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Understanding Indigenous Culture in ND Series: Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa

North Dakota Ojibwe call themselvesAnishinaabewhich means “original people”. Other indigenous persons and Europeans mispronounced Ojibwe with “Chippewa” which meant “puckered up”. One theory for this was that the moccasins that were created had seams that were considered puckered.

Besides North Dakota, and a result of land allotments, Turtle Mountain reservation land is in various parts of the United States and the Ojibwe comprise numerous communities within Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Montana. In the United States, the other two federally recognized bands of Plains Ojibwe besides Turtle Mountain are Chippewa Cree of Rocky Boy and the Little Shell tribe. The largest portion of the Turtle Mountain reservation land is in Rolette County within ND.

The Turtle Mountain reservation land crosses the border into Canada, specifically the province of Manitoba. In Canada, the Ojibwe are known as Métis and Cree and reside within communities in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Ontario.

The Turtle Mountain, is a collection of hills and plateaus along the northern border of North Dakota and southern border of Manitoba, making their mountain name slightly deceiving. Legends say that when viewed from the south, the land-form known as the ‘Turtle Mountain’ appeared to the Anishinaabe as a turtle on the horizon with the head pointing westward and the tail to the east. Another legend says that Turtle Mountain was named for a man named Micki Nock (turtle) who walked (or ran) its entire length in one day.


Chief Little Shell III is the most significant leader of the Turtle Mountain reservation as he represented the Anishinaabe against the government in retaining the reservation land that currently exists. This included leadership during times when: there were attempts for the members to be moved, a reduction in goods which led to starvation and reservation land that was forfeited unwillingly.

Kookums (Grandmothers) were the traditional keepers of knowledge of herbal plant remedies. They were midwives for the Anishinaabe community and understood a whole range of medicines that could cure illness that their families might encounter. This knowledge was not exclusive but was shared between First Nations women and their children, including the Métis and Anishinaabe. Therefore, honoring your Kookum is critical for they hold the wisdom and knowledge of generations of mothers and grandmothers before them.

Gitche Manitou (also transliterated as Gichi-manidoo) or “Great Spirit”: In the Anishinaabe culture, the Great Spirit is the creator of all things and the giver of life and is sometimes translated as the “great mystery”. Within traditional prayer and song, Gitche Manitou is mentioned often.

The Super Food: Pemmican was the favorite food of the Anishinaabe and Metis. Pemmican can be made from the flesh of any animal, but it was usually made from buffalo meat. The process of making it was to first cut meat into slices, then to dry the meat either by fire or in the sun. Once the meat was dried, it was then pounded into a thick flaky “fluffy” powder. Once rendered down, the meat was put into large bags made from buffalo hides. To this, rendered, melted fat was poured. The quantity of fat was nearly half the total weight of the finished product, in a portion where for every five pounds of powdered meat, four pounds of fat would be poured. The best pemmican generally saw berries and sugar mixed in for flavor. Once complete, the whole composition formed a solid block that could be cut into portions for later use. A person could subsist on buffalo (or fish) Pemmican in good times and lean. Pemmican, with its high fat content, provides a high calorie source of energy that is almost unrivaled. Thus, it was an important food throughout the year, but especially in winter because it stayed “fresh” almost forever and could be stored without worry for years without spoiling.


The Turtle Mountain reservation has engaged in oil and gas development which has provided economic benefits. In 2011, the tribal council banned horizontal hydraulic fracturing, and therefore most oil wells on reservation land focus on shallow formations and traditional vertical drilling.

The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Tribal Government consists of an elected Tribal Council- 8 Council representatives (2 per district) and 1 chairman, and the Tribal Court System. An election is held every two years coinciding with state and national elections in November. The districts are described as: District 1 - Fishlake Road East to the town of Rolla and open North and South; b) District 2 - Fishlake Road West to Rolette Road, and open North and South; c) District 3 - Rolette Road West to Suckerlake Road or Morin Road, and open North and South; d) District 4 - Suckerlake Road or Morin Road West to St. Paul Butte, and open North and South.

Belcourt, North Dakota is home to many critical institutions and infrastructure for the tribe:

  • Turtle Mountain Community College

  • The Turtle Mountain Chippewa Heritage Center

  • Sky Dancer Casino and Resort

  • K.E.Y.A. radio station : 88.5 FM, the second oldest Indian-owned radio station in the U.S.

  • Chippewa Downs

Classroom Activity from RedBasket, "We are more alike, than we are different."

Turtle Mountain Culturally Responsive Integration


Students will be introduced to one genre of music and jigging of the Ojibwa people. Using a Venn diagram students will share how music from other cultures are similar or different from theirs.


  • The teacher will show the video of Joe Parisen playing his fiddle and the Dunseith High School Jiggers.

  • In pairs and given 5 minutes students will complete the Venn diagram, listing as many details as possible about each video. What observations did they make? What additional questions do students have about Ojibwe Culture?

For more detailed and historical information, visit:

  • Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa

  • Chippewa Cree on the Rocky Boy Reservation

  • Little Shell Tribe

  • Chief Little Shell III

  • Tribal Constitution

  • Ojibwe language

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