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around year 1800
Algonquin family in their tent.

The Algonquins (also spelled Algonkians or Algonkins) are aboriginal/First Nations inhabitants of North American who speak Algonquian. Culturally and linguistically, they are closely related to the Odawa and Ojibwe, with whom they form the larger Anicinàpe grouping. The Algonquin peoples call themselves either Omàmiwinini (plural: Omàmiwininiwak) or the more generalised name of Anicinàpe.

Though known by several names in the past, the most common term "Algonquin" derives from the Maliseet word elakómkwik ( ), "they are our relatives/allies".The tribe has also given its name to the much larger heterogeneous group of Algonquian-speaking peoples who stretch from Virginiamarker to the Rocky Mountains and north to Hudson Baymarker. Most Algonquins, however, live in Quebecmarker; the nine Algonquin bands in that province and one in Ontariomarker have a combined population of about 11,000. (Popular usage reflects some confusion on the point, in that the term "Algonquin" is sometimes used — for example in this entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia — to refer to all Algonquian-speaking societies).


Many Algonquins still speak the Algonquin language, called generally Anicinàpemowin or specifically Omàmiwininìmowin. The language is considered one of several divergent dialects of the Anishinaabe languages. Among younger speakers, the Algonquin language has experienced strong word borrowings from the Cree language.Traditionally, the Algonquins lived in either a birch bark wìkiwàm or in wooden mìkiwàm, though Algonquins today live in housing much like that of the general public.Traditionally, the Algonquins were practitioners of Midewiwin; they believed they were surrounded by many manitò. With the arrival of the French, many Algonquins were proselytized to Christianity, but many still practise Midewiwin or co-practice Christianity and Midewiwin.



In the earliest oral history, the Algonquins were from the Atlanticmarker coast. Together with other Anicinàpe, they arrived at the "First Stopping Place" near Montrealmarker. While the other Anicinàpe peoples continued their journey up the St. Lawrence Rivermarker, the Algonquins settled along the Kitcisìpi (Ottawa River), an important highway for commerce, cultural exchange, and transportation from time immemorial. A distinct Algonquin identity, though, was not fully realized until after the dividing of the Anicinàpek at the "Third Stopping Place", estimated at about 2,000 years ago near present day Detroitmarker.

After contact with the Europeans, the Algonkins became one of the key players in the fur trade. This led them to fight against the Iroquois because of their rivalry in the fur trade; and they formed an alliance with the Montagnais to the east in 1570.

French contact

The Algonquins first met Europeans when Samuel de Champlain came upon a party of Algonquins, led by the Kitcisìpirini Chief Tessouat at Tadoussacmarker in the summer of 1603. They were celebrating with the Montagnais and Etechemins (Malecite) a recent victory over the Iroquois. Champlain did not understand the strong totem/clan system that socially united the Algonquins rather than the European-styled politically united concept of nationhood. Consequently, there were several Algonquin bands, each with its own chief, needing political approval from each of the band's clan leaders. So, from 1603 some of the Algonquins allied themselves with the French under Samuel de Champlain.

Champlain made his first exploration of the Ottawa River during May 1613 and reached the fortified Kitcisìpirini village at Morrison Islandmarker. Unlike the other Algonquin communities, Kitcisìpiriniwak did not change location with the seasons. They had chosen a strategic point astride the trade route between the Great Lakesmarker and the St. Lawrence and had prospered through the collection of beaver pelts from native traders passing through their territory. They pointed with great pride to their corn fields, a skill that they seemed to have acquired just before the arrival of the French. At first, the term "Algonquin" was used only for a second group, the Wàwàckeciriniwak. However, by 1615 the name was applied to all of the Algonquin bands living along the Ottawa River. Because of keen interest to gain control of the lower Ottawa River the Kitcisìpiriniwak and the Wàwàckeciriniwak came under fierce opposition. These two large groups allied together, under the leadership of Sachem Charles Parcharini, maintaining the Omàmiwinini identity and territory.

Iroquois and Algonquin relationship

The Iroquois Confederacy drove the Algonquins from their lands. However, the Iroquois were aided by the Dutch and later by the Englishmarker, and they defeated the French and Algonquins.

In 1632, after Sir David Kirke's occupation of New France demonstrated French colonial vulnerability, the French began to trade muskets to the Algonquins and their allies. French Jesuits began to actively seek Algonquin conversions to Roman Catholicism, dividing traditionalists and converts.

