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Abenaki Indian Fact Sheet (Abenakis)

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people in search of Abenaki information for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our main Abenaki language and culture pages for more in-depth information, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Abenaki pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages. Photographs are the property of the sources we have credited.

   Abenaki Tribe

Two Abenaki women    Abenaki dancers today

How do you pronounce "Abenaki?" What does it mean?
Abenaki is pronounced AH-buh-nah-kee. It means "people of the dawn," or "easterners." This name is also spelled "Abnaki," "Abanaki," or "Abenaqui." Abenaki Indians also call themselves Alnombak, which means "the people."

Is there a difference between "Abenaki" and "Wabanaki"?
Yes. Both these words have the same root, which means "easterners." However, the Wabanaki Confederacy was the name of an alliance that included not only the Abenakis, but also four neighboring tribes: the Penobscots, the Maliseets, the Passamaquoddies, and the Micmacs. Click here to learn more about the Wabanaki Confederacy.

Where do the Abenaki Indians live?
The Abenakis are original natives of the New England area which includes Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Here is a map showing the location of the Cowasuck, Sokoki, Missisquoi, and Norridgewock bands of Abenaki Indians. This map shows the Kennebec and other Eastern Abenaki homelands in Maine. After European colonists arrived, many Abenakis fled to Canada or moved in with neighboring tribes. Today, Abenaki people live on two reservations in Quebec and scattered around New England. Abenakis in the United States do not have a reservation.

How is the Abenaki tribe organized?
In Canada, the two Abenaki bands, Odanak and Wolinak, live on reserves (also known as reservations.) A reserve is land that belongs to the tribe and is under their control. Each Canadian Abenaki band has its own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country. However, the Abenakis are also Canadian citizens and must obey Canadian law. The leader or chief of each Abenaki band is called sagama or sag8mo in their language.

The Abenaki tribe is not federally recognized in the United States. That means Abenakis in the US don't have reservations or their own governments. The Abenaki of New England also have bands with chiefs, but they are unofficial.

What language do Abenaki Indians speak?
The Abenaki in New England speak English. Most Abenaki people in Quebec speak French. Some Abenaki elders in Canada still speak their native Abnaki-Penobscot language. It has this long name because two tribes, the Abenakis and the Penobscots, speak the same language with different accents--just like Americans and Canadians both speak English. The dialect spoken by the Abenaki Indians is also called Western Abenaki. Western Abenaki is a musical language with complicated verbs. If you'd like to learn a few easy Abenaki words, "kwai kwai" (rhymes with "bye bye") is a friendly greeting and "woliwoni" (pronounced woh-lee-woh-nee) means "thank you." You can listen to an Abanaki elder talk in his language here and see an Abenaki picture glossary here.

Today Abnaki-Penobscot is an endangered language because most children aren't learning it anymore, but some Abenaki and Penobscot people are working to keep the language alive.

What was Abenaki culture like in the past? What is it like now?

    Abenaki flag
Here's a story about an Abanaki child learning his family's traditions. Here are links to two Abenaki communities, the Cowasuck Abenaki Band in Massachusetts and the Missisquoi Abenaki Band in Vermont, where you can learn about Abenaki Indians today.

How do Abenaki Indian children live and what did they do in the past?

    Abenaki ring and pin game
They do the same things all children do--play with each other, go to school, and help around the house. Many Abenaki children go hunting and fishing with their fathers, and some like to paddle canoes. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play, like early colonial children. But Abenakis did have cornhusk dolls, games, and toys to play with, and they practiced shooting child-sized bows and arrows. Teenage boys liked to play a stickball game similar to lacrosse. Abenaki babies, like many Native Americans, rode in baby carriers called cradleboards on their mothers' backs--a custom many American families have adopted now.

What were men and women's roles in the Abenaki tribe?
Abenaki men were hunters and sometimes went to war to protect their families. Abenaki women were farmers and also did most of the child care and cooking. Both male and female Abenakis took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine. In the past, the chief was always a man, but today an Abenaki woman can be chief too.

What were Abenaki homes like?

