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Algonquin People

Social Organization

The Algonquin Nation is a patriarchal society which means that the families were attached to the father side of the family. For example, hunting territories were handed down from father's to son and in case of a wedding; the woman would leave to go stay with her husband’s family.

The Chief was not elected, but inherited his title from his father. In the eventuality where a Chief did not have a son, his title was given to his first son-in-law.

It is also important to know that the Chief was more a spokesperson than someone imposing his views. In fact, the decision making process was very democratic because every member, be it a man or a woman, was allowed to express its opinion and the final decision was a consensus.

During the summer, many families would get together for weddings and other common subjects. They were extended families or families that were not related to each other. During the warm season people would stay in the same spot or move around the same area. It was the time to gather food in prevision of winter. They would dry meat, gather wild fruits, farm certain plants, find medicine plants, etc. The food would then be used by the families when they traveled to their hunting grounds and last them until the end of November, when the winter season would start. Winter was a survival and subsisting season.

For that reason, once fall came around, the group would divide in small groups of no more than 30 people. The reason was simple enough; each family had a hunting territory of about 1000 square kilometers, therefore, a bigger group would not have been able to survive from the available resources.

The small groups were made of extended families such as a grand-father, a grand-mother, their kids, the kids’ spouses and the grandchildren.

When the warm weather was back, the snow melting and the ice breaking, the cycle would start all over again with the families going back to their summer camps.

Today the communities are staying in one place and have built houses and buildings. Even though they still practice traditional activities such as hunting and fishing, people have jobs and the kids are in school.


At the base of the Anishinabeg’s beliefs is the notion of respect. Which signifies that every animal, every plant, every stone, etc., is part of the circle of life. Everything has its purpose and deserves respect just as much as anything else. For that reason only the necessary resources were harvested and offerings were made as a thank you (with tobacco).

Another strong element of the belief system is the circle. Everything revolves around a circle. Seasons are going through a circle, life is a circle, etc. This was also reflected on hunting habits. It meant that when families were moving to their winter territories, they would use a different section every year, in rotation, in order to give the forest time to regenerate.

A big significance was also given to dreams and visions. For example, the shaman had visions that permitted him to know where herds would be, therefore where the group should hunt.

That is also why, when they were reaching puberty, each group member had to isolate himself and go on a vision quest where his name, the name of his protecting spirit and his role in life (to become a hunter, a medicine man, etc.) would be revealed to him.

The creation of the world

There are many interpretations, but according to the Anishinabeg this is how the world was created: At the beginning of the world, animals were master of the world and all living in peace. Then an incident happened and animals started fighting with each other. This got the creator, Kichi Manito mad. For that reason he decided to flood the world and start a new one. Following the big flood, the world almost disappeared; there was only one group left.

That is when Wisakedjak told the animals that for the world to be revived one of them had to dive to bring back to the surface a handful of dirt to allow plants, trees and grass to grow back. The first one to try was the loon who was considered the best diver. He dove, stayed under water for one complete sun and came back out of breath, almost dead. Duck decided to try but was even less successful than loon. Then otter dove, then mink, then beaver, but none of them were able to bring back dirt. Finally, the muskrat said that he did not get easily discouraged. He said that sometimes he would have to dive many times to find his food. So he dove, hoping to save the world.

He was gone for three suns and everybody thought he was dead. Yet at the end of the third day he reappeared. He looked dead, but was still breathing and then opened an eye and smiled as he opened his paw to reveal dirt. Wisakedjak took it and put it on turtle back and that is how the new world started to become the world we know today. Floating on turtle’s back.


Most of the traditional clothing was made of moose and deer hide, the most common being the tunic, loincloth, leggings and moccasins. In winter time bear fur was widely used, especially for capes. For the smaller stuff such as toques and mitts, muskrat and beaver fur was used.


The most important characteristic was that it was made of material easy to find in the immediate environment and that did not take long to undo.

A Pikogan was made of posts covered with bark. There was an opening at the top for air circulation. The ground was covered of fir branches that in turn were covered by fur or straw. People were inside only when it was really cold outside and to sleep, otherwise they were always outside.

There were also more permanent dwellings built on hunting territories where people were coming back year after year.


Anishinabeg were a hunting Nation which meant that mobility was essential. Material used had to be light and easy to transport. Canoes were made of birch bark, sowed with spruce roots and render waterproof by the application of heated up spruce resin and grease. It was easy to move and the material readily available. During winter, toboggans were used to transport material and people used snowshoes to get around. For babies, takinagan were used to carry them. It was built with wood and covered with an envelope made of leather or material. The baby was standing up with his feet resting on a small board. The mother would then put the takinagan on her back. This allowed the infant to look around and observe his surroundings, therefore start learning how everyday tasks were done.


The Anishinabe language is part of the Algonquian family. It is the widest First Nation language in the Americas. The Algonquian family includes the Innus, the Odjbway, the Atikamekw, etc. This means that even though each Nation has its own language, they can discuss and understand each other. Below are a few examples of Anishinabe words.

Kwey = Hi
Megwetch = Thank you
Pijashig = Bienvenue
Madjashin: goodbye
Sigwan = spring
Nibin = summer
Tagwagi = autumn
Pibon = winter

The above was taken from the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council web site.

Algonquin Indian Tales
Collected by Egerton R. Young (pdf)

Algonquin Legends of New England or Myths and Folk Lore of the Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot Tribes. (pdf)

Charles Godfrey LELAND (1824 - 1903)
This work, then, contains a collection of the myths, legends, and folk-lore of the principal Wabanaki, or Northeastern Algonquin, Indians; that is to say, of the Passamaquoddies and Penobscots of Maine, and of the Micmacs of New Brunswick. All of this material was gathered directly from Indian narrators, the greater part by myself, the rest by a few friends; in fact, I can give the name of the aboriginal authority for every tale except one. (Summary by Charles Godfrey Leland)

Algonkin: The Algonquin People - History, Culture & Affiliations - Canada & USA

Algonquin Traditional Dance by Jerry Hunter

Algonquin Pow Wow, Pikwakanagan First Nation of Golden Lake, Ontario


Algonquins of Ontario [External Link]
Some Aspects of the Folk-Lore of the Central Algonkin
By Alanson Skinner (pdf)
Forrest & Park, Ontario (1866) (pdf)
Algonkin and Huron Occupation of the Ottawa Valley
By T. W. E. Sowter, Ottawa (pdf)
Kuloskap the Master
And Other Algonkin Poems translated by Charles Godfrey Leland and John Dyneley Prince (1902) (pdf)
Algonquin Indian Tales
Collected by Egerton R. Young (1903) (pdf)

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