Through all of these years, the Iroquois never attacked the Kitcisìpirinik fortress, but in 1642 a surprise winter raid hit the Algonkin while most of their warriors were absent and inflicted severe casualties. On March 6 1647 (Ash Wednesday), a large Mohawk war party hit the Kitcisìpiriniwak living near Trois-Rivièresmarker and almost exterminated them. The Kitcisìpiriniwak were still at Morrison Island in 1650 and inspired respect with their 400 warriors. When the French retreated from the Huron country that year, Tessouat is reported to have had the superior of the Jesuit mission suspended by his armpits because he refused to offer him the customary presents for being allowed to travel through Algonquin territory. Some joined the mission at Sillery and were mostly destroyed by an epidemic by 1676. Others, encouraged by the French, remained at Trois-Rivières, and their settlement at nearby Pointe-du-Lacmarker remained until about 1830, when the last 14 families, numbering about 50, moved to Okamarker. (There were still a number of families still who stayed in Trois Rivieres and they can be found listed in the Algonquin census of Trois Rivieres in the mid 1800's). The Sulpician Mission of the Mountain was founded at Montrealmarker in 1677, and some Algonquins settled there together with Iroquois converts. However many did maintain attachment to the traditional territory and the trading traditions. While those that agreed to move to the established reserves or joined other historic bands and were then federally "recognized" many others did not re-locate and were later referred to as "stragglers" in the Ottawa and Pontiac Counties.

Though the Algonquins were defeated, they were never destroyed, and the Algonquin Indian culture lives on in pockets of their once-vast territory.

Settlement in Quebec

Starting in 1721, many Christian Algonquins began to settle for the summer at Okamarker, a Mohawk settlement near Montrealmarker that was then considered one of the Seven Nations of Canada. Algonquin warriors continued to fight in alliance with France until the British conquest of Quebec in 1760. Fighting on behalf of the British Crown, the Algonquins took part in the Barry St Leger campaign during the American Revolutionary War.

Loyalist settlers began encroaching on Algonquin lands shortly after the Revolution. Later in the 19th century, the lumber industry began to move up the Ottawa valley, and some Algonquins were relegated to a string of small reserves.


Although the historical Algonquin society was largely hunting- and fishing-based, some Algonquins practiced agriculture and cultivated corn, beans, and squash, the famous "Three Sisters" of indigenous horticulture. Being primarily a hunting nation, mobility was essential. Material used had to be light and easy to transport. Canoes were made of birch bark, sewed with spruce roots and rendered waterproof by the application of heated spruce resin and grease. During winter, toboggans were used to transport material, and people used snowshoes to get around. For babies, tikinàgan (cradleboard) were used to carry them. It was built with wood and covered with an envelope made of leather or material. The baby was standing up with his feet resting on a small board. The mother would then put the tikinàgan on her back. This allowed the infant to look around and observe his surroundings, therefore start learning how everyday tasks were done.

Algonquian-speaking people also practiced large amounts of agriculture, particularly south of the Great Lakes where the climate allows for a larger growing season. Other notable indigenous crops historically farmed by Algonquins are the sunflower and tobacco. Even among groups who mainly hunted, agricultural products were an important source of food and were obtained by trading with or raiding societies that practiced larger amounts of agriculture.

Archaeological sites on Morrison Island near Pembrokemarker, within the territory of the Kitcisìpiriniwak, reveal a 1,000-year-old culture that manufactured copper tools and weapons. Copper ore was extracted north of Lake Superiormarker and distributed down to today's northern New Yorkmarker. Local pottery artifacts from this period show widespread similarities that indicate the continuing use of the river for cultural exchange throughout the Canadian Shield and beyond. Some centuries later the Algonquin tribe moved in and inhabited the islands and shores along the Ottawa, and by the 17th century the first Europeans found them well-established as a hunter-gatherer society in control of the river. The Kitcisìpiriniwak showed entrepreneurial spirit. On Morrison Island, at the location of where 5,000-year-old copper artifacts were discovered, the Kitcisìpirini band levied a toll on canoe flotillas descending the river.

Modern events

In 1981, members of the Algonquin tribe successfully blockaded a commercial rice-harvesting venture that was given federal governmental permission to harvest the wild rice that the tribe has traditionally gathered by hand for centuries. Hundreds of people blockaded roads, and despite police helicopters, paddy wagons, and "a lot of hostility and pushing and shoving," according to Harold Perry, honorary chief of the Ardoch Algonquins, the tribe and its supporters held their ground for 27 days—long enough for the federal government to reverse its decision and revoke the commercial permit.

