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Who are the Three Fires?

People have lived in Michigan for longer than anyone can remember. Before the French and British came here in the 1600s and 1700s, Michigan was home to several tribes. Michigan’s three largest tribes are the Ojibwe (also called Chippewa), the Odawa (also called Ottowa) and the Potawatomi (also called the Bode’wadmi).  They share common language, customs and beliefs.  Together, they are Anishinaabe, or “original people.”  Hundreds of years ago, they created a partnership called the Three Fires.

Ojibwe (Chippewa)

Ojibwe are the “keepers of the ceremonies and song” in the Three Fires.

Odawa (Ottawa)

Odawa are the “keepers of the trade” in the Three Fires.

Potawatomi (Bodéwadmi)

Potawatomi are the “keepers of the fire” in the Three Fires.

The Anishinaabek often lived in villages of dome-shaped houses called wigwams. Everyone that lived in the village worked together.  In warmer months, people hunted and fished, built birch bark canoes, wove fishing nets and planted and harvested crops.  In colder months, people moved around to find the resources they needed.  They hunted and fished as well as trapped animals.  They also harvested maple syrup and prepared for spring planting season.

Today, people of the Three Fires continue to share common language, customs and beliefs. Many of the same hunting, fishing, farming and harvesting traditions remain important to their way of life.


This story was adapted from an article in the Summer 2008 issue of Michigan History for Kids, a publication of the Michigan History Center.

Dig Deeper

Other tribes lived in Michigan during its long history. Indigenous peoples traveled often to search for animals to hunt, find good soil for crops, trade or simply to be closer to or further away from other tribes. Below are five other tribes that we know lived in Michigan at some time. Click on the links below to learn about these tribal nations today.

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