The Ojibwe, Anishinaabe or Chippewa are the second-largest population among First Nations of Canada. In the United States, they have the fourth-largest population among Native American tribes. The Ojibwe dominated their traditional enemies, the Lakota and Fox and the Sioux. By the end of the 18th century, they controlled nearly all of present-day Michigan, northern Wisconsin, and Minnesota. They also controlled the entire northern shores of lakes Huron and Superior on the Canadian side. The Ojibwe allied with the French against Great Britain and its colonists in the Seven Years’ War and the French and Indian War. Hoping to protect them against settler’s encroachment on their territory they sided with the British against the United States in the War of 1812. Following this war the United States government tried to forcibly remove all of the Ojibwe to Minnesota.
Seth Eastman was a soldier artist. After graduating from West Point he was transferred to Fort Snelling, the country’s northernmost frontier post in Minnesota. Consumed by an unquenchable passion to preserve for posterity the customs of a race he thought to be dying, Captain Eastman was amassing an amazing portfolio of paintings of Indian life. Living among the Indians, Eastman became fluent in their language and familiarized himself with the whole complex fabric of their culture.
While he was stationed at Fort Snelling Eastman married a 15 year old Indian girl, the daughter of Cloud Man, a Dakota chief. In 1832 he left for another military assignment soon after the birth of their baby girl, Winona (also known as Mary Nancy Eastman). He declared this first tribally sanctioned marriage ended when he left. In 1835 when Eastman returned to West Point he married his second wife, Mary Henderson. Eastman, his new wife and five children returned to Fort Snelling for the next seven years visually recording the life of the Dakota and Ojibwa people. In 1850 Eastman gained recognition for producing 300 illustrations that were published in a six volume series about the life of the American Indian.
Indian Sugar Camp by Seth Eastman,1853 Credit: Newberry Library, Chicago/Getty Images
A seasonal activity specific to the Woodlands-based Ojibwe people, the image depicts the tapping of maple trees by Anishinaabe women with spiles for sap, and the subsequent boiling down of the sap to produce maple sugar. Eastman adds a traditional birch bark home (wigwam) for anthropological interest. Anishinaabe people participate in the traditional annual manufacture of maple sugar to this day.
Eastman’s peaceful, hardworking figures show a more realistic view of the lives of American Indian women.
This game is accompanied by songs and playful mocking while betting on which colors the thrown stones will show, and continues to be played during pow-wows and other tribal get-togethers.
Eastman retired from active duty at the rank of lieutenant colonel. He was brevetted brigadier general in 1866 and in 1867 served on modified assignment in Washington, D.C., where he was commissioned to paint scenes of American Indians and United States forts for the Capitol.
Eastman died of a stroke while painting at his home in Washington, D.C., on August 31, 1875.
The Minnesota Historical Society has excellent examples of Dakota and Ojibwe crafts. Here’s just a sampling: