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The Algonquians

The Algonquians


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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. They were also occasionally sheathed with birch bark.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. 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.


Shawnee (Shawano, Savannah) (From Native American Technology and Art)

Originally from the Ohio-Pennsylvania area, the Shawnee were driven out first by the Iroquois and then by the United States government, who forced them to first to Kansas and then to Oklahoma. Some 14,000 Shawnee currently live in Oklahoma. The Algonquian language is spoken by about 200 people in Oklahoma. Another Shawnee tribe is in Kansas.

So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none. When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision. When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home. (Shawnee Chief Tecumseh)

Before the 1800s, Shawnee men wear a leather breechclout with a short flap worn only in the front, knee leggings which were gartered below the knee and fringed on the sides. In cooler leather they wore robes and mantles made of lightweight deerskin. Their winter robes were made of bear or buffalo hides. Hides were often worn of animals with the claws attached over the shoulder. They shaved the front of the heads and wore one or two feathers attached to the hair in back. The men wore sashes which were wrapped around the waist and the head. They were often crisscrossed across the chest. Their medicine bags and pouches were of the Prairie tribe style. They also wore leather belts. Important person carried fans. They had numerous necklaces of shells, beads, native copper and hair pipes. They pierced their ears. Their earlobes were often distended to the shoulders by attached weights. They wore ear wheels, huge hopes, and rings in the holes. They worn nose rings. The men tattooed fine red lines on their faces or painted the lines on. Other colors were used, but red was the most common. After the 1800s, the Shawnee men adopted European dress with the exception of ear ornaments and face painting. Their leggings were often trimmed with ribbon work. (From the very informative site, "Detailed discussion of Shawnee, Sauk, and Potawatomi basic dress, regalia, and hair style."

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This Page was last proofread on 19 February 2004. Copy 5 November 2004. Times New Roman 14 point (TH)


Algonquian Indians

Algonquian Family (adapted from the name of the Algonkin tribe). A linguistic stock which formerly occupied a more extended area than any other in North America. Their territory reached from the east shore of Newfoundland to the Rocky Mountains and front Churchill River to Pamlico sound. The east parts of this territory were separated by an area occupied by Iroquoian tribes. On the east Algonquian tribes skirted the Atlantic coast from Newfoundland to Neuse River on the south they touched on the territories of the eastern Siouan, southern Iroquoian, and the Muskhogean families on the west they bordered on the Siouan area on the northwest on the Kitunahan and Athapascan in Labrador they came into contact with the Eskimo in Newfoundland they surrounded on three sides the Beothuk.

The Cheyenne and Arapaho moved front the main body and drifted out into the plains. Although there is a general agreement as to the peoples which should be included in this family, information in regard to the numerous dialects is too limited to justify an attempt to give a strict linguistic classification the data are in fact so meager in many instances as to leave it doubtful whether certain bodies were confederacies, tribes, bands, or clans, especially bodies which have become extinct or can not be identified, since early writers have frequently designated settlements or hands of the same tribe as distinct tribes. As in the case of all Indians, travelers, observing part of a tribe settled at one place and part at another, have frequently taken them for different peoples, and have dignified single villages, settlements, or bands with the title “tribe” or “nation,” named from the locality or the chief. It is generally impossible to discriminate between tribes and villages throughout the greater part of New England and along the Atlantic coast, for the Indians there seem to have been grouped into small communities, each taking its name from the principal village of the group or from a neighboring stream or other natural feature. Whether these were subordinate to some real tribal authority or of equal rank and interdependent, although still allied, it is impossible in many instances to determine. Since true tribal organization is found among the better known branches and can be traced in several instances in the eastern division, it is presumed that it was general.

A geographic classification of the Algonquian tribes follows:

Western division, comprising three groups dwelling along the east slope of the Rocky Mountains: Blackfoot confederacy, composed of the Siksika, Kainah, and Piegan Arapaho and Cheyenne.

Northern division, the most extensive one, stretching from the extreme northwest of the Algonquian area to the extreme east, chiefly north of the St Lawrence and the great lakes, including several groups which, on account of insufficient knowledge of their linguistic relations, can only partially be outlined: Chippewa group, embracing the Cree (?), Ottawa, Chippewa, and Missisauga Algonkin group, comprising the Nipissing, Temiscaming, Abittibi, and Algonkin.

Northeastern division, embracing the tribes inhabiting East Quebec, the Maritime Provinces, and east Maine: the Montagnais group, composed of the Nascapee, Montagnais, Mistassin, Bersiamite, and Papinachois Abnaki group, comprising the Micmac, Malecite, Passamaquoddy, Arosaguntacook, Sokoki, Penobscot, and Norridgewock.

