The Algonquians

The Algonquian Native Americans are the most extensive and numerous North American groups with hundreds of original tribes speaking several related dialects of the language group, Algonkian. They lived in most of the Canadian territory below the Hudson Bay and between the Atlantic Ocean and the Rocky Mountains.

The term "Algonquian" refers to "A place for spearing fishes and eels." Because Northern weather patterns made growing food difficult, the Algonquian moved their families from place to place to fish, hunt, trap, and gather roots, seeds, wild rice, and berries.

They trekked on foot and with canoes made of birch bark in warm weather, then used snowshoes and toboggans in snowy weather. Their garments, as well as their shelters, known as wigwams, were fashioned with skins. They were also occasionally sheathed with birch bark.

Algonquian man

The Algonquian men were the leaders and the heads of the family and sons inherited territorial hunting rights from their fathers.

The shaman, or medicine man, occupied an influential position in Algonquian social life. It was assumed he could heal sick persons and traffic with the spirit world, whose consituents were a great spirit, lesser spirits who controlled the elements, evil spirits responsible for illness and misfortune, and benevolent spirits who purveyed good luck and health.

The shaman was also consulted as a dream interpreter, since the Algonquian found great significance in dreams. They believed also in an afterlife where human spirits pursued animal spirits. Furthermore, they were believers in witchcraft and were quite reluctant to disclose their actual names, fearing that enemies with spiritual powers would use them with malicious intent.

The Algonquian were among the first North American natives to strike alliances with the French, who adopted Algonquian means of travel and terms like "canoe" and "toboggan."

There are presently approximately 8,000 Algonquian living in Canada, organized into 10 separate First Nations; nine are in Quebec and one in Ontario. The Algonquian included also the Delaware, Mohican, Montauk, Munsee, and Wappinger and were centered in the Hudson Valley and on Long Island.


See Indian Wars Time Table .