The Council of Three Fires, also known as the People of the Three Fires, the Three Fires Confederacy, the United Nations of Chippewa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi Indians, or Niswi-mishkodewin in the Anishinaabe language, is a long-standing Anishinaabe alliance of the Ojibwe (or Chippewa), Ottawa (or Odawa), and Potawatomi Native American tribes and First Nations.
In this Council, the Ojibwe were addressed as the “Older Brother,” the Odawa as the “Middle Brother,” and the Potawatomi as the “Younger Brother.” Consequently, whenever the three Anishinaabe nations are mentioned in this specific and consecutive order of Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi, it is an indicator implying Council of Three Fires as well. In addition, the Ojibwa are the “keepers of the faith,” the Odawa are the “keepers of trade,” and the Potawatomi are the designated “keepers/maintainers of/for the fire” (boodawaadam), which became the basis for their name Boodewaadamii (Ojibwe spelling) or Bodéwadmi (Potawatomi spelling).
Originally one people, or a collection of closely related bands, the identities of Ojibwa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi developed after the Anishinaabeg reached Michilimackinac on their journey westward from the Atlantic coast. Using the Midewiwin scrolls, Potawatomi elder Shup-Shewana dated the formation of the Council of Three Fires to 796 AD at Michilimackinac.
Though the Three Fires had several meeting places, Michilimackinac became the preferred meeting place due to its central location. From this place, the Council met for military and political purposes. From this site, the Council maintained relations with fellow Anishinaabeg nations, the Ozaagii (Sac), Odagaamii (Meskwaki), Omanoominii (Menominee), Wiinibiigoo (Ho-Chunk), Naadawe (Iroquois Confederacy), Nii’inaawi-Naadawe (Wyandot), Naadawensiw (Sioux), Wemitigoozhi (France), Zhaaganaashi (England) and the Gichi-mookomaan (the United States).
Through the totem-system and promotion of trade, the Council generally had a peaceful existence with its neighbours. However, occasional unresolved disputes erupted into wars. Under these conditions, the Council notably fought against the Iroquois Confederacy and the Sioux. During the Seven Years’ War, the Council fought against England; and during the Northwest Indian War and the War of 1812, they fought against the United States. After the formation of the United States of America in 1776, the Council became the core member of the Western Lakes Confederacy (also known as “Great Lakes Confederacy”), joined together with the Wyandots, Algonquins, Nipissing, Sacs, Meskwaki and others.