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Algonquin

Algonquin

We can learn much about the history of Native Americans by studying their language. For example, we can observe that two tribes may have been one tribe in the recent or distant past. Geography also plays a vital role in the division and specialization of cultures between Native American tribes. Though different, tribes of a similar language and geographical region are familiar enough to be studied together. The Algonquin is an example of such a people.

The Algonquin Algonquin Man StudySmarterFig. 1 Algonquin Man

Algonquin Map: Geography and Location

Most Algonquin people lived on the Atlantic seaboard and the North Eastern regions of North America. Because of this, the Algonquins were among the first Native Americans to have contact with English and European settlers, such as the colonists of Jamestown in Virginia and the Pilgrims in Massachusetts.

The map below shows common language groups of many Native American tribes in North America. The yellow regions show the Algonquin language group. Though there are related tribes in the west and central North America, most Algonquin lived in the woodland areas of the eastern coast and up through Canada.

The Algonquin Algonquin Map StudySmarterFig. 2 Algonquin Map

Algonquin Culture

Algonquin culture and social structure are formed around their intertribal organization. The Algonquians frequently formed confederacies, or loose alliances, such as the Abenaki Confederacy and the Powhattan Confederacy. These confederacies were not strictly structured but relatively flexible networks of villages and bands who traded together and allied themselves in times of war.

Not all Algonquian tribes were a part of a confederacy. It was more common in the Great Lakes region to have two chiefs per tribe, a leader for peacetime and a chief for wartime. The first was usually a hereditary position passed down through a controlling family, while the other was appointed on merit during the war. For Algonquin tribes farther north, the band was the most significant tribal unit. Their semi-nomadic lifestyle was not conducive to creating large confederacies or alliances with other tribes.

Family played an essential role in Algonquin society. Many tribes are divided into clans, clusters of related families that trace their lineage to a common ancestor. Clans usually had favorite animals as names to identify themselves from one another, and these animals were called totems. The animal totems were thought of as spiritual guardians and ancestors.

Algonquin Language

The Algonquin language is really a language family made up of many different dialects or regional variations. Algonquin dialects had a vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation in common. But they still had many differences. One Algonquin tribe speaking to another might not understand those speaking and may have to use sign language to communicate.

The Algonquin Algonquin Dictionary StudySmarterFig. 3 Algonquin Dictionary

Algonquin Diet

Algonquians lived in villages, typically along rivers, to grow crops during spring, summer, and fall. Corn was the main agricultural commodity for many of the Algonquin farming tribes. Beans and squash also provided nutrients to their diet. Algonquins left their villages in small bands and clans to nomadically track wild game in the wintertime. For some Algonquin tribes of the north for sustained agriculture. Instead, their diet focused on hunting, fishing, and gathering wild plants for food. These northern tribes would cover much larger distances than their southern counterparts. As modern farmers, Algonquins did not raise domesticated animals for meat or wool, but they did have dogs who would help them hunt.

Algonquin hunted any game they could, and before Europeans arrived with horses, they did all their hunting on foot. All Algonquins hunted deer, beaver, squirrel, turkeys, and geese. They would use spears, arrows, and clubs to track traps, snares, and deadfall devices. They also fished in rivers, streams, and lakes controlled by their tribe.

Many of the foods of the Algonquins were unknown to the Europeans when they arrived, and from the Algonquins, they learned to utilize a similar diet. Algonquin peoples ate plants: berries, nuts, roots, and leaves. In the north, the tribes would tap for maple sap, and in the Great Lakes region, they would gather wild rice.

Algonquin Houses

The dwelling most often associated with the Algonquin peoples is the “wigwam.” Bending trees created the typical wigwam to form a frame, tied together in a dome or ovular shape and covered in strips of birch bark, other tree bark, branches, or animal skins. Men usually built the framework, and women would create and stitch the coverings.

The Algonquin Wigwam StudySmarterFig. 4 Wigwam

Grasses and animal furs usually make suitable insulation materials for the wigwam. Branches covered in animal skins served as floors and beds. Most wigwams would be designed with a hole in the roof to let out smoke from internally controlled fires. Much like other native peoples, Algonquins would construct wigwams with specific purposes such as tribal meetings and shelters for religious ceremonies and rituals such as a “sweat”: water would be poured over hot rocks to make steam purify the mind and body.

