Chippewa Indian Tribe of North Dakota

Published on October 19, 2010 by John

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Chippewa Woman and Infant (1900)
Chippewa Woman and Infant (1900)

The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians (Ojibwe language: Mikinaakwajiw-ininiwag) is a Native American tribe of Ojibwa and Métis peoples, based on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. The tribe has 30,000 enrolled members. A population of 5,815 reside on the main reservation and another 2,516 reside on off-reservation trust land (as of the 2000 census). It is federally recognized and Merle St. Claire is the current Tribal Chairman.

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Around the end of the eighteenth century, prior to the advent of white traders in the area, the formerly woodland-oriented Chippewa moved out onto the Great Plains in pursuit of the buffalo and new beaver resources to hunt and trade. They successfully reoriented their culture to life on the plains, adopting horses, and developing the bison-hide tipi, the Red River cart, hard-soled footwear, and new ceremonial procedures. Around 1800, these Indians were hunting in the Turtle Mountain area of present-day North Dakota.

Chief Little Shell I (Esens), a leader of the Pembina Band of Chippewa Indians, signed such documents with the federal government as the 1863 Treaty of the Old Crossing, signed near the Red Lake River, Minnesota, which the Red Lake Band also signed. They ceded their lands in the Red River area to the United States under this treaty. Other reservations that share interest with Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa are Little Shell Tribe of Montana, Rocky Boy Chippewa-Cree Tribe, Red Lake Band of Ojibwe, White Earth Chippewa Nation and Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation of Manitoba.

The history of the Turtle Mountain Band as a contemporary band began on December 21, 1882 when Turtle Mountain Reservation was established in North Dakota under Presidential Executive Order. The Turtle Mountain Band is considered as one of the political Successors Apparent of the Pembina Band.

In the 1890s, Ayabrwaywetung (Ayabiwewidang, “Sit to Speak”; Thomas Little Shell) disenrolled his group from the tribal rolls of the Turtle Mountain Band (and reservation), and led his people into Montana. There has been a question of whether the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians includes the Little Shell Band of Chippewa Indians (of Montana), which is recognized by that state. Several court cases have ruled that they are separate tribes, given their separate development after some ancestral Chippewa disenrolled from the Turtle Mountain Band and reservation in the 1890s to migrate to Montana.

The courts have recognized three independent units claiming the name Chippewa, and several unassociated members of that band. This case refers to cases of the Indian Claims Commission and United States Court of Claims, which can no longer be found online at their original sources, as the cases are old.

Today three descendant bands are recognized by federal or state governments.

The Chippewa in the northern tier of the United States have been referred to by other names, including Bungi, Saulteaux, Pembina Band (which includes both Red Bear Band and Little Shell Band), Bois Brule, Michif, Métis, and Chippewa-Cree.


The tribal offices are located in Belcourt, North Dakota. The current Tribal Chairman is local businessman Richard McCloud whom defeated Merle St. Claire in the 2012 tribal election, Merle St. Claire took the office in December 2010.

Notable tribal members

  • Louise Erdrich, author
  • Albert Lee Ferris, sculptor, painter, 1939–1986
  • Leonard Peltier, American Indian Movement member and author
  • Mark Turcotte, poet

Historical chiefs and leaders

  • Little Shell I
  • Little Shell II
  • Little Shell III
  • Black Duck
  • Red Thunder
  • Red Bear
  • Kakenowash
  • Gregory LaVallie

Significant historical locations and settlements in North Dakota associated with the Turtle Mountain Chippewa

  • Belcourt
  • Dunseith
  • St. Joseph (Walhalla)
  • Pembina
  • St. John
  • Stump Lake (Black Duck’s village)
  • Grahams Island (Little Shell’s Village)
  • Round Lake village
  • Buffalo Lodge
  • White Earth River region
  • Trenton / Buford region (TISA)
  • Dogden Buttes
  • Strawberry Lake

Source: Unabridged
Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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