Native Languages of the Americas: Wabanaki Confederacy (Wabenaki, Wobanaki)
The Wabanaki (Eastern) Confederacy was a coalition of five Algonquian tribes
of the eastern seaboard, banded together in response to Iroquois aggression.
These tribes--the Abenaki, the Penobscot, the Maliseet, the Passamaquoddy, and the Mi'kmaq--each retained their own political leadership, but
collaborated on broader issues such as diplomacy, war, and trade. The confederation officially disbanded in 1862, but the five tribes remain
close allies, and the Wabanaki Confederacy lives on in the form of a political alliance between these historically friendly nations.
There is some confusion associated with the term "Wabanaki." It literally means "people of the dawn" or
"dawnland people," meaning easterners, and at times all five tribes of the Wabanaki Confederacy have referred to
themselves this way. Also, the Mi'kmaq and Maliseet of New Brunswick collectively refer to themselves as
Wabanaki, and some information about these two tribes has this name on it. Finally, the Abenaki, though their
name clearly has the same Algonquian root, are not identical to the Wabanaki--they are one constituent tribe, and
though a Maliseet may be referred to as a Wabanaki, he is not an Abenaki.
Wabanaki Language Pages
There are three languages spoken by Wabanaki nations:
Abnaki-Penobscot, whose two dialects are
spoken by the Abenakis and the Penobscots,
These Facts For Kids were written for young people learning about the Wabanakis for school or homeschooling reports. We encourage
students, especially older kids, to use the links listed above for more in-depth information about the
Wabanaki tribes and their cultures, but here is some Wabanaki information specifically answering questions we are most often asked by kids.
How do you pronounce "Wabanaki?" What does it mean?
It's pronounced WAHB-uh-nah-kee. ("Wahb" rhymes with "sob.") It means "dawnland people," or easterners.
Are the Wabanaki Indians a tribe?
No. The Wabanaki Confederacy was an alliance between five different tribes: the
Abenakis, the Penobscots,
the Maliseet, the Passamaquoddies, and the
Micmacs. Follow those links to learn more about each Wabanaki tribe. The
Wabanaki Confederacy was a little like the European Union. The Wabanaki nations had special trade agreements,
special rights on each other's lands, and joint diplomacy. However, each Wabanaki nation was independent with its own leadership, like France
and England today. Before they joined the Wabanaki Confederacy, these nations were not always friends--in fact, they
sometimes fought wars against each other (just like France and England used to.) But once they joined the Confederacy,
the Wabanaki tribes never fought each other again. The Wabanaki Confederacy disbanded in 1862, but the five
Wabanaki nations still exist, and they remain friends and allies today.
Where do the Wabanaki Indians live?
The Wabanaki are original people of New England (particularly
New Hampshire) and the Canadian Maritimes
(particularly Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.) There are more than 40,000 Wabanaki people in Canada and the United States today.
What kind of homes did Wabanaki Indians live in? The Wabanakis didn't
live in tepees. They lived in small round buildings called wigwams,
about the size of a modern camp tent.
Here are some photographs of wigwams like
the ones Wabanaki Indians used.
Today, American Indians only build a wigwam for fun or to connect with their heritage.
Most Wabanaki people live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.
What kind of clothes and headdresses did Wabanaki Indians wear?
Wabanaki women wore dresses with removable sleeves or wraparound skirts with mantles or ponchos, and the men wore breechcloths with leather pant legs tied on.
Each Wabanaki tribe had its particular style of dress, and Wabanaki people could tell each other apart by their clothing. Here are sketches of some different
Wabanaki outfits, and some photographs and links about
traditional Indian clothing in general.
What language did the Wabanaki Indians talk? They spoke three different languages. The Abenaki and Penobscot spoke one
language, Abnaki-Penobscot; the Maliseet and Passamaquoddy spoke another language,
Maliseet-Passamaquoddy; and the Mi'kmaq spoke a third language,
Mi'kmaq (Micmac). The languages were different enough that the Wabanakis needed
bilingual interpreters for their council meetings. You can see a comparison between the three languages at this site:Wabanaki Words.
The three Wabanaki languages are still spoken today, though they are all endangered.
What was Wabanaki culture like? How did Wabanaki children live, what did they
eat, and what kind of things did they make?
Each Wabanaki nation has its unique culture. Some things shared by all the Wabanaki tribes were travel by
birchbark canoes (though each Wabanaki tribe had a
distinct style of canoe), decorating their moccasins and clothing with
using wampum for regalia
and remembering important events, using bows and arrows to hunt
and pronged spears to catch fish, and using
carry their babies.
What kinds of stories did the Wabenaki Indians tell?
There are many traditional Wabanaki legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to
Wabanaki Indian cultures. Here is the
Glousgap (Gluskabe) cycle of Wabanaki
myths, and here are some Maliseet stories about little people
(supernatural beings like brownies or leprechauns).
Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
There's a good book of Wabanaki legends called
Giants of the Dawnland,
told by Alice Mead and Penobscot elder Arnold Neptune.
You may also enjoy Women of the Dawn, a collection of
four interesting biographies of Wabanaki women. If you prefer to read fiction stories,
Arrow Over The Door is a nice work
of historical fiction about Abenaki and Quaker boys who form a friendship, or
Muskrat Will Be Swimming
is a novel about a modern Wabanaki girl learning to take pride in her culture.
How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. Our names are Laura Redish and
Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. The site was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2009.
Thanks for your interest in the Wabanaki people and their languages!