Algonquin Transportation

Using a network of rivers and lakes, Algonquins could travel throughout their territory to hunt, fish, trade, and wage war. Before the Europeans introduced horses, most Algonquins moved on foot. However, Algonquins had a specialty mode of transportation, the birch bark canoe. These canoes were very lightweight and agile. They could use more than one system of rivers and lakes by portaging (carrying the canoe overland). In addition, the canoes could be made to almost any necessary shape or weight specification. This allowed for the specialization of water transportation based on the need and the materials available to build the canoe.

The Algonquin Travelling by Canoe in the inhabited parts of North America StudySmarterFig. 5 Travelling by Canoe in the inhabited parts of North America.

Algonquin Clothing

Algonquins utilized deer skin more than any other material for clothing, especially the skin of the white-tailed deer. Moose, elk, and caribou also provided skins for clothing. The hides would be cured into soft leather. Men wore shirts, breechcloths around their wastes, leggings, and moccasins on their feet. Women wore either skirts or dresses and moccasins. Both men and women wore fur robes for warmth in the winter.

Both men and women would decorate their clothing with quill-work. The use of porcupine quills created artwork and patterns. Paint, feathers, shells, and moose hair were also used to add color and designs to clothing. After the Europeans arrived, Algonquins could trade for glass and other textiles. Glass beadwork replaced stone and shell decorations.

Algonquin Arts, Crafts, and Weaponry

The Algonquin, like many other Native American groups, the Algonquin ingeniously used the materials at hand to shape tools, weapons, and ceremonial objects. They used wood and bark, stone, clay, hide, bone, antler, shells, quills, and feathers to create unique artifacts.

Algonquins used a variety of materials to make containers. Some used birch bark and pitch to make water-tight containers called “mocuck.” Others would carve bowls out of wood, such as birch, elm, or maple, and cut with stone or bone tools. Wood was the material of choice to make mortars and pestles needed for grinding corn into flour. Wood splints made excellent baskets and sweetgrass to make coiled baskets—pottery-made bowls for cooking, carrying, and storage containers. The pots were unpainted but had geometric shapes and designs.

Algonquins made weaponry for hunting and warfare. They used wood, stone, bone, and metal to make spears, clubs, bows, and arrows. Some used wood to make shields and armor.

Algonquin Tribe Economy: Wampum

Wampum was a ceremonial decoration, gift, and a loose form of currency in the Algonquin economy and trade. Algonquins used wampum for ceremonial purposes. They made wampum from seashells, especially the quahog clam, grinding the raw material into purple and white beads and then stringing them into a belt.

The Algonquin Wampum Belts StudySmarterFig. 6 Wampum Belts

In later years, the natives used European glass to make wampum. Dutch and English settlers also began manufacturing wampum from glass to trade with the Algonquin, making wampum a de facto form of currency.


Algonquin Religion

The Algonquins believed that a Great Spirit called Gitchee Manitou pervades all existence. The Great Spirit has many manifestations, such as plants and animals, and natural phenomena, such as the sun and moon. Shamans, tribal spiritual leaders, were supposed to control these spirits found in living and non-living things. The belief in Manitou was shared between all Algonquin tribes; they varied in their views of different mythologies and supernatural beings. For example, the Chippewa of the Great Lakes region believed in Manibozho - the Great Hare- who remade the world after evil spirits destroyed it with a flood.

Although the Algonquin tribes had varying rituals and festivals based on different mythologies, they all celebrated with singing, drumming, and dancing. Another commonality was the rite of passage for boys and girls into adulthood. They would be sent into the woods to fast and pray for a vision, and if fortunate, a spirit, usually in the form of an animal, would promise protection and give the child their own unique identity.

Algonquin Society: Overview

As mentioned before, the Algonquin is a collection of tribes that share a common familiar language. The Algonquin peoples could be found along the eastern coast of North America and in the Northeastern regions of present-day Canada. The Algonquin peoples are some of the most known tribes in U.S. history due to their extensive culture, language, and early interactions with European settlers. Some of these tribes include The Nanticoke, Massachuset, Mohegan, Pequot, Lenni Lenape, Powhatan, Roanoke, Ojibwa, Shawnee, and Cree, just to name a few. For tribes such as the Pequot, Massachuset, Nanticoke, and Powhatan; their interactions with the early European and English settlers would define the seventeenth century in North America as their interactions brought about trade, diplomacy, and war that would inevitably lead to the destruction of their society and the success of European colonization of North America.

