a tribe of Native American and
First Nations people, a subdivision of
the Algonquian nation of
America. The Abenaki live in New England, Quebec, and the
Maritimes, a region called Wabanaki ("Dawn Land") in the Eastern Algonquian
languages. The Abenaki are one
of the five members of the Wabanaki
The Abenaki people call themselves
, meaning "Real People" (c.f.
). In addition, when compared to the more
interior Algonquian peoples
call themselves Wôbanuok
"Easterners" (c.f. Massachusett
). They also refer
to themselves as Abenaki
or with syncope
. Both forms are derived from
Wabanaki or the Wabanaki Confederacy, as they were once
a member of this confederacy they called
Wôbanakiak meaning "People of the Dawn
Land" in the Abenaki language —
from wôban ("dawn" or "east") and aki ("land")
*wa·pan and *axkyi)—the aboriginal name of the
area broadly corresponding to New England and the Maritimes.
It is, therefore, sometimes used to refer to all the Algonquian language
speaking peoples of
the area — Western Abenaki, Eastern Abenaki, Wolastoqiyik
, and Mi'kmaq
— as a single group.
Historically, the Abenakis are divided by the ethnologists into
groups: Western Abenaki
and Eastern Abenaki
. Within these groups are the
- Western Abenaki
- Koasek (Coos)
- Masipskwoik (Missiquoi)
- Eastern Abenaki
- Alessikantekw (Androscoggin)
- Kinipekw (Kennebec)
- Panawahpskek (Penobscot; now
considered a separate tribe)
However, due to erroneous use of the word "Abenaki" to mean
"Wabanaki," all the Abenakis together with the Penobscots
are often described as "Western
'Wabenaki'" peoples, while the Mi'kmaq
are described as "Eastern
homeland of the Abenaki, known to them as Ndakinna, which
means "our land", extended across most of northern New England, southern Quebec, and the
Maritimes. The Eastern Abenaki's population was
concentrated in portions of Maine east of
The other major tribe, the Western Abenaki,
lived in the Connecticut River
valley in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The Missiquoi lived
along the eastern shore of Lake Champlain.
There were also the Pennacook
along the Merrimack River
in southern New Hampshire.
maritime Abenaki lived around the St.
Croix and Wolastoq valleys near the boundary line between Maine and
settlement of New England and frequent wars caused many Abenakis to
retreat to Quebec.
tribal communities formed near St-François-du-Lac (Odanak) and Bécancour (Wôlinak).
These settlements continue to
exist to this day. Three reservations also exist in northern Maine,
and seven Wolastoqiyik
reserves are located
in New Brunswick and Quebec. Other groups of Abenaki, without
reservations, are scattered across northern New Hampshire and
Penawapskewi have a reservation with 2,000
people on Indian
Island at Old Town,
currently number about 2,500
across three different Maine reservations: Passamaquoddy Pleasant
, Peter Dana
, and Indian Township
Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians have close to 600 tribesmembers,
whereas there are seven Wolastoqiyik
in Canada, 470 in Quebec and 2,000 in New Brunswick. Four hundred Wôlinak Abenakis live on a reserve near Bécancour, Quebec (across the
river from Trois-Rivières), and almost 1,500 live at Odanak, only to the
southwest of Trois-Rivières.
The remaining Abenaki people
are scattered within Quebec, New Brunswick, and northern New
England, living in multi-racial towns and cities. About 2,500
Vermont Abenaki live in Vermont and New Hampshire, chiefly around
The Abenaki language is closely related to those of their
neighboring Wabanaki tribes such as the Mi'kmaq
, as well as with other
. It is close to extinction as a spoken
Dictionaries include Dr. Gordon M. Day's two-volume Western
published in 1994; Chief Henry Lorne
Masta's 1932 Abenaki Legends, Grammar, and Place Names
Odanak, Quebec; and Joseph Aubery
1700 French-Abenaki Dictionary
, translated into English
and reprinted in 1995 by Chief Stephen Laurent (son of Joseph).
speaker Joseph "Elie" Joubert also has language lists of words,
available via Alnôbak News, Franklin,
In 1614, Thomas Hunt
24 young people and took them to England.
Abenakis were traditionally allied with the French; one of
them, Chief Assacumbuit, was declared a
noble under the reign of Louis
annihilation from English attacks and epidemics, they started to
emigrate to Quebec around 1669,
where two seigneuries (large self-administered areas similar to
feudal fiefs) were allocated to them by the Governor of New France. The first was on the
Saint Francis River and is
nowadays known as the Odanak Indian
Reservation; the second was founded near Bécancour and is called the Wolinak Indian Reservation.
their principal town, Norridgewock, was taken, and their missionary, Father Sébastien Rale, killed in 1724, many
more emigrated to the settlement on the St. Francis River to where
other refugees from the New England tribes had come earlier.
Abenaki couple, 18th-century
Abenakis are not a federally
in the United States. In 2006, Vermont officially recognized the Abenaki as a People, but
not a Tribe.
This is in recognition of the annihilation or
assimilation of the Abenaki and subsequent isolation of each small
remnant of the greater whole onto reservations during and after the
French and Indian War
before the US government began acknowledging the sovereignty of
native tribes in the late twentieth century. Facing annihilation,
the Abenakis began emigrating to Canada, then under French control,
around 1669 where they were granted two seigneuries.