Central division, including groups that resided in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio: Menominee the Sauk group, including the Sauk, Fox, and Kickapoo Mascouten Potawatomi Illinois branch of the Miami group, comprising the Peoria, Kaskaskia, Cahokia, Tamaroa, and Michigamea Miami branch, composed of the Miami, Piankashaw, and Wea.

Eastern division, embracing all the Algonquian tribes that lived along the Atlantic coast south of the Abnaki and including several confederacies and groups, as the Pennacook, Massachuset, Wampanoag, Narraganset, Nipmuc, Montauk, Mohegan, Mahican, Wappinger, Delawares, Shawnee, Nanticoke, Conoy, Powhatan, and Pamlico.

Algonquian Tribe History

As the early settlements of the French, Dutch, and English were all within the territory of the eastern members of the family, they were the first aborigines north of the Gulf of Mexico to feel the blighting effect of contact with a superior race. As a rule the relations of the French with the Algonquian tribes were friendly the Foxes being the only tribe against whom they waged war. The English settlements were often engaged in border wars with their Algonquian neighbors, who, continually pressed farther toward the interior by the advancing white immigration, kept up for a time a futile struggle for the possession of their territory. The eastern tribes, from Maine to Carolina, were defeated and their tribal organization was broken up. Some withdrew to Canada, others crossed the mountains into the Ohio valley, while a few bands were located on reservations by the whites only to dwindle and ultimately become extinct. Of many of the smaller tribes of New England, Virginia, and other eastern states there are no living representatives. Even the languages of some are known only by a few words mentioned by early historians, while some tribes are known only by name. The Abnaki and others who fled into Canada settled along the St Lawrence under the protection of the French, whose active allies they became in all the subsequent wars with the English down to the fall of the French power in Canada. Those who crossed the Allegheny mountains into the Ohio valley, together with the Wyandot and the native Algonquian tribes of that region, formed themselves into a loose confederacy, allied first with the French and afterward with the English against the advancing settlements with the declared purpose of preserving the Ohio River as the Indian boundary. Wayne’s victory in 1794 put an end to the struggle, and at the treaty of Greenville in 1795 the Indians acknowledged their defeat and made the first cession of land west of the Ohio. Tecumseh and his brother, Ellskwatawa, instigated by British intriguers, again aroused the western tribes against the United States a few years later, but the disastrous defeat at Tippecanoe in 1811 and the death of their leader broke the spirit of the Indians. In 1815 those who had taken part against the United States during the War of 1812 made peace with the Government then began the series of treaties by which, within thirty years, most of the Indians of this region ceded their lands and removed west of the Mississippi.

A factor which contributed greatly to the decline of the Algonquian ascendancy was the power, of the Iroquoian confederacy, which by the beginning of the 17th century had developed a power destined to make them the scourge of the other Indian population from the Atlantic to the Mississippi and from Ottawa River in Canada to the Tennessee. After destroying the Huron and the Erie, they turned their power chiefly against the Algonquian tribes, and ere long Ohio and Indiana were nearly deserted, only a few villages of Miami remaining here and there in the northern portion. The region south and west they made a desert, clearing of native inhabitants the whole country within 500 miles of their seats. The Algonquian tribes fled before theme to the region of the upper lakes and the banks of the Mississippi, and only when the French had guaranteed them protection against their deadly foes did they venture to turn back toward the north.

Algonquian People

The central Algonquians are tall, averaging about 173 cm. they have the typical Indian nose, heavy and prominent, somewhat hooked in men, flatter in women their cheek bones are heavy the head among the tribes of the great lakes is very large and almost brachycephalic, but showing considerable variation the face is very large.

The type of the Atlantic coast Algonquians can hardly be determined from living individuals, as no full-bloods survive, but skulls found in old burial grounds show that they were tall, their faces not quite so broad, the heads much more elongate and remarkably high, resembling in this respect the Eskimo and suggesting the possibility that on the New England coast there may have been some mixture with that type. The Cheyenne and Arapaho are even taller than the central Algonquians their faces are larger, their heads more elongate. It is worthy of remark that in the region in which the mound builders‘ remains are found, rounded heads prevailed, and the present population of the region are also more, round-headed, perhaps suggesting fusion of blood 1 .