Algonquin society - Key takeaways

  • Most Algonquin people lived on the Atlantic seaboard and the North Eastern regions of North America.

  • Algonquin culture and social structure are formed around their intertribal organization. The Algonquians frequently formed confederacies.

  • Algonquians lived in villages, typically along rivers, to grow crops during spring, summer, and fall. Corn was the main agricultural commodity for many of the Algonquin farming tribes. Beans and squash also provided nutrients to their diet. Other tribes hunted local game, gathered wild plants, or fished along rivers and lakes.

  • The dwelling most often associated with the Algonquin peoples is the “wigwam.”

  • Before the Europeans introduced horses, most Algonquins moved on foot. Algonquins had a specialty mode of transportation, the birch bark canoe.

  • Algonquins used wampum for ceremonial purposes. They made wampum from seashells, especially the quahog clam, grinding the raw material into purple and white beads and then stringing them into a belt.

  • The Algonquins believe that a Great Spirit called Gitchee Manitou pervades all existence. The Great Spirit has many manifestations, such as plants and animals, and natural phenomena, such as the sun and moon. Though they had similar core beliefs, many tribes differed in mythology and belief in supernatural beings.

Frequently Asked Questions about Algonquin

The Algonquin is known for their alliances of tribes known as confederacies, their wigwam shelters, their use of wampum, and their diverse and extensive society and cultures across much of the eastern regions of North America. 

Yes, a number of tribes, such as the Nanticoke, Lenni Lenape, and others have tribal members that live on reservations and work to preserve their traditional ways of life. 

Some tribes include The Nanticoke, Massachuset, Mohegan, Pequot, Lenni Lenape, Powhatan, Roanoke, Ojibwa, Shawnee, and Cree, just to name a few. 

The Algonquins believed that a Great Spirit called Gitchee Manitou pervades all existence. The Great Spirit has many manifestations, such as plants and animals, and natural phenomena such as the sun and moon. Shamans, tribal spiritual leaders, were supposed to control these spirits found in living and non-living things. The belief in Manitou was shared between all Algonquin tribes; they varied in their views of different mythologies and supernatural beings. 

Although the Algonquin tribes had varying rituals and festivals based on different mythologies, they all celebrate with singing, drumming, and dancing. Another commonality was the rite of passage for boys and girls into adulthood. 

Final Algonquin Quiz

Question

Which of the following best describes the geographic location of the historical territory of the Algonquin Native Americans before the arrival of Europeans to North America?

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Answer

Along the east coast of North America into a large area of modern-day Canada and parts of the Great Plains

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Question

Which of the following is true of most Algonquin tribal structures? 

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Answer

Most tribes associated themselves with other tribes in their region, creating confederacies that would conduct trade and war together. 

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Question

Which of the following is NOT true about the Algonquins in regard to how they conducted their diet? 

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Answer

Algonquins hunted mostly bison, elk, and deer as the main staple of their diet, and supplemented fish, squash, and potatoes. 

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Question

What is the name of the main form of shelter utilized by many of the Algonquin peoples?


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Answer

Wigwam

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Question

The Algonquin had many unique tools and techniques that differed from other Native American tribes. Which of the following was NOT one of those tools or techniques? 


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Answer

Ceremonial Peace Pipe

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Question

What was the original use of Wampum? 

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Answer

A decorative and ceremonial belt used and worn during tribal rituals

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Question

What was the name the Algonquin called their Great Spirit?


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Answer

Gitchee Manitou

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What was the name of the tribal role that would attempt to control the Great Spirit?


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Answer

A Shaman

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Question

True or False: All Algonquins believed in the Great Spirit but each tribe could have different mythologies and different tribal festivals. 


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Answer

True

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Question

True or False: Only males had the rite of passage into manhood by going into the woods and fasting and praying for a vision of a protected spirit and identity. 

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Answer

False

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