The Algonquin

The Algonquin Indians are the most populous
and widespread North American Native groups,
with tribes originally numbering in the hundreds
and speaking several related dialects.
They inhabited most of the Canadian region
south of Hudson Bay between the Rockies
and the Atlantic Ocean and, bypassing select
territories held by the Sioux and Iroquois, the latter of whom had
driven them out of their
territory along the St. Lawrence and Ottawa
rivers in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Algonquin (or Algonkin) are used in reference to the tribe,
but Algonquian either refers to
the Algonquin language or to the group of tribes that speak related dialects.
The word "Algonquin" means "At the place of spearing fishes and eels".

Because the Northern climates made agriculture difficult,
the Algonquin were a semi-nomadic people,
moving their encampments from one place to the next in search of food,
which came from hunting, trapping, fishing and the gathering of
various plant roots, seeds, wild rice and berries.
They travelled on foot and by
birchbark canoe in the summer months, and used toboggans and snowshoes in the winter.
Their clothes were made from animal skins,
as were their tents, also known as wigwams;
sometimes also covered with birchbark.
The Algonquin social structure was patriarchal;
men were the leaders and the heads of the family and
territorial hunting rights were passed from father to son.

The shaman held a powerful place
in Algonquin society.
He was believed to be able to heal the sick
and communicate with the spirit world:
A great spirit or supreme being,
lesser spirits in control of the elements, evil spirits at the root of
illness and misfortune, and benevolent spirits bringing fortune and good health.
The shaman was also called upon as an
interpreter of dreams, in which
the Algonquin found great significance.

The Algonquin included, believed in an afterlife
where the spirits of dead men were chasing the spirits of dead animals.
They were also firm believers in Witchcraft
and were very reluctant reveal their real names in the fear that enemies with spiritual
powers would use them with evil intention.

The Algonquin were among the first North American Natives
to make alliances with the French
who adopted Algonquian methods of travel, and started
using terms like "canoe" and "toboggan".

There are presently about 8,000
Algonquin living in Canada, organized into ten separate First Nations,
nine are in Quebec and one in Ontario


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