Ottawa, indigenous people of North America

Ottawa ōdäˈwə [key], Native Americans whose language belongs to the Algonquian branch of the Algonquian-Wakashan linguistic stock (see Native American languages). Traditionally of the Eastern Woodlands cultural area (see under Natives, North American), the Ottawa have a well-developed creation myth that states that they were descended from three families: the Michabou, or Great Hare, the Namepich, or Carp, and the Bear's Paw. According to tradition the Ottawa, the Ojibwa, and the Potawatami were originally one family, dwelling N of the Great Lakes; after the separation, some of the Ottawa settled on Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron and along the shores of Georgian Bay.

In 1615, when noted by Samuel de Champlain, many Ottawa lived near the mouth of French River on Georgian Bay. Known as great traders, they claimed the Ottawa River region and controlled trade with the French on that river. They allied themselves with the French and the Huron. Their alliance with the Huron, however, made them the enemies of the Iroquois, who forced the Ottawa to flee to the islands off Green Bay. After a few years some moved on to Keweenaw Bay in Lake Superior, while another section joined the Huron and went to the Mississippi near Lake Pepin. From there the Sioux drove them northward to Chequamegon Bay in N Wisconsin.

Promised protection by the French, the Ottawa returned (1670) to Manitoulin Island, where the mission of St. Simon was established among them. Next they joined the Huron at Mackinac in Michigan, and soon after they dispersed over a wide area. The Ottawa were active in the Indian wars of the Old Northwest; Pontiac was an Ottawan. Eventually part of the Ottawa settled on Walpole Island in Lake St. Clair and part on Manitoulin Island, while others have settled in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Michigan. In 1990 there were close to 8,000 Ottawa in the United States.

See A. S. Blackbird, History of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan (1897); M. A. McDonnell, Masters of Empire (2016).

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