Wigwam photo


Welcome to the Pine River Nature Center's Ojibwa Village

The Ojibwa Village at the nature center is named "Zhingwaak Ziibi" which means "White Pine River" in Anishinabemowin - the language of the Ojibwa Indians.


Please tour our authentic recreation of a North American Indian village. Many different native peoples occupied the land since the glaciers receded more than 10,000 years ago. This site recreates the lifestyle of Ojibwa Indians who lived in this region in the 1500s. The Ojibwa Indians lived throughout the eastern half of the Michigan's Upper and Lower peninsulas. In St. Clair County in the 1800s, Ojibwa villages were on the Black River near where Port Huron is today and on Swan Creek near Lake St. Clair.


Ojibwa or Chippewa are the names given to them by others. The Ojibwa have always referred to themselves as the Anishnabeg. This means "first" or "original" people when translated in their native language Anishinabemowin. Our village is a representation of an Anishinabeg village before contact with Europeans.


wigwam interior


A wigwam is a wood lodge in which Great Lakes Indian tribes lived. Our wigwam has an oval-shaped base and would have been large enough to house several families. This wigwam is covered with cedar bark. Depending on the season, the Ojibwa would have used a variety of natural materials to cover wigwam frames, such as birch and elm bark, woven rush mats, skins and furs.



Wigwam frame wigwam frame detail

The wigwam frame is made of flexible saplings of tamarack and white ash trees. The saplings are stuck in the ground and bent and tied to one another with basswood bark strips. Several extra saplings are fastened around the edge of the frame to provide extra strength.





Lean to photo Cedar bark lean-to

Lean-to's provided shade from the sun and protection from wind and rain. In these sheltered workspaces, women would weave mats from rushes and cattails, and make and decorate clothing, bedding and storage containers. Lean-to's were also used to store extra food, wood and clothing. This lean-to is made of cedar bark. Along with strips of the inner bark basswood, it uses strips of rawhide to secure the frame. When hides of animals were not tanned and stretched, they dried and became very tough. This type of hard hide is called rawhide. It was also used by the Ojibwa to make snowshoes, as it is very durable.


Three sisters garden

Three Sisters garden

The Ojibwa planted vegetable gardens to supplement their hunting and gathering. These gardens are referred to as "Three Sisters" gardens because corn, beans and squash were planted close together in a mound. The cornstalk serves as a pole for the beans, the beans help add nitrogen to the soil that the corn needs, and the squash provides a ground cover of shade that helps the soil retain moisture. Pumpkins, gourds, Jerusalem artichokes, sunflowers, and ground cherry were also farmed. Tobacco was planted in a separate garden; it was used for ceremonial offerings and medicinal purposes.


 drying racksSkin-drying rack

Everything the Ojibwa used came from nature. People used hides, bones, teeth, sinews, claws, stones, shells, wood, bark and plant fibers to make the things they needed. From animal hides they made clothing, shoes, bedding and wigwam coverings. Women skinned the animals the men hunted and then prepared the hides by tanning them. It takes several steps and is hard work. First sharp bones or rocks were used to scrape the hides clean of meat, fat and fur. The hides were then soaked in a liquid made from the leaves, bark and acorns of oak trees. The liquid had an acid that makes the hide very soft, even after being stretched and dried on a rack shown here. The brains of animals were also used to tan hides.


Food-drying rack

Each spring, the Ojibwa moved to fishing camps along lakes and rivers where fish were caught. Fish were dried on racks and smoked to allow them to store large quantities of their catch when food was not as plentiful. Summer was also a time of great abundance. Women and children gathered nuts and fruits, such as cherries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries. They also gathered herbs, such as mint, to make tea. Foods from the land were dried and extra meat was smoked and stored for winter. Food preservation was a critical activity to ensure the people had food throughout the winter.


birch bark canoe

 Birch bark canoe

Inside the nature center lodge's exihibit room, look for the authentic 14-foot Ojibwa birch bark canoe mounted above the doorway. It is made of birch bark and eastern white cedar and sealed with a waterproofing mixture of pine sap and deer tallow. A two-hour documentary film on DVD which describes the construction process in detail is available for loan to schools. The Ojibwa used birch bark for many things, including wigwam coverings, scrolls, baskets, and containers for collecting sugar maple sap. Birch bark was cut and peeled in the spring and early summer. 


Touchscreen video kiosk

Please stop inside the nature center lodge to view our interpretive videos about the North American Indian village. You can access them at our video kiosk.

  • North American Indian Village at the Pine River Nature Center - 5 minutes long
  • The First People: The North American Indians of the Blue Water Area - 25 minutes long
  • Sweet Grass Basket Weaving - 7 minutes long