Algonquian Indians Religion

The religious beliefs of the eastern Algonquian tribes were similar in their leading features. Their myths are numerous. Their deities, or manitus, including objects animate and inanimate, were many, but the chief culture hero, he to whom the creation and control of the world were ascribed, was substantially the same in character, although known by various names, among different tribes. As Manibozho, or Michabo, among the Chippewa and other lake tribes, he was usually identified as a fabulous great rabbit, bearing sonic relation to the sun and this identification with the great rabbit appears to have prevailed among other tribes, being found as far south as Maryland. Brinton 2 believes this mythological animal to have been merely a symbol of light, adopted because of the similarity between the Algonquian words for rabbit and light. Among the Siksika this chief beneficent deity was known as Napiw, among the Abnaki as Ketchiniwesk, among the New England tribes as Kiehtan, Woonand, Cautantowit, etc. He it was who created the world by magic power, peopled it with game and the other animals, taught his favorite people the arts of the chase, and gave them corn and beans. But this deity was distinguished more for his magical powers and his ability to overcome opposition by trickery, deception, and falsehood than for benevolent qualities. The objects of nature were deities to them, as the sun, the moon, tire, trees, lakes, and the various animals. Respect was also paid to the four cardinal points. There was a general belief in a soul, shade, or immortal spiritual nature not only in man but in animals and all other things, and in a spiritual abode to which this soul went after the death of the body, and in which the occupations and enjoyments were supposed to be similar to those of this life. Priests, or conjurers, called by the whites medicine-men, played an important part in their social, political, and religious systems. They were supposed to possess influence with spirits or other agencies, which they could bring to their aid in prying into the future, inflicting or curing disease, etc.

Algonquian Indian Culture

Among the tribes from south New England to Carolina, including especially the Mohegan, Delawares, the people of the Powhatan confederacy, and the Chippewa, descent was reckoned in the female line among the Potawatomi, Abnaki, Blackfeet, and probably most of the northern tribes, in the male line. Within recent times descent has been paternal also among the Menominee, Sauk and Fox, Illinois, Kickapoo, and Shawnee, and, although it has been stated that it was anciently maternal, there is no satisfactory proof of this. The Cree, Arapaho, and Cheyenne are without clans or gentes. The gens or clan was usually governed by a chief, who in some cases was installed by the heads of other clans or gentes. The tribe also had its chief, usually selected front a particular clan or gens, though the manner of choosing a chief and the authority vested in him varied somewhat in the different tribes. This was the peace chief, whose authority was not absolute, and who had no part m the declaration of war or in carrying it on, the leader in the campaign being one who had acquired a right to the position by noted deeds and skill. In some tribes the title of chief was hereditary, and the distinction between a peace chief and a war chief was not observed. The chief’s powers among some tribes, as the Miami, were greater than in others. The government was directed in weighty matters by a council, consisting of the chiefs of the clans or gentes of the tribe. It was by their authority that tribal war was undertaken, peace concluded, territory sold, etc.

The Algonquian tribes were mainly sedentary and agricultural, probably the only exceptions being those of the cold regions of Canada and the Siksika of the plains. The Chippewa did not formerly cultivate the soil. Maize was the staple Indian food product, but the tribes of the region of the great lakes, particularly the Menominee, made extensive use of wild rice. The Powhatan tribes raised enough maize to supply not only their own wants but those of the Virginia colonists for some years after the founding of Jamestown, and the New England colonists were more than once relieved from hunger by corn raised by the natives. In 1792 Wayne’s army found a continuous plantation along the entire length of the Maumee from Ft Wayne to Lake Erie. Although depending chiefly on hunting and fishing for subsistence, the News England tribes cultivated large quantities of maize, beaus, pumpkins, and tobacco. It is said they understood the advantage of fertilizing, using fish, shells, and ashes for this purpose. The tools they used in preparing the ground and in cultivation were usually wooden spades or hoes, the latter being made by fastening to a stick, as a handle, a shell, the shoulder blade of an animal, or a tortoise shell. It was from the Algonquian tribes that the whites first learned to make hominy, succotash, samp, maple sugar, johnnycake, etc. Gookin, in 1674, thus describes the method of preparing food among the Indians of Massachusetts: “Their food is generally boiled maize, or Indian corn, mixed with kidney beans, or sometimes without. Also, they frequently boil in this pottage fish and flesh of all sorts, either new taken or dried, as shad, eels, alewives, or a kind of herring, or any other sort of fish. But they dry mostly those sorts before mentioned. These they cut in pieces, bones and all, and boil them in the aforesaid pottage. I have wondered many times that they were not in danger of being choked with fish bones but they are so dexterous in separating the bones from the fish in their eating thereof that they are in no hazard. Also, they boil in this frumenty all sorts, of flesh they take in hunting, as venison, beaver, bear’s flesh, moose, otters, raccoons, etc., cutting this flesh in small pieces and boiling it as aforesaid. Also, they mix with the said pottage several sorts of roots, as Jerusalem artichokes, and groundnuts, and other roots, and pompions, and squashes, and also several sorts of nuts or masts, as oak acorns, chestnuts, and walnuts these husked and dried and powdered, they thicken their pottage therewith. Also, sometimes, they heat their maize into meal and sift it through a basket made for that purpose. With this meal they make bread, baking it in the ashes, covering the dough with leaves. Sometimes they make of their meal a small sort of cakes and boil them. They make also a certain sort of meal of parched maize. This meal they all ‘nokake.’ Their pots were made of clay, somewhat egg-shaped their dishes, spoons, and ladles of wood their water pails of birch bark, doubled up so as to make them four-cornered, with a handle. They also had baskets of various sizes in which they placed their provisions these were made of rushes, stalks, corn husks, grass, and bark, often ornamented with colored figures of animals. Mats woven of bark and rushes, dressed deerskins, feather garments, and utensils of wood, stone, and bore are mentioned by explorers. Fish were taken with hooks, spears, and nets, in canoes and along the shore, on the sea and in the ponds and rivers. They captured without much trouble all the smaller kinds of fish, and, in their canoes, often dragged sturgeon with nets stoutly made of Canada hemp (De Forest, Hist. Inds. Conn., 1853). Canoes used for fishing were of two kinds one of birch bark, very light, but liable to overset the other made from the trunk of a large tree. Their clothing was composed chiefly of the skins of animals, tanned until soft and pliable, and was sometimes ornamented with paint and beads made from shells. Occasionally they decked themselves with mantles made of feathers overlapping each other as on the back of the fowl. The dress of the women consisted usually of two articles, a leather shirt, or undergarment, ornamented with fringe, and a skirt of the same material fastened round the waist with a belt and reaching nearly to the feet. The legs were protected, especially in the winter, with leggings, and the feet with moccasins of soft dressed leather, often embroidered with wampurm. The men usually covered the lower part of the body with a breech-cloth, and often wore a skin mantle thrown over one shoulder. The women dressed their hair in a thick heavy plait which fell down the neck, and sometimes ornamented their heads with bands decorated with wampum or with a small cap. Higginson 3 says: “Their hair is usually cut before, leaving one lock longer than the rest.” The men went bareheaded, with their hair fantastically trimmed, each according to his own fancy. One would shave it on one side and leave it long on the other another left an unshaved strip, 2 or 3 in. wide, running from the forehead to the nape of the neck.

