“Turtle Island” is one Native American name for the North American continent. Just 30 miles from its exact geographic center is the Turtle Mountain area of North Dakota—itself a sort of island. These green, wooded hills are a cool oasis in the northern Great Plains.
This is the center of life for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians—a highly adventurous, adaptable and resourceful people who have a most unique and colorful heritage. Today’s Tribal members are descendants of the legendary Chiefs, warriors, buffalo hunters, traders, trappers, Red River cart and dogsled freighters, and voyagers. The marriage of European and Indian ways is a very long one; the Turtle Mountain Chippewa entrepreneur spirit dates back to the early French fur trade.
The Turtle Mountain Chippewa people are Plains Indians—though not the stereotypical TV and movie sort, engaged in picture-show battles with the U.S. cavalry. The Chippewa have a long history of business association and intermarriage with non-Indians going back to the seventeenth century, making possible the North American fur trade. Turtle Mountain Chippewa have always been an industrious and adaptable people. By 1800 they were already gaining fame for the production of Red River Carts. Trains of these two-wheeled conveyances comprised the main freightliners of the 1800’s, connecting major cities of the Northwest before railroads came. The cartwheels would come off to be used when needing to cross the river it would float their supplies.
Extreme hardship—poverty, disease epidemics, and cultural destruction —marked the early reservation era. But in the long years before government “help” programs, the people became very resourceful in finding ways to make a living. Proud, hardworking Turtle Mountain Chippewa families were raised with a solid work ethic and a fierce will to better their condition.
Receding glaciers created an elevated terrain of rolling “turtleback” hills and scooped-out lakes, resulting in an area of scenic beauty unequaled in the state or region. The hills have a dense brush and tree cover of poplar, birch, oak willow and aspen. With numerous sparkling lakes, an ideal wildlife habitat and recreational area exists. There are many species of large and small game. Hunting and fishing are excellent.