Ottawa Clans/Bands

Ruby Rohrlich (Pathcpis@AOL.COM)
Thu, 7 Sep 1995 21:20:16 -0400

Anyone with Information About:

On a recent visit with the Ottawas of Oklahoma in Miami, OK, the subject of
bands or clans came up with reference to your named groups in Charles
Cleland's "Rites of Conquest" (1992) on p. 86. Cleland's identification of
"Negaouichiriniouek" as Sable meaning "People of the Sandy Beach" differs
from the oral tradition of Oklahoma Ottawa usage. The Oklahoma Ottawas do
not recognize an Ottawa term for "Sable". The closest match would be
"neegig" which is identified as "otter" (Chief Charles Dawes, Dictionary:
English-Ottawa Ottawa-English, Miami, Oklahoma, 1982 and Chief Lewis H.
Barlow and Second Chief Charles Dawes, "The Ottawa Indian Tribe of Oklahoma:
Past, Present and Future, a Comprehensive Planning Document - 1981", Miami,
Oklahoma, 1981, p. 2 ). The Oklahoma Ottawas recognize the same named
totems, bands or clans listed by Cleland with the exception of the one I just

According to Oklahoma Otawa oral tradition, the Otter Clan was misidentified
as "Sable", an animal similar in appearance to the Otter (Clarence E. King,
Sr., 2nd Chief of the Oklahoma Ottawas, "Pontiac's Descendants", Manuscript
Collection, PA Box 20 40, Ohio Historical Society, Columbus, Ohio, n.d., p. 5
and Walter King, Sr., "Pontiac's Children", Manuscript Collection PA Box 20
40, Ohio Historical Society, Columbus, Ohio, n.d., p. 1). Pontiac was a
member of the Otter Clan or society. Negig, also known as the "Little
Otter", was also a member of the Otter Clan or society from which he was
named. The Ottawa Tribe of Oklahoma are descendants of Pontiac who is
associated with the medecine lodge or fraternity whose emblem or totem was
the sign of the otter.

In 1967, Norman G. Holmes, Tribal Operations Officer, Anadarko Area Office,
Oklahoma, and a lineal descendant of Pontiac stated that historians and
writers have misidentified the "sable" for the "otter" since both are similar
fur-bearing animals of the weasel family (Holmes, "The Ottawa Indians of
Oklahoma and Chief Pontiac", The Chronicles of Oklahoma, 45: 192, 1967).

According to the legend, the Otter Clan was a medecine fraternity or society
(presumably the Grand Medecine Society or "Mide-wi-win") in need of a totem
or emblem for use in the clan's rituals. A committee was selected and sent
out during the winter in the Great Lakes region to find a namesake for the
society. While walking along the lake shore, an otter was spotted emerging
from a crevice in the ice and was adopted as the totem of the society.

I would be interested to hear any opinions and comments about the linguistic
identification of the Ottawa Sable clan or band, especially from Charles
Cleland or James McClurken. Could there be any possible reconciliation
between the two language terms by the northern Ottawas and the Oklahoma
Ottawas that might resolve the Sable Clan identification as "People of the
Sandy Beach" or the "Otter Clan"?