The typical Algonquian lodge of the woods and lakes was oval, and the conical lodge, made of sheets of birch-bark, also occurred. The Mohegan, and to some extent the Virginia Indians, constructed long communal houses which accommodated a number of families. The dwellings in the north were sometimes built of logs, while those in the south and parts of the west were constructed of saplings fixed in the ground, bent over at the top, and covered with movable matting, thus forming a long, round-roofed house. The Delawares and some other eastern tribes, preferring to live separately, built smaller dwellings. The manner of construction among the Delawares is thus described by Zeisberger: ” They peel trees, abounding with sap, such as lime trees, etc., then cutting the bark into pieces of 2 or 3 yards in length, they lay heavy stones upon them, that they may become flat and even in drying. The frame of the hut is made by driving poles into the ground and strengthening them by cross beams. This framework is covered, both within and without, with the above-mentioned pieces of bark, fastened very tight with bast or twigs of hickory, which are remarkably tough. The roof runs up to a ridge, and is covered in the same manner. These huts have one opening in the roof to let out the smoke and one in the side for an entrance. The door is made of a large piece of bark without either bolt or lock, a stick leaning against the outside being a sign that nobody is at home. The light enters by small openings furnished with sliding shutters. “The covering was sometimes rushes or long reed grass. The houses of the Illinois are described by Hennepin as being ” made like long arbors” and covered with double mats of flat flags. Those of the Chippewa and the Plains tribes were circular or conical, a frame work covered with bark among the former, a frame of movable poles covered with dressed skim among the latter. The villages, especially along the Atlantic coast, were frequently surrounded with stockades of tall, stout stakes firmly set in the ground. A number of the western Algonquian towns are described by early explorers as fortified or as surrounded with palisades.

In no other tribes north of Mexico was picture writing developed to the advanced stage that it, reached among the Delawares and the Chippewa. The figures were scratched or painted on pieces of bark or on slabs of wood. Some of the tribes, especially the Ottawa, were great traders, acting as chief middlemen between the more distant Indians and the early French settlements. Some of the interior tribes of Illinois and Wisconsin made but little use of the canoe, traveling almost al ways afoot while others who lived along the upper lakes and the Atlantic coast were expert canoemen. The canoes of the upper lakes were of birch-bark, strengthened on the inside with ribs or knees. The more solid and substantial boat of Virginia and the western rivers was the dugout, made from the trunk of a large tree. The manufacture of pottery, though the product was small, except in one or two tribes, was widespread. Judged by the number of vessels found in the graves of the regions occupied by the Shawnee, this tribe carried on the manufacture to a greater extent than any other. The usual method of burial was in graves, each clan or gens having its own cemetery. The mortuary ceremonies among the eastern and central tribes were substantially as described by Zeisberger. Immediately after death the corpse was arrayed in the deceased’s best clothing and decked with the chief ornaments worn in life, sometimes having the face and shirt painted red, then laid on a mat or skin in the middle of the hut, and the arms and personal effects were placed about it. After sunset, and also before daybreak, the female relations and friends assembled around the body to mourn over it. The grave was dug generally by old women inside it was lined with bark, and when the corpse was placed in it 4 sticks were laid across, and a covering of bark was placed over these then the grave was filled with earth. An earlier custom was to place in the grave the personal effects or those indicative of the character and occupation of the deceased, as well as food, cooking utensils, etc. Usually the body was placed horizontally, though among some of the western tribes, as the Foxes, it was sometimes buried in a sitting posture. It was the custom of probably most of the tribes to light fires on the grave for four nights after burial. The Illinois, Chippewa, and some of the extreme western tribes frequently practiced tree or scaffold burial. The bodies of the chiefs of the Powhatan confederacy were stripped of the flesh and the skeletons were placed on scaffolds in a charnel house. The Ottawa usually placed the body for a short time on a scaffold near the grave previous to burial. The Shawnee, and possibly one or more of the southern Illinois tribes, were accustomed to bury their dead in box-shaped sepulchers made of undressed straw slabs. The Nanticoke, and some of the western tribes, after-temporary burial in the ground or exposure on scaffolds, removed the flesh and re-interred the skeletons.

