Around 1600, there were approximately 12 000 Eastern Abenaki and 10 000 Western Abenaki, but within a few decades Old World diseases, particularly measles and smallpox, reduced the populations in many communities by up to 98%. Surviving Western Abenaki, often called Sokoki or Penacook, withdrew into refugee communities in northern New England and Québec. The Eastern Abenaki were not as devastated by warfare and disease, and their principal community at Old Town, Maine, has survived to the present. Today there are more than 3000 Penobscot, with more than 500 living at Old Town.
During the colonial period many Pequawket, Arosaguntacook and Kennebec people moved to Penobscot communities as English settlements expanded throughout southern New Hampshire and southwestern Maine. Others joined Sokoki or Penacook communities and moved to Vermont and Québec settlements.
The Abenaki are prominent in the journals of CHAMPLAIN and other explorers and missionaries. They survived the colonial wars of the following 200 years by balancing competing French and English interests and remained politically important despite their reduced population. The fall of NEW FRANCE left the Abenaki with little defence against English expansion after 1760, forcing them into weak alliances with other tribes formerly allied with the French. The American Revolution split the Eastern Abenaki from the Western Abenaki, most of whom were living in Québec. The Penobscot sided with the Passamaquoddy of eastern Maine in holding the frontier of New England for the Americans. The Abenaki remained divided in their loyalties through the WAR OF 1812 .
In 1600 the Abenaki were hunters, fishers and gatherers. They travelled mainly by birchbark canoes on lakes and streams while their farming relatives to the south depended upon less-agile dugout canoes and overland travel. Favoured game was more often moose than deer. Attempts to adopt agriculture did not succeed until after the FUR TRADE developed because farming alone was too risky as a full-time occupation. The fur trade and other means of outside income buffered the effects of periodic crop failures. The population density of the Abenaki was about only a tenth that of agricultural Algonquians in southern New England. The Abenaki adapted quickly to the fur trade and a world economy. They traditionally lived in villages near waterfalls on major rivers during the seasons when migratory fish could be harvested. During other seasons they dispersed in family groups to the coast or to small camps on interior tributaries. These camps became the bases of trapping territories during the heyday of the fur trade. When the trade declined, many turned to the lumber industry, CANOE manufacture and basketry.
The cultural hero Gluskabe (GLOOSCAP) figures importantly in Abenaki tales. However, the stories are now told in English or French, for Abenaki dialects are nearly extinct.
In addition to the long-standing Abenaki communities in Québec and Maine, there are communities in Vermont and New Hampshire, especially around Lake Champlain. A LAND CLAIM settlement between the Eastern Abenaki Penobscot Nation and the State of Maine was broadened to include allied MALISEET and Passamaquoddy residing there. Like the MI'KMAQ, these nations are also Eastern Algonquians, but they are not considered Abenaki.
Today, most Abenaki are engaged in mainstream occupations of Québec and New England. They continue to be known for the quality of their split basketry and their lively folklore. There are several organizations that exist to foster various aspects of traditional Abenaki culture and to promote broader understanding of Abenaki history and arts.
See also NATIVE PEOPLE: EASTERN WOODLANDS.
Author DEAN SNOW
Links to Other Sites
Canadian Aboriginal Writing and Arts Challenge
The website for the Canadian Aboriginal Writing and Arts Challenge, which features Canada's largest essay writing competition for Aboriginal youth (ages 14-29) and a companion program for those who prefer to work through painting, drawing and photography. See their guidelines, teacher resources, profiles of winners, and more. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples
The website for the "Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples." Click on the links for feature articles about Canada's many multicultural communities, access to their extensive digital archives collection, learning modules, and much more. From "Multicultural Canada."
Raid on Deerfield
A narrated history of the 1704 Raid on Deerfield and its aftermath from Native and European perspectives. Also features fascinating stories about Native societies, cultures, trade practices, and traditions. This multimedia website is from the Memorial Hall Museum in Deerfield, Massachusetts.
Four Directions Teachings
Elders and traditional teachers representing the Blackfoot, Cree, Ojibwe, Mohawk, and Mi’kmaq share teachings about their history and culture. Animated graphics visualize each of the oral teachings. This website also provides biographies of participants, transcripts, and an extensive array of learning resources for students and their teachers. In English with French subtitles.
This site features artifacts related to the Abenaki. It documents the traditional way of life and material culture of this Aboriginal nation located in the Eastern Woodlands region of Canada. From the McCord Museum.
The Voice of the Dawn: An Autohistory of the Abenaki Nation
See online excerpts from an illustrated book about Abenaki history, lifestyle, and culture. From Google Books.
The Voice of the Dawn: An Autohistory of the Abenaki Nation
A synopsis of Frederick Matthew Wiseman's book that explores Abenaki history and culture. From the website for the University Press of New England.
A review of "Malian’s Song," an illustrated work of historical fiction for younger readers. From the Manitoba Library Association.
Musée des Abénakis
The website for the Musée des Abénakis in Odanak, Québec.
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