In recent years, tensions with the lumber industry have flared up again among Algonkin communities, in response to the practice of clear-cutting. In Ontario, an ongoing Algonkin land claim has, since 1983, called into dispute much of the southeastern part of the province, stretching from near North Baymarker to near Hawkesburymarker and including Ottawamarker, Pembrokemarker, and most of Algonquin Provincial Parkmarker .

In 2000, Algonquins from Timiskaming First Nationmarker played a significant part in the local popular opposition to the plan to convert Adams Mine into a garbage dump.

Members of the Algonquin tribe began a peaceful blockade of a uranium mining operation on their sacred lands north of Kingston, Ontariomarker on June 29, 2007. Oakville-based Frontenac Ventures, the prospecting company, sought a court order to force the protesters from the area. A court injunction was obtained on August 27, 2007, and a series of arrests followed, including the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation co-Chiefs Robert Lovelace and Paula Sherman. Chief Lovelace is currently serving a six-month sentence for contempt of court for violating the injunction, which requires all protesters to remain at least 200 metres from the mining site. Chief Sherman also received a six-month sentence, but it was suspended as she agreed to respect the injunction. Tens of thousands of dollars in fines have also been levied against them.

In addition to the charges of contempt, Frontenac Ventures is suing the Algonquins for $77 million.

On March 18, 2008, contempt charges were dropped "without costs" against three non-native activists: Frank Morrison and Christian Peacemakers David Milne and Reverend John Hudson. They had been charged with violating the same injunction as Lovelace and Sherman, but Frontenac Ventures declined to prosecute. During the same proceedings, however, warrants were obtained for the arrest of five other non-native activists who allegedly violated the injuncton.


At the time of their first meeting with the French in 1603, the various Algonquin bands probably had a combined population somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,000. The British estimate in 1768 was 1,500. Currently, there are close to 8,000 Algonquins in Canada organized into ten separate First Nations: nine in Quebec and one in Ontario.


Algonquian Nations documented as early as 1630:
  • "Iroquet" — They were known as Hiroquet, Hirocay, Iroquay, Yroquetto, and to the Huron as the Atonontrataronon or Ononchataronon; they lived along Ontario's South Nation River.
  • Kitcisìpiriniwak ("people of the great river") — They were the largest and most powerful group of Algonquins. Known variously as: Algoumequins de l'Isle, Allumette, Big River People, Gens d l'Isle, Honkeronon (Wyandot language), Island Algonquian, Island Indians, Island Nation, People from the Island, Kichesippiriniwek, Nation de l'Isle, Nation of the Isle, and Savages de l'Isle. Their main village was on Morrison Island.
  • Kinònjepìriniwak ("people of the Pickerel-waters") — Also known as Keinouche, Kinonche, Pickerel, Pike and Quenongebin. Sometimes they were listed as an Algonquian band, but after 1650 they were associated with the Ottawa and were originally found along the lower Ottawa River below Allumette Island.
  • Matàwackariniwak "people of the bulrushed-shore" — Also known as Madawaska, Madwaska, Matouchkarine, Matouashita, Mataouchkarini, Matouechkariniwek and Matouescarini; the Madawaska River in the Upper Ottawa Valley is named after this band.
  • "Nibachis" — Located at Muskrat Lake near present-day Cobden, Ontariomarker.
  • "Otaguottaouemin" — Also known as Kotakoutouemi or Outaoukotwemiwek. They were located along the Upper Ottawa River above Allumette Island.
  • Sàgaiganininiwak ("people of the lake") — Also known as Saghiganirini.
  • "Saginitaouigama" — Also known as Sagachiganiriniwek.
  • Wàwàckeciriniwak ("people of the deer[-clan]") — Also known as the Algonquian Proper, Weskarini, La Petite Nation, Little Nation, Ouaouechkairini, Ouassouarini, Ouescharini, Ouionontateronon (Wyandot language), or Petite Nation. They were located on the north side of the Ottawa River along the Lievre and the Rouge Rivers in Quebec.


Status nations

Non-status nations

These population figures are from Canada's Department of Indian and Northern Affairs.

The Nipissing First Nation of North Bay, Ontariomarker is also sometimes considered to belong to the Algonkin group of Anishinaabeg.

See also


External links

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