The eastern Algonquian tribes probably equaled the Iroquois in bravery, intelligence, and physical powers, but lacked their constancy, solidity of character, and capability of organization, and do not appear to have appreciated the power and influence they might have wielded by combination. The alliances between tribes were generally temporary and without real cohesion. There seems, indeed, to have been some element in their character which rendered them incapable of combining in large bodies, even against a common enemy. Some of their great chieftains, as Philip, Pontiac, and Tecumseh, attempted at different periods to unite the kindred tribes in an effort to resist the advance of the white race but each in turn found that a single great defeat disheartened his followers and rendered all his efforts fruitless, and the former two fell by the hands of deserters from their own ranks. The Virginia tribes, under the able guidance of Powhatan and Opechancanough, formed an exception to the general rule. They presented a united front to the whites, and resisted for years every step of their advance until the Indians were practically exterminated. From the close of the Revolution to the treaty of Greenville (1795) the tribes of the Ohio valley also made a desperate stand against the Americans, but in this they had the encouragement, if not the more active support, of the British in Canada as well as of other Indians. In individual character many of the Algonquian chiefs rank high, and Tecumseh stands out prominently as one of the noblest figures in Indian history.

Algonquian Indian Bands

Many tribes have sub-tribes, bands, gens, clans and phratry. Often very little information is known or they no longer exist. We have included them here to provide more information about the tribes.

Algonquins of Portage de Prairie, a Chippewa band formerly living near Lake of the Woods and in Manitoba. They removed before 1804 to the Red River country through persuasions of the traders. 4

Atchaterakangouen. An Algonquian tribe or band living in the interior of Wisconsin in 1672, near the Mascouten and Kickapoo.


What Did the Algonquians Wear?

Because the Algonquian peoples were made up of many distinct nations (Algonquian, Arapaho, Blackfoot, Cree to name only a few), dress would vary from tribe to tribe. However, there were some significant similarities, particularly in the wearing of moccasins as footwear (both men and women) and the use of breechcloths with leather leggings for men.

Most Algonquian women wore dresses or skirts, sometimes with removable sleeves. Both women and men tended to wear their hair in long braids, though men sometimes shaved their heads partially as well. Warriors would put their hair up in Mohawks, using grease as a stiffening agent to achieve the right shape. For head decoration, women sometimes wore head bands or cloth caps.

Men in the northern Algonquian tribes wore shirts, tunics or mantles, whereas men in southern or western tribes often chose to go shirtless. In cold weather, Algonquians wore fur pelts that covered half the length of the body. Algonquians living on the Great Plains began wearing feather headdresses by the 19th century, a cultural practice they may have borrowed from neighboring Sioux peoples.

In the eastern part of the United States, Algonquians also sometimes borrowed from their European neighbors, wearing jackets for men and blouses for women, though they would frequently decorate them with beads.

Like many other Native American peoples, Algonquian tribes also wore war paint (during campaign), as well as tattoos and other forms of festive decoration depending on occasion. Paint was made from substances such as charcoal, soot, berries and local roots.


The Algonquin People Today

Today, the Algonquin continue to inhabit the reservations in Canada, which are concentrated around the Ottawa river and the waterways that feed into it. Sixteen Algonquin Negotiation Representatives represent the interests of the 10 Algonquin reservations and their communities. These individuals are elected by members of the Algonquin bands to serve for a 3-year term. The 10 Algonquin populations are currently working together, and have been since 2004, to resolve a land claim filed with the government of Canada. This claim, originally filed in 1983, involves an area of 9 million acres around the Ottawa and Mattawa river watersheds in the province of Ontario. This area has a population of around 1.2 million and the Algonquin communities claims that the title to this land was never handed over to the government.

