The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indian Reservation is located on a six mile by twelve-mile land base and is considered one of the most densely populated Reservations, per square mile, in the United States. If the Turtle Mountain Reservation was listed as a city, it would be the 5th largest city in North Dakota.  The Reservation is near the geographical center on North America in north central North Dakota, ten miles south of the Canadian Border.

The hub city in Rolette County is Belcourt, ND and is the only city located on the Reservation.  Belcourt has an average per cap income of $15,048 and is considered as 33.9% below the poverty level.

The surrounding communities where tribal members also live include:

  • Rolla (Population: 1,707) 6-miles from Belcourt, has an average per cap income of $23,469 and is considered as 29.1% below the poverty level.
  • St. John (Population: 1,231) 14-miles from Belcourt,  has an average per cap income of $23,575 and is considered to be 19.4% below the poverty level.
  • Dunseith (Population: 3,313) 16-miles from Belcourt, has an average per cap income of $14,255 and is considered to be 39.7% below the poverty level.
  • Rolette (Population: 1,080) 16-miles from Belcourt,  has an averageper cap income of $24,437 and is considered to be 20.4% below the poverty level.

Unemployment on the Reservation is estimated to be at 59.45 % according to the 2016 Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Labor Force Statistics.  According to the 2010 Census, over 40% of Tribal families were living below the poverty level, and 882 households were headed by single mothers struggling to raise 1,392 children under the age of 18.

(Source: Census Bureau Dataset: ACS 5-year Estimate)



Section updated: 4/6/2018


Historical Overview


The Reservation was established by Executive Orders of December 21st, 1882, and March 29th, 1884, on an area of 72,000 acres of land. This initial land base proved to be inadequate for the population of the reservation, and in order to meet the land needs of the people, additional land was allotted in western North Dakota and Montana, known as the Trenton Indian Service Area.

The Chippewa proudly referred to themselves as Anishinabe meaning “THE ORIGINAL PEOPLE.”  The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa are primarily members of the Pembina Band of Chippewa.  Descendence may include intermarriage with other Chippewa bands, Cree, and other nations who make up the membership of the Turtle Mountain Band.

The name “Chippewa”, a mispronunciation of Ojibwa, Ojibway, Ojibwe, Saulteaux, and Anishinabe are all names that refer to the same group of people. The word “Ojibwa” refers to “something puckered up.” One theory is that it comes from the way in which the people made their moccasins. Today, the term “Ojibway” is used for pre-European contact, whereas the term “Chippewa” is used to distinguish post European contact.

The Ojibway are members of the Algonquin language gorup which are lcoated from the Newfoundland to the Rocky Mountains, and from Hudson Bay to North Carolina. Other tribes in this language group are the Cree, Ottawa, Sauk, Fox, Menominee, Potawatomi, Miami, Shawnee, Delaware, Chyenne, Blackfeet, and the Arapaho. This classification by language has been established by scholars, but this does not mean that the tribes were closely related or that they were allies.


Cultural Overview


The cultures of the Native American on this continent have had an impact on America. Some aspects of the lifeways and cultures of native peoples have been adapted by the contemporary American Society. Native Peoples contributed foods, medicines, and languages to the Europeans with whom they came into contact. Pumpkins, squash, wild rice, and pemmican are examples of food which were introduced by Native Americans. Animal names such as chipmunk, muskrat, raccoon, and caribou, are all Algonquin in origin, adopted by American society. Many lakes, rivers, mountains, and states have Native American names.

Traditionally, the Chippewa people were primarily a hunting and gathering society. They hunted various animals for food and clothing. They gathered berries, roots, vegetables, fruits, and wild rice for food and medicinal purposes. The Chippewa have a legend about mun-dam-in (corn), which indicates they were sedentary to a degree. They coexisted in harmony with nature and had a special relationship to animals evident in the structure of tribal society, which centered on the clan system. Animals symbolize each clan. Their legends describe natures phenomena.

There are many factors that facilitated the transition and evolution of the Turtle Mountain people inot the unique culture that exists today. The transition from woodlands to plains people vastly influenced the culture of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa. Food, transportation, clothing, and housing were all adapted to meet the needs of the people and the tribe. In addition, the blending of other cultures greatly impacted their language and lifeways from social structure and language, to customs and dance.


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