Algonquian peoples

Algonquian peoples

:"This article is about the large number of peoples speaking Algonquian languages. For the Algonquin of Quebec and the Ottawa Valley, who are one of these peoples, see Algonquin."

The Algonquian are one of the most populous and widespread North American Native groups, with tribes originally numbering in the hundreds, and hundreds of thousands who still identify with various Algonquian peoples. This grouping consists of peoples that speak Algonquian languages.


Pre-colonial period

Before Europeans came into contact, most Algonquians lived by hunting and fishing, although quite a few supplemented their diet by cultivating corn, beans, squash, and (particularly among the Ojibwe) wild rice.

The Algonquians of New England (who spoke eastern Algonquian) practiced a seasonal economy. The basic social unit was the village of a few hundred people related by a kinship structure. Villages were temporary and mobile. They moved to locations of greatest natural food supply, often breaking into smaller units or recombining as the circumstances required. This custom resulted in a certain degree of cross-tribal mobility, especially in troubled times.

In warm weather, villages were constructed of light wigwams for portability. In the winter more solid long houses were used, in which more than one clan could reside. Food supplies were cached in more permanent, semi-subterranean buildings.

In the spring, when the fish were spawning, the natives left their winter camps to build light villages at coastal locations and waterfalls. In March they caught smelt in nets and weirs, moving about in birchbark canoes. In April they netted alewife, sturgeon and salmon. In May they caught cod with hook and line in the ocean, and trout, smelt, striped bass and flounder in the estuaries and streams. They put out to sea and hunted whales, porpoises, walruses and seals. The women and children gathered scallops, mussels, clams and crabs, all dishes in New England today.

In April through October, they hunted migratory birds and their eggs: Canada geese, brant, mourning doves and others. In July and August they gathered strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and nuts. In September they split into small groups and moved up the streams to the forest. There they hunted beaver, caribou, moose and white-tailed deer.

In December when the snows began they recombined in winter camps in sheltered locations, where they built or reconstructed long houses. February and March were lean times. They relied on cached food, especially in southern New England. Northerners had a policy of going hungry for several days at a time. It is hypothesized that this policy kept the population down according to Liebig’s law. The northerners were food gatherers only.

The southern Algonquians of New England relied predominantly on slash-and-burn agriculture. Fields were cleared by burning for one or two years of cultivation, after which the village moved to another location. This habit is the reason why the English found the region cleared and ready for planting. The native corn (maize), of which they planted various kinds, beans and squash improved the diet to such a degree that the southerners reached a density of 287 persons per square hundred miles, as opposed to 41 in the north.

Even with this mobile form of crop rotation, southern villages were necessarily less mobile than northern. The natives continued their seasonal occupation but tended to move into fixed villages near their lands. Society made the adjustment partially by developing a gender-oriented division of labor. The women farmed and the men fished and hunted.

By the year 1600, a convenient terminus for the relatively unstressed native economy and society, the indigenous population of New England had reached, it is estimated, 70,000–100,000.

Colonial period

At the time of the first European settlements in North America, Algonquian tribes occupied what is now New England, New Jersey, southeastern New York, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, all of Canada east of the Rocky Mountains, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and were occasionally present in Kentucky. They were most concentrated in the New England region. The homeland of the Algonquian peoples is not known. At the time of the European arrival, the hegemonic Iroquois federation was regularly at war with their Algonquian neighbours, forcing them to settle in regions unoccupied by Iroquois.

For about two centuries, Algonquians provided the main obstacles to the spread of Euro-American settlers, who concluded hundreds of peace treaties with them. Metacomet, Cornstalk, Tecumseh and Pontiac were all leaders who belonged to Algonquian nations.

Tribal identities

Algonquian tribes of the New England area include Mohegan, Pequot, Narragansett, Wampanoag, Massachusett, Nipmuck, Pennacook, and Passamaquoddy. The Abenaki tribe is located in Maine and eastern Quebec. These tribes practiced some agriculture. The Maliseet of Maine, Quebec and New Brunswick, and the Micmac tribes of the Canadian Maritime provinces lived primarily on fishing. Further north are the Betsiamites, Atikamekw, Algonkin and Montagnais/Naskapi (Innu). The Beothuk people of Newfoundland are also believed to have been Algonquians, but they disappeared in the early 19th century and few records of their language or culture remain. In the west, Ojibwe/Chippewa, Ottawa, Potawatomi, and a variety of Cree groups lived in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Upper Michigan, Western Ontario and the Canadian Prairies. The Arapaho, Blackfoot and Cheyenne are also indigenous to the Great Plains. In the Midwest lived the Shawnee, Illiniwek, Kickapoo, Menominee, Miami, and Sac and Fox, many of whom have since been displaced over great distances through Indian removal. In the mid- and south-Atlantic are the traditional homes of the Powhatan, Lumbee, Nanticoke, Lenape (Munsee and Unami), and Mahican peoples.

Identity problems

The tribal names used to identify individual groups of Algonquian peoples and their languages are often misleading. Even today, intermarriage and tight intercommunity alliances are common across the Algonquian peoples. Their languages are also quite similar. Across Canada, Cree speaking people may be able to understand each other with little difficulty, and the Ojibwe language is close enough to the Western Cree languages to remain partially understandable. These divisions have often been imposed by European efforts to manage native peoples, and to give them a European-style political identity better suited to the colonisers' ends. Within these communities, such identities often overlapped.

ee also

* Great Trail
* Wampanoag
* Massachusett
* Nipmuck
* Siwanoy


*Cronon, William, "Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England", Hill and Wang, copyright 1983, ISBN 0-8090-0158-6
*Cappel, Constance, "The Smallpox Genocide of the Odawa Tribe at L'Arbre Croche, 1763: The History of the Odawa People," Edwin Mellen press, 2007, ISBN-13: 978-0-7734-5220-6
*Moondancer and Strong Woman, "A Cultural History of the Native Peoples of Southern New England: Voices from Past and Present", Bauu Press, copyright 2007, ISBN 0-9721-3493-X

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