This community has been in a number of disputes with both the government of Canada and private interests over the past several decades. One of the biggest successes occurred in 1981 when the Algonquin people worked together to stop the government from allowing commercial harvesting of wild rice, a traditional source of food for the Algonquin. More recently, in 2000, Algonquin bands prevented the government of Canada from turning an abandoned iron ore mine into a landfill.


Finding the 'Lost' History of the Algonquians

IN 1965, armed with a newly earned Ph.d., John A. Strong arrived at Southampton College to teach history. His expertise in his first college post were American protest movements and minorities.

But midway into that semester, Dr. Strong encountered a subject that would command his attention for the next 32 years.

''I was teaching a course in the sociology of community,'' recalled Dr. Strong, who was born and reared in upstate New York, 'ɺnd the students were required to get involved with local groups. Some tutored children at the Shinnecock Reservation and the more I visited the reservation to supervise the students' work, the more I was fascinated by the Shinnecocks'story.''

After three decades of studying the history of the Shinnecocks and the other Algonguian-speaking peoples who first inhabited the Island, and after producing countless monographs, articles and academic papers, Dr. Strong has written ''The Algonquian Peoples of Long Island From Earliest Times to 1700'' and a companion work, ''We Are Still Here! The Algonquian Peoples of Long Island Today.'' Both volumes were published last month by Heart of the Lakes Publishing in Interlaken, N.Y., under the auspices of the Long Island Studies Institute of Hofstra University.

Using what he calls the ''new history'' approach to his subject, in the first book Dr. Strong, the director of the college's social science division as well as a professor of history, traces the history of these first Long Islanders from the end of the first Ice Age about 10,000 years ago to the beginning of the 18th century.

The second volume describes the current status of the descendants of these original inhabitants: the Shinnecocks in Southampton and the Unkechaugs at Poospatuck in Mastic, who both occupy New York State-sanctioned reservations, and the Montauketts of Montauk and the Matinecocks from the Manhasset area who, though scattered and landless today, celebrate their roots and retain some tribal structures.

The second volume was originally the final chapter in the ''The Algonquian Peoples'' but was pulled out and expanded to emphasize that despite previous studies questioning the existence of American Indians on the contemporary Long Island landscape they are, indeed, ''Still Here!''

Critics and colleagues have greeted both studies positively, with one, Robert S. Grumet, calling Dr. Strong ''the leading ethnohistorian on Long Island.''

Unlike previous accounts of Long Island's indigenous peoples, which were told almost as a footnote to the unfolding of white colonial history, Dr. Strong's primary focus is on the Algonquian-speaking communities themselves.

''I look at historical events from inside the wigwam rather than from the colonial cabin,'' he explained. ''I use the same database as historians before me, but I'm using it differently. That's where the New History, which is really just a multi-disciplinary approach, comes in. Besides the accounts of 17th-century observers and contemporary documents, I have archeological findings, anthropological information and the oral tradition to draw upon. This approach has not been applied to Long Island's indigenous peoples before.''

Point of view or interpretation, Dr. Strong said, was especially significant in using source material from 17th-century European observers, the only written evidence of the culture.

'ɿor instance,'' he said, 'ɺn early European wrote about a powwow during which the natives, ɼlearly possessed by the devil, were screaming, yelling, foaming at the mouth.' This reminded him of 'the wild Irish' he had seen in Ireland. Actually, what he saw was a religious retreat celebrated with dancing, chanting and bodily movements in circles.''

While Dr. Strong conceded that a lot of valid information could be filtered out from these sources -- John Smith, for one, visited the Island and described the diet, tools and cooking implements of the Indians -- ''most of the accounts are suspect because of the prejudice and ignorance of the observers,'' he said.

Archeological studies, some dating back to the 19th century, have provided more accurate, if incomplete, information. Unfortunately, Dr. Strong said, although some sites have been excavated and valuable facts derived from them, these digs have not produced the kind of data that have been found elsewhere in the United States.

''The pre-contact period, the years before the Europeans came, is especially frustrating,'' Dr. Strong said. 'ɺlmost everything was paved over before we got to study things. The indigenous peoples settled just where everyone else wanted to settle later and not too much has survived. It would be nice if, say, National Geographic funded studies on the potential remaining sites here instead of looking at the Mayas.''

Although pre-historic tools, weapons and domestic utensils have been uncovered, ''only two or three wigwam post molds which archeologists use to determine the shape and size of structures have been found on the entire Island,'' Dr. Strong said. 'ɿurthermore, nothing found has told us the number of Algonquian peoples here before the whites arrived.''

Material gleaned from anthropological sources, Dr. Strong said, have provided insights into how these first inhabitants lived.

