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
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
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
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
Sigwan = spring
Nibin = summer
Tagwagi = autumn
Pibon = winter
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
Made Here: Quebec - The Invisible Nation
The Invisible Nation (Le Peuple Invisible), exploring how the Algonquin
people once lived in harmony with the vast territory they occupied, and
how the balance was upset when the Europeans arrived in the 16th
Algonquin Traditional Dance by Jerry
Algonquin Pow Wow, Pikwakanagan First
Nation of Golden Lake, Ontario
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