The name “Ottawa” is from the Indian word “adawe” meaning to trade. This name was appropriate because of the extensive trading of the Ottawa with other tribes and their eventual involvement with the French. The French explorer, Champlain, in 1615 recorded meeting the Ottawa near the French River in Canada. The Ottawa became very important to the fur trade. They traded the other tribes for their furs and then traded them to the French. The Ottawa were generally counted as allies of the Huron and the French during the French and Indian War. The Ottawa lived in wigwams, or wikis. They wore buckskin clothing. One of the greatest Indian chiefs to appear on the American continent was Pontiac, who headed a loose confederacy consisting of Ottawa, Ojibwa, and Pottawatomie.

The Ottawa Tribe of Oklahoma is made up of descendants of the Ottawa who after migrating from Canada into Michigan agreed to live in the area around Fort Detroit and the Maumee River in Ohio. After the passage of President Jackson’s Indian Removal Bill in 1830 they founded new villages in Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan. In 1833, they surrendered those lands. They were very hesitant to move, however, and it wasn’t until April 1837 that the Ottawa of Blanchard’s Fork, Roche de Boeuf, and Oquanoxies’s Village agreed to immigrate to Kansas. Within five years of the move nearly half of the Ottawa had died.

In 1867, the Ottawa sold their land in Kansas and moved to Indian Territory in Oklahoma. There they entered into a contract with the Shawnee tribe to purchase approximately 14,863 acres of the Shawnee reservation. When the tribe moved to Oklahoma in 1867, more of the Ottawa had died and only about 200 remained.

In 1956 The United States Government decided that the Ottawa Tribe served no purpose and terminated it. This was a long dark period in the Tribe’s history but they did not give up and on May 15, 1978 the Ottawa Tribe was restored. The Ottawa Tribe was reestablished as a federally recognized government when the Ottawa Council and U.S. Congress ratified the Ottawa Constitution in 1979.

The Government structure of the Ottawa Tribe of Oklahoma had been composed of band chiefs who formed a governing council with a head chief. Each band elected their own chief and then these chiefs would elect a head chief. Now they have a chief, second chief, secretary/treasurer, first councilman, and second councilman. These people are elected by every member of the Ottawa Tribe of Oklahoma age 18 and over.

This information was compiled by the Franklin County Historical Society.

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