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The Abenaki Tribe

The Abenaki (or Abnaki) are a tribe of Native American and First Nations people, a subdivision of the Algonquian nation of northeastern North 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 Confederacy.

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The Abenaki people call themselves Alnôbak, meaning "Real People" (c.f. Lenape language: Lenapek). In addition, when compared to the more interior Algonquian peoples, they call themselves Wôbanuok meaning "Easterners" (c.f. Massachusett language: Wôpanâak). They also refer to themselves as Abenaki or with syncope: Abnaki. 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")(compare Proto-Algonquian *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-Passamaquoddy, and Mi'kmaq — as a single group.

Subdivisions of Abenaki

Historically, the Abenakis are divided by the ethnologists into groups: Western Abenaki and Eastern Abenaki. Within these groups are the Abenaki Bands:

  • Western Abenaki
    • Amoskeay
    • Cocheco
    • Koasek (Coos)
    • Masipskwoik (Missiquoi)
    • Nashua
    • Ossipee
    • Pemigewasset
    • Pennacook
    • Pequaket
    • Piscataqua
    • Souhegan
    • Winnibisauga
  • Eastern Abenaki
    • Amaseconti
    • Alessikantekw (Androscoggin)
    • Kinipekw (Kennebec)
    • Odanak
    • Ossipee
    • Panawahpskek (Penobscot; now considered a separate tribe)
    • Apikwahki
    • Rocameca
    • Wawinak
    • Wôlinak

Location of the Abenaki

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, Maliseet and Passamaquoddy are described as "Eastern 'Wabenaki'" peoples.

The homeland of the Abenaki, known to them as Ndakinna, which means "our land", extended across most of northern New England, southern Quebec, and the southern Canadian Maritimes. The Eastern Abenaki's population was concentrated in portions of Maine east of New Hampshire's White Mountains. 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. The maritime Abenaki lived around the St. Croix and Wolastoq (St. John River) valleys near the boundary line between Maine and New Brunswick.

The settlement of New England and frequent wars caused many Abenakis to retreat to Quebec. Two large 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 (Maliseet) reserves are located in New Brunswick and Quebec. Other groups of Abenaki, without reservations, are scattered across northern New Hampshire and Vermont.

The Penawapskewi (Penobscot) have a reservation with 2,000 people on Indian Island at Old Town, Maine. The Pestomuhkati (Passamaquoddy) currently number about 2,500 across three different Maine reservations: Passamaquoddy Pleasant Point Reservation, Peter Dana Point, and Indian Township. The Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians have close to 600 tribesmembers, whereas there are seven Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) bands 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 30 miles (48 km) 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 Lake Champlain.

The Abenaki Language

The Abenaki language is closely related to those of their neighboring Wabanaki tribes such as the Mi'kmaq, Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet), and Pestomuhkati (Passamaquoddy), as well as with other Eastern Algonquian languages. It is close to extinction as a spoken language.

Dictionaries include Dr. Gordon M. Day's two-volume Western Abenaki Dictionary published in 1994; Chief Henry Lorne Masta's 1932 Abenaki Legends, Grammar, and Place Names, Odanak, Quebec; and Joseph Aubery's 1700 French-Abenaki Dictionary, translated into English and reprinted in 1995 by Chief Stephen Laurent (son of Joseph). Fluent speaker Joseph "Elie" Joubert also has language lists of words, available via Alnôbak News, Franklin, Massachusetts.

History of the Abenaki

In 1614, Thomas Hunt captured 24 young people and took them to England.

The Abenakis were traditionally allied with the French; one of them, Chief Assacumbuit, was declared a noble under the reign of Louis XIV.

Facing 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.

When 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.

Abenakis are not a federally recognized tribe 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 well 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 of the 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.

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