The Pembina Band of Chippewa began movement to the Turtle Mountains where they wintered, and eventually adapted to a Plains culture. This included the semi-annual buffalo hunt, which was a common practice of the Plains tribes. The success of the hunt was necessary for the survival of all the tribal members during winter. The Chippewas were expert buffalo hunters. Several generations of hunting and trapping conditioned the Chippewa to become expert marksmen with flintlock rifles. During these expeditions, captains were elected to carry out orders and to oversee the strategic plans. Everyone – men, women, and children participated in the buffalo hunt. While on the plains, the tepee became the mobile home of nomadic life. This cone-like structure, made from buffalo skins, could be set up in a matter of minutes. It was easy to carry, and could be used as a year-round home. This temporary shelter was extremely important for enabling the hunter to easily move with the grazing herds. The preservation of food was also a problem. Sun-dried buffalo meat was pounded into pieces, mixed with buffalo fat, and molded into balls. Berries were sometimes added for flavor. In later years this food staple, called pemmican, became a major food source for the fur trade, and developed into an economic commodity for the Chippewa. Although the buffalo was important, the Chippewa still continued to fish the rivers, and gather wild rice.
At the turn of the 19th century, the Chippewa established a settlement near Pembina. Numerous families had developed small, riverfront plots into workable farms, usually around fifteen acres. It was enough to support the extended family’s needs. Gardens were grown, harvested, and traded or preserved for winter. Cattle were also raised and grazed on these families’ plots. Houses were made of earth (sod). Later, log cabins were the first homes built. When the Chippewa went on buffalo hunts, they continued to live in tepee made from buffalo hides.
As a result of hunting and trapping in the Red River Territory, the Métis developed a unique type of homemade horse and/or ox drawn carriage called the “Red River Cart.” This form of transportation was well suited for the Red River territory.
During the time the Chippewa made their home in the Red River Valley, another era of transition occurred. Lifestyles were once again modified to fit the needs of many of the people. The fiddle tune “Red River Jig” is an example of the blending of culture through music and dance. The fiddle was a strong symbol of Turtle Mountain culture for many Turtle Mountain Chippewa. The “Red River Jig” is a tune to which many people dance yet today.
Fiddle music, square dancing, jigging, and contemporary country music are all forms of the French influence in dance and music expression that are seen today. The first mission came to Pembina in 1818 and many tribal members adopted the Catholic faith. Today, St. Ann’s, at Belcourt, is the largest Catholic parish in North Dakota.