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Flag of the Western Abenaki
Flag of St. Francis/Sokoki Band of Abenaki
Total population
12,000 (US and Canada)
Regions with significant populations
United States (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont)
Canada (New Brunswick, Quebec)

English, French, Abenaki


largely Roman Catholic

Related ethnic groups

Algonquian peoples

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.



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")[1] (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.


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

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.


Abenaki wigwam with birch bark covering

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.[2] 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.[3]

The Penawapskewi (Penobscot) have a reservation with 2,000 people on Indian Island at Old Town, Maine. The Pestomuhkati (Passamaquoddy) are in 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.[3]


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.


In 1614, Thomas Hunt captured 24 young people and took them to England.[4]

During the European colonialization of North America the land occupied by the Abenaki was in the area between the English colony of Massachusetts and the French colony of Quebec. There was no agreement as to the boundaries for any of the parties. The Abenakis were traditionally allied with the French; one of them, Chief Assacumbuit, was declared a noble under the reign of Louis XIV.

Abenaki couple, 18th-century

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.

In 1724 during Dummer's War the principal Abenaki town in Maine, Norridgewock, was taken, and their missionary, Father Sébastien Rale, killed. The following year a party of English colonists led by John Lovewell, looking to collect scalps to redeem for bounties offered by the Province of Massachusetts Bay, were in the vicinity of an Abenaki village near present day Fryeburg, Maine. They were engaged by two Abenakis war parties returning to the village from elsewhere in Maine. After a 10 hour battle, the forces withdrew. As a consequence of these battles many Abenaki 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.[3]


An Abenaki in traditional clothing

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 as not cannibals, and as docile, ingenious, temperate in the use of liquor, and not profane.[5]

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.[3]

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, the 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 Iroquois'; the average number of people was about 100.[3]

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 Great Plains Indians.[3] 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 Iroquois.[6]

Abenaki Hair Style

Originally, the hair for traditional Abenaki men was kept long and loose. When a man would find a “girlfriend” he would tie his hair, and when he would get “married” he would attach the hair of the scalp with a piece of leather and shave all but the ponytail. The modernized traditional spiritual version is basically the same except that when the hair is tied it is braided and when married all the hair of the scalp is kept in a braid; only the side and back of the head is shaved. The spiritual meaning surrounding this cut is most importantly to indicate betrothal or fidelity as a married Abenaki man in much the same way the wedding ring signified marriage amongst the Christians.[7][8][9] Modernized Traditional Spiritual hairstyle for married Abenaki Man



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.[3]

The new diseases continued to cause more disaster, starting with smallpox 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.[3]

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 Philip's War. 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 Revolution.

The population has recovered to nearly 12,000 total in the United States and Canada.


The Abenaki are featured in Jodi Picoult'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) Arundel. They also feature prominently in Charles McCarry's novel Bride of the Wilderness, and they play a protagonist role in Joseph Bruchac's novel The Arrow Over the Door. A young adult novel by Beth Kanell "The Darkness Under the Water" is about the Abenaki and the Vermont eugenics project in 1930.


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 (1702); Elizabeth Hanson (1728); and Jemima Howe (1792). [10]

Notable people


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ Waldman, Carl. Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes: Third Edition (New York: Checkmark Books, 2006) p. 1
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Abenaki
  4. ^ Bourne, p.214
  5. ^ Reuben Gold Thwaites, ed (1900). Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries in New France, 1610—1791. The Burrows Company. Retrieved 2006-11-07.  
  6. ^ Waldman, Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes p. 1
  7. ^ The Encyclopedia of Native American Costume
  8. ^ The Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook Abenaki People
  9. ^ Verbal teachings (Oral Traditions) from the late "Berth Daigle"
  10. ^ 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 978-1-89736-718-6
  • 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


Maps showing the approximate locations of areas occupied by members of the Wabanaki Confederacy (from north to south):

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



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Alternative spellings

Proper noun




  1. A complex of dialects of one of the Eastern Algonquian languages, originally spoken in what is now Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.
  2. A member of an Algonquian First People from northeastern North America.

See also

External links



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