A tribal council was organized in 1976 at Swanton, Vermont
, as the Sokoki-St. Francis Band
Abenaki Nation. Vermont recognition of the council was granted that
same year but was later withdrawn for unknown reasons. In 1982,
they applied for nation recognition which is still pending.
An Abenaki in traditional
There are a dozen variations of the name Abenakis, such as
Abenaquiois, Abakivis, Quabenakionek, Wabenakies and others.
The Abenaki were described in the Jesuit Relations
cannibals, and as docile, ingenious, temperate in the use of
liquor, and not profane.
All Abenaki tribes lived a lifestyle similar to the Algonquin of
southern New England. They cultivated crops for food, locating
villages on or near fertile river floodplains. Other less major,
but still important, parts of their diet included game and fish
from hunting and fishing, and wild plants.
They lived in scattered bands of extended families for most of the
year. Each man had different hunting territories inherited through
his father. Unlike the Iroquois
Abenaki were patrilineal
. Bands came
together during the spring and summer at temporary villages near
rivers, or somewhere along the seacoast for planting and fishing.
These villages occasionally had to be fortified, depending on the
alliances and enemies of other tribes or of Europeans near the
village. Abenaki villages were quite small when compared to the
'; the average number of people was
Most Abenaki settlements used dome-shaped, bark-covered wigwams
for housing, though a few preferred
oval-shaped long houses. During the winter, the Abenaki lived in
small groups further inland. The homes there were bark-covered wigwams
shaped in a way similar to the teepees of the
During the winter, the Abnaki lined
the inside of their conical wigwams with bear and deer skins for
warmth. The Abenaki also built long houses similar to those of the
Population and epidemics
Before the Abenaki — except the Pennacook and Mi'kmaq — had contact
with the European world, their population may have numbered as many
as 40,000. Around 20,000 would have been Eastern Abenaki, another
10,000 would have been Western Abenaki, and the last 10,000 would
have been Maritime Abenaki. Early contacts with European fisherman
resulted in two major epidemics that affected Abenaki during the
1500s. The first epidemic was an unknown sickness occurring
sometime between 1564 and 1570, and the second one was typhus
in 1586. Multiple epidemics arrived a decade
prior to the English settlement of Massachusetts in 1620, when
three separate sicknesses swept across New England and the Canadian
Maritimes. Maine was hit very hard during the year of 1617, with a
fatality rate of 75%, and the population of the Eastern Abenaki
fell to about 5,000. Fortunately, the Western Abenaki were a more
isolated group of people and suffered far less, losing only about
half of their original population of 10,000.
The new diseases continued to cause more disaster, starting with
in 1631, 1633, and 1639. Seven
years later, an unknown epidemic struck, with influenza
passing through the following year.
Smallpox affected the Abenaki again in 1649, and diphtheria
came through 10 years later. Once
again, smallpox struck in 1670, and influenza again in 1675.
Smallpox affected the Native Americans again in 1677, 1679, 1687,
along with measles
, 1691, 1729, 1733, 1755,
and finally in 1758.
The Abenaki population continued to decline, but in 1676, they took
in thousands of refugees from many southern New England tribes
displaced by settlement and King
. Because of this, descendents of nearly every
southern New England Algonquin can be found among the Abenaki
people. Another century later, there were fewer than 1,000 Abenaki
remaining after the American
The population has recovered to nearly 12,000 total in the United
States and Canada.
The Abenaki are featured in Jodi
's Second Glance
and in the film Northwest Passage
, based on
the novel by Kenneth Roberts
Several Abenaki characters and much about their 18th century
culture is featured in Roberts' earlier novel (1930)
. They also feature prominently in Charles McCarry
's novel Bride of the
, and they play a protagonist role in Joseph Bruchac
's novel The Arrow Over the
A young adult novel by Beth Kanell "The Darkness Under
the Water" is about the Abenaki and the Vermont eugenics project in
Accounts of life with the Abenaki can be found in the narratives
given by captives taken by the Abenaki from the early American
settlements: Hannah Duston
- Snow, Dean R. 1978. "Eastern Abenaki". In Northeast,
ed. Bruce G. Trigger. Vol. 15 of Handbook of North American
Indians, ed. William C. Sturtevant. Washington, D.C.:
Smithsonian Institution, pg. 137. Cited in Campbell, Lyle (1997).
American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native
America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pg. 401. Campbell
uses the spelling wabánahki.
- Waldman, Carl. Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes:
Third Edition (New York: Checkmark Books, 2006) p. 1
- Bourne, p.214
- Waldman, Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes p.
- Women's Indian Captivity Narratives, ed. Kathryn Zabelle
Derounian-Stodola, Penguin, London, 1998
- Bourne, Russell, The Red King's Rebellion, Racial Politics
in New England 1675-1678, 1990, ISBN 0689120001
- Laurent, Joseph. 1884. New Familiar Abenakis and English
Dialogues. Quebec: Joseph Laurent. Reprinted 2006: Vancouver:
Global Language Press, ISBN 0-9738924-7-1
- Masta, Henry Lorne. 1932. Abenaki Legends, Grammar and
Place Names. Victoriaville, PQ: La Voix Des Bois-Franes.
Reprinted 2008: Toronto: Global Language Press, ISBN
- Maurault, Joseph-Anselme; Histoire des Abénakis, depuis
1605 jusqu'à nos jours, 1866
- Moondancer and Strong Woman. 2007. A Cultural History of
the Native Peoples of Southern New England: Voices from Past and
Present. Boulder, CO: Bauu Press, ISBN 0-9721349-3-X