''In the early 19th century, there were still relatively untouched indigenous cultures around in areas like the Great Lakes,'' he explained, 'ɺnd eyewitness anthropological accounts of how these people lived can be found in Smithsonian reports. Using ethnographic analogy, we can approximate how similar first peoples on the Island lived.''

One of the more radical aspects of the New History, Dr. Strong said, is using oral tradition, ''looking at and listening to these people and taking them seriously.''

This approach, he conceded, can be tricky since, after centuries of being denigrated, the descendents tend not to want to ''let go of what they have left.''

But from talking to elders over the years, Dr. Strong, learned about the ''June meeting,'' a kind of late spring ritual that celebrated the re-emergence of plants.

''One elder told me he could still smell and taste the strawberries, a pre-contact indigenous plant, that he stuffed himself with during the meetings,'' Dr. Strong said. ''Others also remembered the meetings going back as far as anyone could remember. When I came across newspaper stories written in the 1890's describing the meeting, I knew the memories were accurate.''

One puzzle he has yet to solve is what to generically call the people who lived on the Island before the Europeans came. To be politically correct, Dr. Strong consulted the American Indian Community House in New York City. Despite its own name, the group vetoed ''Indian'' because the aboriginal people Columbus encountered simply weren't Indians. The experts also faulted Native American because Amerigo Vespucci, Dr. Strong said he was told, ''slandered'' the peoples he encountered.

Instead, he was informed that using the tribal designations like Shinnecocks or Montauketts, names derived from geographic places the people inhabited, would be the way to go. And in both his writing and his speech Dr. Strong tries to stay pure, only occasionally lapsing.

Insisting that he has just reached the ''tip of the iceberg,'' Dr. Strong, who is donating his share of the profits from the books to the Shinnecock Cultural Center and Museum, Friends of the Pharaoh Museum and the Unkechaug National Cultural School, is already at work on a separate study of the Montauketts.

''I've also found in town records that list deeds and transfers of property, an indication that the women in these tribes owned the land,'' Dr. Strong said. ''That's another subject that needs looking into.''


3. Cuisine

Canada’s First Nations peoples were expert hunters and gatherers who relied on what Mother Nature provided to them as their main food sources. Some groups, including many Algonquins, did also know how to grow their own crops. The majority of them gathered edible plants and hunted wild animals to provide for their families. Those who did farm grew squash, beans, and corn, which were the staple crops of the Native American peoples to the south. Those who hunted ate whatever they could kill in the wilderness. Algonquin game meat included whales, bears, caribou, seals, beavers, squirrels, and moose. Living in a cold clime, wherever they went and whatever food they might find there, they ate, whether that was white-tailed deer on land, or sea creatures such as cod and crustaceans. Food preparation was usually simple, involving either roasting, boiling, or drying with smoke.


Learning about Pennsylvania’s Native Tribes at the Indian Steps Museum

When you think of Pennsylvania history, the story of the state’s Native Americans isn’t likely the first thing to come to mind. However, throughout history, many different native groups spent time in the area that eventually became known as Pennsylvania.

Of these groups, the Algonquians, Susquehannocks, and Shawnee lived for a time along the shores of the Susquehanna River in southern York County.

Years later, at the turn of the 20th century, York native John Vandersloot purchased a plot of land along the river and built a cabin retreat to house his growing collection of Native American artifacts. While building the craftsman style home, Vandersloot incorporated many of his favorite pieces into the construction of the home, creating native-style art and decorations to embellish his design.

Eventually, Vandersloot’s home was opened as the Indian Steps Museum in 1940.

The museum itself is an interesting combination of local Native American artifacts, artifacts from tribes located in various parts of the country, and information about the nearby Holtwood Dam and the Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal.

This seemingly random combination of subjects would seem to create a disjointed museum, but they somehow all work together. However, that being said, I did find myself wishing for more information and artifacts from the tribes native to the area.

For example, tours start downstairs in a room designed like a Kiva room, a type of religious room commonly used by the Hopi Tribe from Arizona. Curiously, there is also a totem pole outside of the museum, despite the local natives not using them.

Upstairs, where the main exhibits are housed, features a collection of artifacts that aren’t related to the local tribes. These unrelated features left me a bit perplexed and made it a bit harder to really appreciate the uniqueness of the local tribes.

The museum also housed information about two local engineering feats: the Holtwood Dam and the Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal. These two projects are certainly of interest, but I left a bit confused as to why they were included in the museum because they don’t seem to have any connection to the local tribes.

However, the information and artifacts that the museum did have about the local tribes were quite interesting and well-researched.

I think that’s why I was a bit disappointed by the other displays that the museum had. It’s not that I didn’t find that information interesting. Instead, I found the information on the local tribes so unique and fascinating that I wanted even more.

When visiting the Indian Steps Museum, make sure to take time to admire both the inside and outside of the cabin itself. As I said above, thousands of artifacts were embedded into the home during construction to make basic art pieces and murals.

