Ojibwe Life Before the Arrival of the Europeans

There are similarities in the values and beliefs of all Indigenous peoples across this great territory now known as Canada, yet at the same time there is great diversity in their ways of life, their languages and their relationships with one another. These differences can be attributed in part to the traditional territories in which they live. For example, Indigenous people who live in the far north have had to adapt to the harsher environmental conditions and the resources they have access to are different from those who live in the southern parts of the country.

Long before the arrival of the Europeans, Indigenous peoples lived as distinct societies. Each had their own territorial boundaries; teachings on how to live in harmony with the land they inhabited, language, customs and belief systems, educational system, governance, and common identity.  They had their own trade networks and trading routes. They had also developed their own alliances and treaties with each other. These alliances and treaties were formalized through the use of pipe ceremonies and these understandings were documented through the use of a wampum belt.

“Ojibway forms of law, government and social control revealed their superior rationality: their institutions operated through appeal to reason, not coercion, and were more effective than European approaches for maintaining social peace” (Copway (1850) cited in First Nations, First Thoughts, 2009).

The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) has created ‘A Declaration of First Nations’ that describes the relationship that the Original Peoples of this land have with the Creator, the laws that govern their relationship to nature and mankind, as well as their rights and responsibilities with respect to the land they live on. This declaration recognizes their distinct spiritual beliefs, language and culture, and relationship to the land.

Learning Activities

  1. Describe what life was like for Indigenous people before the arrival of the settlers.
  2. What aspects of life for Indigenous people remain the same and what aspects of life are different?

Expanding Your Knowledge

  1. The video introduction on the website Four Directions Teachings speaks to the way of life of all Indigenous people before the arrival of the Europeans.
  2. The following website for the Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising includes the Preamble established by Elders from the UCCMM communities that provide the guidance for how to revitalize and strengthen language; customs, culture, tradition and ceremonies; traditional knowledge; traditional land use and resource management and for strengthening Anishinabek families and communities. This link also contains an audio recording in Anishinaabemowin (Anishinaabe language) that you are encouraged to practice:
    United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising
    To read this declaration, visit to the following site:
    Assembly of First Nations – A Declaration of First Nations


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