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The History of Native American Tribes. Abenaki. Flag   Abenaki

   Abenaki Location extending across most of northern New England into the southern part of the Canadian Maritimes was the Abnaki or Abenaki Confederacy. This union of tribes included such nations as the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot or Maine, the Micmac and Malecite of Maine and New Brunswick, and the Pennacook of Vermont. Today, the Abenaki are found primarily in the province of Quebec but a band is also located in Vermont.

The History of Native American Tribes. Abenaki clothes

Abenaki clothes

 Native Americans have occupied northern New England for at least 10,000 years. There is no proof these ancient residents were ancestors of the Abenaki, but there is no reason to think they were not. The Abenaki lived in a manner similar to Algonquin in southern New England. Since they relied on agriculture (corn, beans, and squash) for a large part of their diet, villages were usually located on the fertile floodplains of rivers. Depending on location and population, some of their cultivated fields were extensive. Missisquoi, on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain, reportedly had more than 250 acres of corn under cultivation. Agriculture was supplemented by hunting, fishing, and the gathering of wild foods. The relative importance of fish/seafood depended on location. In areas of poor soil, fish were often used as fertilizer to increase the yield of corn.

Abenaki. Wigwam


   For most of the year, the Abenaki lived in scattered bands of extended families, each of which occupied separate hunting territories inherited through the father. Unlike the Iroquois, the Abenaki (and most New England Algonquin) were patrilineal. In spring and summer, bands would gather at fixed locations near rivers, or the seacoast, for planting and fishing. These summer villages were sometimes fortified depending on the warfare in the area. Compared with Iroquois settlements, most Abenaki villages were fairly small, averaging about 100 persons, but there were exceptions - particularily among the western Abenaki. Some Abenaki used an oval-shaped long house, but most favored the dome-shaped, bark-covered (sometimes woven mat) wigwam during the warmer months. During winter, the Abenaki moved farther inland and separated into small groups of conical, bark-covered wigwams shaped like the buffalo-hide tepee of the plains.

   Abenaki is actually a geographical and linguistic (rather than political) grouping. Before contact individual tribes were the usual level of political organization. Occasionally several tribes would unite under a powerful sachem for purposes of war, but the Abenaki were noteworthy for their general lack of central authority. Even at the tribal level, the authority of their sachems was limited, and important decisions, such as war and peace, usually required a meeting of all adults. The Abenaki Confederacy did not come into existence until after 1670 and then only in response to continuous wars with the Iroquois and English colonists. Even this did not change things, and reports of French military officers are filled with complaints that Abenaki leaders usually had difficulty controlling their warriors.

   In many ways the lack of central authority served the Abenaki well. In times of war, the Abenaki could abandon their villages, separate into small bands, and regroup in a distant refuge beyond the reach of their enemies. It was a strategy that confounded repeated efforts by both the Iroquois and English to conquer them. The Abenaki could just melt away, regroup, and then counterattack. It was an effective strategy in times of war, but it has left the impression that the Abenaki were nomads. Since the Abenaki usually retreated to Canada during war, New England came to think of them as Canadian Indians - which, of course, they were not - but it served as an excuse to take most of their land in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont without compensation.

The History of Native American Tribes. Abenaki. Micmac


   Only the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy signed treaties and kept some of their land. The other Abenaki were dispossessed and remain unrecognized. However, there was no "ride into the sunset." Largely invisible over the years, the Abenaki have remained in their homelandby living in scattered, small bands. New England has numerous romantic monuments which celebrate the disappearance of its original residents. Misleading, since they never really left!
Before contact the Abenaki (excluding the Pennacook and Micmac) may have numbered as many as 40,000 divided roughly between 20,000 eastern; 10,000 western; and 10,000 maritime.

   After several centuries of epidemics and wars, there were less than 1,000 Abenaki.

   The population has currently recovered to almost 12,000 on both sides of the border.

The History of Native American Tribes. Western Abenaki

Western Abenaki

   Based in the town of Swanton in northern Vermont is the Saint Francis - Sokoki Band of the Abenaki Nation, sometimes referred to as the Western Abenaki. Sokoki is their native word for the Western Abenaki. Their original name, the Wabanaki meant "those who live at the sunrise", or "the easterners". That may mean that the St. Francis - Sokoki Band is actually being called the "Western Easterners" by those unaware of the tribe's name's etymology. The tribe, which numbers around 1200 individuals, has been recognized by other Abenaki Bands in Quebec as true Abenaki. The State of Vermont extended recognition to the tribe in 1976, only to rescind it in 1977 due to protests from hunters and fishermen. The state recognition had included special hunting and fishing rights for the band (The Abenaki Today, 99).

   Despite the withdrawal of state recognition, the St. Francis - Sokoki Band is pursuing federal recognition; a long and intricate process. To establish themselves as a functioning governmental body, the Abenaki adopted a constitution, established election procedures for the tribal council and defined the powers and duties of the tribal council and the chief, currently, Mr. Homer St. Francis. On July 24, 1991, the Abenaki nation adopted a tribal flag.

   The flag of the Abenaki is dark green recalling the Green Mountains and the overall green image that Vermont possesses. Centered on the green field is the tribal seal. The "shield" of the seal is a representation of an animal hide, either deer or beaver, it could not be determined. The hide is brown. It bears three symbols, starting with a red sun at the top. Below this is a pair of blue waves recalling the rivers and Lake Champlain and lastly is a green grassy patch bearing two deciduous and three conifer trees. These recall the lush woodlands of western Vermont. A large painting of the tribal flag appears over the main entrance of the Tribal Office in Swanton.


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