he said, "we call les cheueux releuez" near the French River mouth. Of these, he said: "Their arms consisted only of a bow and arrows, a buckler of boiled leather and the club. They wore no breech clouts, their bodies were tattooed in many fashions and designs, their faces painted and their noses pierced." In 1616 Champlain left the Huron villages and visited the "Cheueux releuez" westward from the lands of the Huron Confederacy.

Economic dominance

Due to the extensive trade network maintained by the Odaawaa, much of the North American interior nations are known by the Odaawaa names rather than by the nations’ own names. For example, these exonyms include Winnebago (from Wiinibiigoo) for the Ho-chunk, and Sioux (from Naadawensiw) for the Dakota.

Wars and Refugees

There were many wars and disputes of the Odaawaa with other tribes; for example, the tribe once waged war against the Mascoutens.

The Odaawaa allied with the Frenchmarker against the Britishmarker, and Odaawaa Chief Pontiac led a rebellion against the British in 1763. A decade later, Chief Egushawa led the Odaawaa in the American Revolutionary War as an ally of the British. In the 1790s, Egushawa again fought the United States in a series of battles and campaigns known as the Northwest Indian War.

Treaties and Removals

Extinguishment and survival

Modern history

Odaawaa population areas in Ontario, Michigan and Oklahoma.
Reserves/Reservations and communities shown in red.
The population of the different Odaawaa groups is not known with certainty. In 1906 the Ojibwa and Odaawaa on Manitoulinmarker and Cockburn Islandmarker were 1,497, of whom about half were Odaawaa; there were 197 Ottawa under the Seneca School, Oklahoma, and in Michigan 5,587 scattered Ojibwa and Odaawaa, in 1900, of whom about two-thirds are Odaawaa. The total Ottawa Tribe is therefore about 4,700.

Known villages

The following are or were Ottawa villages:

Former villages not on Reserves/Reservations

Former Reserves/Reservations and their villages

Current Reserves/Reservations and associated villages


Recognized/status Odaawaa governments

Other recognized/status governments with significant Odaawaa populations:

Unrecognized/non-status Odaawaa governments
  • Burt Lake Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Michigan (currently recognized by Michigan)
  • Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians, Michigan (currently recognized by Michigan)
  • Gun Lake Band of Grand River Ottawa Indians, Michigan (currently recognized by Michigan)
  • Mackinac Bands of Chippewa and Ottawa Indians, Michigan
  • Maple River Band of Ottawa, Michigan
  • Muskegon River Band of Ottawa Indians, Michigan
  • Ottawa Colony Band of Grand River Ottawa Indians, Michigan (currently recognized only as part of the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Potawatomi Indians of Michigan)

Other unrecognized/non-status governments with significant Odaawaa populations:
  • Consolidated Bahwetig Ojibwe and Mackinac, Michigan

Notable chiefs

See also

  • Ottawa for several places named for the Ottawa.


Further reading

  • Cappel, Constance, The Smallpox Genocide of the Odawa Tribe at L'Arbre Croche, 1763: The History of a Native American People. Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2007.
  • Cappel, Constance (ed.), Odawa Language and Legends: Andrew J. Blackbird and Raymond Kiogima. Philadelphia, PA: Xlibris, 2006.

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