General Cultural Beliefs Of Algonquian Speaking Tribes
Published on November 13, 2014 by Amy
The Algonquin Indians (also spelled Algonkian) 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.
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Algonquin (or Algonkin) are used in reference to the tribes, 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 eleven separate First Nations, ten are in Quebec and one in Ontario.