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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 to defend against the Iroquois League. 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.

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Wabanaki Language Pages

There are three languages spoken by Wabanaki nations:

*Abnaki-Penobscot, whose two dialects are spoken by the Abenakis and the Penobscots,

*Maliseet-Passamaquoddy, whose two dialects are spoken by the Maliseets and the Passamaquoddys, and

*Mi'kmaq, spoken by the Mi'kmaqs.

Wabanaki Tribal Pages

The five Wabanaki tribes are:

*The Abenaki Indians of New England and Quebec

*The Penobscot Indians of Maine

*The Maliseet Indians of New Brunswick, Quebec, and Maine

*The Passamaquoddy Indians of Maine and New Brunswick

*The Mi'kmaq Indians of the Canadian Maritimes, Quebec, and Maine

Wabanaki Confederacy Information

The Historical Wabanaki Confederacy

The Wabanaki Indian Collection:
    Summary of Wabanaki culture, history, and the component Wabanaki tribes by historian Nicholas Smith.
Oral History and the Wabanaki Confederacy:
    History of the Wabanaki alliance from Indian oral tradition.
Formation of the Wobanaki Confederacy:
    Traditional Wabanaki history from a tribal historian.
People of the First Light:
    Museum exhibit about Wabanaki culture, art and history located in Bangor, Maine.
Native American Culture in Maine:
    Historical timeline and maps for the Wabanaki tribes.
The People of the Dawnland:
    History of the Wabanaki nations told by a Passamaquoddy author.
Gluskabi Stories and other Wabanaki Legends:
    Collection of Wabanaki legends and folktales.
Tarrateen War:
    History of the 17th-century Wabanaki war.
Property and Land:
    Conflicts caused by differing English and Wabanaki Alliance views about land use.
The Stolen Children of Maine:
    Article about the state's history of forced assimilation by separating many Wabanaki families.
Native Americans of New England:
    Map of Wabanaki Indian territory in early New England.

Wabanaki Allies Today

Wabanaki Confederacy:
    Information on the Wabanaki in the present day.
Vermont Hosts The Wabanaki Confederacy Conference:
    Article about an intertribal diplomatic meeting among the tribes of the Wabanaki alliance.
Wabanakis of Maine:
    Articles about Wabanaki issues from the Maine Rural Development Council.
Wabanaki Confederation Information Network:
    News, activism, and legal information for the Wabanaki people of New Brunswick.
Miingignoti-Keteaoag:
    Cultural group maintaining the integrity and way of life of the Wabanaki Nations.
Maine Wabanaki REACH:
    Intertribal center in Maine promoting Wabanaki health and wellness.
Wabanaki Program:
    Maine Indian youth program sponsored by the Americans Friends Service Committee.
Wabanaki Authors
    Wabanaki writers, their lives and work.
The Wabanaki Challenge:
    Article about cross-border Wabanaki Indian relations and the law.

Books for sale on Wabanaki Tribes
Our organization earns a commission from any book bought through these links

Voice of the Dawn:
    Wabanaki history by Abenaki tribal archaeologist Fred Wiseman.
An Upriver Passamaquoddy:
    Enlightening book of oral history from a storyteller in one Wabanaki Indian tribe.
On The Trail Of Elder Brother: * Seven Eyes, Seven Legs: * Giants of the Dawnland:
    Good collections of Wabanaki myths and legends.
Women of the Dawn:
    Biographies of four Wabanaki Indian women.
Uncommon Threads: Wabanaki Textiles, Clothing, and Costume:
    Photo-essay on Wabanaki textile arts from the Maine State Museum.
The Visual Language of Wabanaki Art:
    Book by an Abenaki author about the artistic traditions of the Wabanaki people.
Building a Birchbark Canoe: The Algonquin Wabanaki Tciman:
    Interesting book about Wabanaki and other Northeast Algonquian canoe-making.
Twelve Thousand Years:
    Reference book on the Wabanaki Indians of Maine.
Indians in Eden: Wabanakis and Rusticators on Maine's Mt. Desert Island:
    History book about life on Maine Indian reservations in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Algonquian Spirit:
    Rich anthology of stories, songs, and oral history from the Wabanaki and other Algonquian tribes.
Raccoon's Last Race: * Thanks To The Animals:
    Children's picture books illustrating Wabanaki legends.
Echoes of the Night: * Gluskap Stories:
    Audio recordings of Wabanaki storytelling.

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Wabanaki Facts For Kids

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.

What is the right way to spell "Wabanaki?" There is no single correct way to spell this tribal name, because there are five different tribes in the Wabanaki Confederacy. Although the Wabanaki languages are all related to each other, they have different spelling systems. In English, the name is most often spelled "Wabanaki," but the spellings Wabenaki, Wapanahki, Wabunaki, and Wobenaki are also acceptable.

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, rights on each other's lands, and joint diplomacy. However, each Wabanaki nation was independent with its own government, 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 Maine, Vermont and 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. Here is a map showing the location of the Wabanaki tribes.

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 did the Wabanaki Indians eat? Most Wabanaki villages grew corn, beans and squash in small farms. Wabanaki people also picked berries and other fruit, made maple syrup from tree sap, and hunted in the wilderness for animals like deer, moose, and elk. Here is a Wabanaki recipe called Three Sisters Soup, and an article with more information about American Indian food.

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? What kind of things did they make? Each Wabanaki nation has its unique culture, but some traits were shared by all of them. All of the Wabanaki tribes used birchbark canoes to travel (though each Wabanaki tribe had a distinctive style of canoe.) Wabanaki people used bows and arrows to hunt and pronged spears to catch fish. Here is a replica of a traditional Wabanaki bow. Wabanaki artists were known for their beautiful basket-making. Here is a museum exhibit showing pictures of Wabanaki baskets. Other forms of Wabanaki art included decorating their moccasins and clothing with beadwork and weaving wampum belts. The symbols and designs on wampum belts often told a story or represented a person's family. Another cultural trait that all the Wabanaki tribes share is their music. A group of Wabanaki men play a large drum together while the rest of the tribe sing and dance. Here is a video of Wabanaki people performing a drum song.

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 legends from the Wabanaki Indian tribes 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 book about a Wabanaki girl learning to take pride in her culture. Teenagers may like Wabanaki Blues, a young-adult adventure novel about a modern Native girl solving a mystery. You can also browse through our reading list of Native American book recommendations in general. Disclaimer: we are an Amazon affiliate and our website earns a commission if you buy a book through one of these links. Most of them can also be found in a public library, though!

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 2020.

Thanks for your interest in the Wabanaki people and their languages!



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