This Day in History
Midewiwin Ceremony of the Ojibway Chippewa

On a day like today in the 1800’s…

Continued British occupation of her northwestern outposts in violation of the 1783 Treaty of Paris brought the former mother country and her rebellious offspring to the brink of war in the 1790s. While the Americans demanded evacuation of the forts, the Chippewa and other Indians of the region were reluctant to have the redcoats leave. British closure of the Northwest to further settlement had been but one of the factors creating a thirst of independence among the colonists; among the Indians, the lack of such restrictions was all important. The British garrisons empty, nothing would stand in the way of the land-hungry settlers.

Earlier the Iroquois - neighbors and traditional enemies of the Chippewa - had formed a Confederacy to block the advancement of the whites. They failed. In the 1780s the Chippewa, with the Ottawa and Potawatomi and other tribes, formed a Confederacy with similar purpose. They also failed. The newly independent Americans refused to recognize the Indian’s claims, such as that the Ohio River serve as a boundary between the two cultures. The ensuing war lasted until the defeat of the Confederacy at Fallen Timbers by General “Mad” Anthony Wayne in 1794. The following year - the same year that conflict with Britain was averted by Jay’s Treaty - conflict with Britain’s former protégés was ended by the Treaty of Greeneville. Despite innumerable treaties, land cessions, and relocations, many Chippewa still inhabit portions of their ancestral holdings in the Great Lakes region.

Mr. Künstler has given us here the ceremony of the Midéwiwin, an exclusive society of medicine men. Four grades of membership required intensive instruction in the art of healing and tribal folklore, and heavy fees for such instruction aided in keeping the society small. Part of the ceremony demanded that members “kill” and “revive” each other by means of a magic shell - a dramatic, if only symbolic, testimony to the power of the Mide, or members of the society.

July's Archived Features:

Friday July 1, 2022



All illustrations by Mort Künstler. Text by Michael Aubrecht, Dee Brown, Henry Steele Commager, Rod Gragg, Mort Künstler, Edward Lengel, James McPherson, and James I. Robertson, Jr. - Copyright © 2001-2019. All Rights Reserved. No part of the contents of this web site may be reproduced or utilized in any form by any means without written consent of the artist.