The grounds of the museum also feature a fantastic view of the Susquehanna River. Just across the road from the museum is a short hiking trail that features a small waterfall and a nature hike with the largest American holly trees in the region.

While I may have wished for more local information, I doubt that there are many better places to learn about the history of Native Americans in Pennsylvania outside of the State Museum in Harrisburg, the Heinz History Museum in Pittsburgh, and possibly the Pocono Indian Museum.

If you have any interest in the subject, I’d definitely recommend a visit to the Indian Steps Museum in York County.

Want to see more great spots nearby? Check out the York History Center, the Fire Museum of York County, and Duncan Run Falls. You can also check out a few more of my favorite seasonal museums in PA.


Secotan, an Algonquian village, ca. 1585

In the 1570s and 1580s, John White served as an artist and mapmaker to several expeditions around the Carolinas. White made numerous watercolor sketches depicting the Algonquian people and stunning American landscapes. This engraving of Secotan, an Algonquian village on the Pamlico River in present-day North Carolina, is based on a drawing made by John White in July 1585. The artist depicted an agrarian town without defensive fences or stockades. The image was printed in the 1590 edition of Thomas Harriot’s A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia. The key that accompanies the engraving identifies (A) a charnel house "wherin are the tombes of their kings and princes" (B) a place for prayers (C) a dance ground a place to meet after celebrations (E) two fields of tobacco (F) a hut where guards are posted to keep birds and animals away from the corn (G) a field of ripe maize and (H) a field of newly planted maize (I) a garden of pumpkins (K) a place for a fire during "solemne feasts" and (L) a nearby river that supplied water to the village.

In 1587, White became governor of England’s first attempt at colonization, an ill-fated settlement on Roanoke Island, known to history as "the Lost Colony." White’s daughter Eleanor gave birth to the first English child born in the New World, Virginia Dare, in August 1587. However, a shortage of supplies forced White to return to England later that year for more provisions. The Spanish Armada prevented White from returning to Roanoke until 1590. By the time he got back, his colony, daughter, and granddaughter had disappeared into the wilderness, leaving the name of a nearby island, "CROATOAN," carved into a tree as the only clue to their fate. The ship’s captain refused to take White to Croatoan to search for the colonists. White’s paintings greatly influenced European attitudes toward the North American coast and provide an important source of information about the Roanoke voyages and European views of Native Americans.

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Trade between Algonquian Native Americans in the North East

Fur trade between Algonquian Native Americans in the North East, and early European settlers can be seen as the beginning of the end for the Algonquian way of life, both culturally and physically. As European tools and weapons were introduced to these Native American peoples, Algonquians began to abandon there their own specialized methods of hunting, harvesting, and garment making. As seen in the film Ikwe , just as beaver furs were popular with Europeans, rifles became popular amongst the Algonquians.

During the 1500 and 1600’s, spring fur trading amongst European settlers and Native Americans began to take off. With the help of trading posts and middlemen, usually Native Americans themselves, European settlers traded mass-produced goods such as rifles, clothing, tools, and food with the Algonquians. In turn Europeans would receive a predetermined amount of furs and hides which Algonquian tribes had hunted and collected over the previous winter. Trade between tribes and settlers weren’t without their share of double-dealings. In Ikwe, the viewer is enlightened as to how the middlemen would use the language barrier between the Algonquian and the settler to their own advantage. Since the middlemen were usually the only people who could speak both English and the Native American tongue, they would often negotiate the trade to benefit themselves more than they had originally planned.

Algonquians were not necessarily always taken advantage of. If they were offered a better deal by a different group of settlers, then they were free to end the trade with the previous group in order to trade with the better offer. The fur trade era also perpetuated competition between tribes for European goods and led many tribes to distrust one another.

In Salisbury’s “Manitou and Providence”, the reader learns of the “virgin soil epidemic”. As the settlers migrated from Europe to the Americas they also brought along their diseases. In the case of the Algonquians, they came in contact with small pox in a variety of ways. Small pox spread through transmission by a sneeze, cough, sexual contact, and even through garments and blankets that were contaminated upon trade. Since the natives had no previous exposure to such diseases their immunity to them was virtually null. The spread of small pox was rapid and seeing as there wasn’t a cure many Algonquians perished. Tribes were decimated as elders, and children fell ill, and eventually succumbed to the pox. The settlers on the other hand were not as susceptible to the pox as the Algonquians. The spread of small pox had a negative effect on the fur trade. With fewer tribesmen to perform the hunting and skinning during the winter months many tribes lost out on trade with the settlers. This also meant fewer tribesmen and women to gather food and preserve the culture and heritage of the particular tribe, which may have eventually led to the demise of the tribe as a whole. On the other hand, settlers were able to find other Algonquian tribes to trade with.