Dakota & Anishinaabe Peoples: Settling & Expansion of America

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

As Americans moved West, they encountered many different peoples. In this lesson, we'll talk about two groups of those peoples, the Dakota and the Anishinaabe, and see how all three interacted across history.

Peoples of Minnesota

Start practicing your 'dontcha know', because we're about to talk about the people of Minnesota. To some, Minnesotans may seem to have their own language today, but this is nothing compared to what this region would have sounded like hundreds of years ago. Before the arrival of Europeans, Minnesota was home to a diverse range of peoples who spoke a variety of languages. Many of these people, and voices, can still be found in the state today, making Minnesota a place worth listening to.

The Anishinaabe

Let's start with the Anishinaabe. The Anishinaabe is the name preferred by the various Ojibwe peoples of the northern Midwest, who make up the second-largest Amerindian nation north of Mexico. The Anishinaabe languages are members of the Algonquian language family, a language group of the East Coast, which points to an interesting history.

The Anishinaabe may have originated around New England.

According to Anishinaabe traditions, and supported by archeologists, they first emerged around New England. So, how'd they end up in Minnesota? Well, according to the Anishinaabe, around 900 CE, this nation was visited by the Seven Spirits (or Seven Grandfathers), who told the people to move west to a place where food grew on the water. The Seven Spirits are also said to have prophesied the later arrival of Europeans. The Anishinaabe started their migration, arriving in the 15th and 16th centuries in western Michigan and then Minnesota, where they found wild rice growing on the waters. There they stayed.

The Dakota

The other major group of peoples we need to talk about are the Dakota. The various Dakota tribes make up two of the main groups of Sioux cultures, the third being the Lakota. All three speak languages of the Siouan family and share many cultural traits.

The Dakota are a Siouan people.

The Dakota are ancestrally indigenous to the regions of Wisconsin and Minnesota and were historically a semi-nomadic hunter-gather peoples. Although they were most likely originally a woodland people, the growing presence of the Anishinaabe people in the 17th century pushed them into the Great Plains, where they adopted many cultural practices of other Plains cultures, which helped them survive in this often unforgiving environment.

Experiences with Europeans

The Dakota and Anishinaabe shared the northern Midwest, sometimes as enemies and sometimes as allies, before a new people started showing up. The first European to record making contact with the Anishinaabe was French explorer Samuel de Champlain, who encountered Anishinaabe people around what is now Quebec in 1615. Over the next few decades, the French would push further west, eventually reaching Minnesota. For the most part, the French set up fur trading posts but did not bring in many settlers or colonists.

Experiences with Americans

While the Anishinaabe and Dakota knew of Europeans, contact was minimal for most of the 18th century. Then, in 1803, the young United States purchased most of what is now the Midwest from France and started sending people to explore it. One of these men was Zebulon Pike. In 1805, Pike met with the Dakota people at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers, a sacred place to the Dakota. Pike negotiated with them and purchased an island at this site so the USA could establish a trading fort.

Pike's negotiations led to the first of many treaties to occur between the USA and the peoples of the region. The next major ones came in 1837, after Americans had begun seriously settling around the Great Lakes. The treaties of 1837 were the first ones really focused on land cession, and both the Anishinaabe and Dakota peoples signed over a large chunk of land to the United States in exchange for financial compensation. According to many Anishinaabe, and upheld by the Supreme Court in 1999, some of these treaties were only meant to lease the land to timber companies, and not sell it outright.

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