Who are the Ottawa Indians?

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  • Written By: Kevin P. Hanson
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 30 September 2019
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The Ottawa Indians are Native Americans who originally lived in the Lake Huron region of the modern day Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. Europeans began settling in the area in the 1600s. In about 1740, the Ottawa Indians became Ohio Indians by moving to the northern part of that state. Ottawa Indians or Ohio Indians share ancestry with several other American Indians, including the Ojibwe, Algonquian, Delaware, and Shawnee Indians. They considered the Iroquois Indians their enemy, and historical accounts indicate that they were also rivals with the Wyandot Indians because of the latter's family relationship to the Iroquois.

The spiritual beliefs of the tribe included a supreme being, called the "Master of Life." Among the other spirits revered by the tribe were the Underwater Panther, a water spirit, and the Great Hare, creator of the world.

The word Ottawa means "to trade" or "to buy and sell." It stands to reason, then, that the Ottawa Indians were well-known as consummate traders and barterers. The tribe's primary merchandise consisted of cornmeal, furs and skins, and tobacco. One of the reasons they relocated from Canada to Ohio was their desire to take part in the fur trade with the British settlers. Although trading with the British became a successful venture for the Ohio Indians, the British sought to increase their presence in the region by erecting forts and towns.


During this volatile period of American history, the Ottawa Indians allied themselves with the French. This alliance spurred the tribe's chief, Pontiac, to rebel against British forces in 1763 after they gained control of some French colonies. Even though Pontiac and the Ohio Indians destroyed nine of the 11 British forts in the region, the rebellion proved unsuccessful.

For the duration of the American Revolutionary War, the Ottawa Indians fought against the Americans. After England's surrender to America, the British essentially turned their backs on their Native American tribal allies. The Ottawa Indians, however, continued to battle the Americans until the tribe and other Ohio Indians were defeated at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. As a result, the Ottawa Indians signed the Treaty of Greeneville in 1795, surrendering a significant portion of their lands in Ohio. Their remaining lands in the area were taken by the United States government in 1833, and most members of the tribe were sent to a reservation in Kansas.


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