Abenaki wigwam
The Abenakis didn't live in tepees. They lived in small birchbark buildings called wigwams or lodges, about the size of a modern camp tent. Some Abenaki families preferred to build larger Iroquois-style longhouses instead. Here are some pictures of wigwams, longhouses, and other Indian homes. An Abenaki village contained many wigwams or longhouses, a meeting hall, and a sweat lodge. Many villages also had palisades (high log walls) around them to guard against attack.

Today, Native Americans only build a wigwam for fun or to connect with their heritage, not as shelter. Most Abenakis live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Abenaki clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
  Abenaki clothes

Beaded moccasins
Abenaki men wore breechcloths with leather leggings. Abenaki women wore wraparound deerskin skirts. Shirts were not necessary in Abenaki culture, but in cool weather both genders wore poncho-like blouses. The Abenakis also used moccasins, cloaks, beaded jewelry, and pointed hoods. Later the Abenakis adapted European costume such as cloth blouses and jackets, decorating them with fancy beadwork. Here are more pictures of Abenaki clothing styles, and some photographs and links about American Indian clothing in general.

The Abenakis didn't wear long warbonnets like the Sioux. Usually they wore a headband with a feather or two in it. Sometimes an Abenaki chief would wear a tall feathered headdress. They did not paint their faces. Abenaki women wore their hair loose or braided on top of their heads, and Abenaki men sometimes put their long hair in topknots. Here are some pictures of these Indian hairstyles.

Some Abenakis today have a traditional cloak or moccasins, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear feathers in their hair on special occasions like a dance.

What did Abenaki Indians use for transportation in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?

              Abenaki canoe
Yes--the Abenaki tribe was well-known for their birchbark canoes. Canoeing is still popular among Abenakis, though few people handcraft a canoe from birch bark anymore. Over land, the Abenakis used dogs as pack animals. (There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.) The Abenakis used sleds and snowshoes to help them travel in the winter. They learned to make those tools from northern neighbors like the Cree Indians.

Today, of course, Abenakis also use cars... and non-native people also use canoes.

Abenaki fishing spear
What was Abenaki food like in the days before supermarkets?
They hunted deer and moose and fished in the rivers. Abenakis still cherish these activities today (though most hunters use guns now instead of arrows and spears.) Abenaki Indians also planted corn and beans in small farms, picked berries, and made maple syrup from tree sap. Here is an Abenaki soup recipe, and an article with more information about American Indian food.

What kinds of weapons and tools did the Abenakis use?
Abenaki fishermen used pronged spears like this one to catch fish, as well as nets. Abenaki hunters and warriors used bows and arrows, spears, and heavy wooden clubs. Here is a picture of an Abenaki club, and a website with pictures and more information about Native American weapons.

What are Abenaki arts and crafts like?

     Abenaki basket
Abenaki artists are best known for their quillwork, beadwork and black ash baskets. Here is a website of Abenaki basket photographs. Like other eastern American Indians, Abenakis also crafted wampum out of white and purple shell beads. Wampum beads were traded as a kind of currency, but they were more culturally important as an art material. The pictures and symbols on wampum belts often told a story or represented a person's family.

What is Abenaki music like?
The two most important Abenaki instrument are drums and flutes. Abenaki drums were usually large and several men would play them together at dances and other community events. Flutes were carved from wood are were most often used to play love songs. Here is an audio recording of an Abenaki elder chanting a traditional honor song, and a video of dancers and drummers at the Odanak pow wow.

What other Native Americans did the Abenaki tribe interact with?
The Abenaki traded regularly with all the other New England Indians, and they often fought with the powerful Iroquois. But their most important neighbors were the Penobscots, Passamaquoddies, Maliseets, and Micmacs. These five tribes formed an alliance called the Wabanaki Confederacy. Before this alliance, the Abenaki were not always friends with these tribes--in fact, they sometimes fought wars against each other. But once they joined the Confederacy, the Wabanaki tribes never fought each other again. They are still allies today.

What kinds of stories do the Abenaki Indians tell?
There are many traditional Abenaki legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Abenaki Indian culture. Here's one legend about Gluskonba (Glooscap), the culture hero of the Abenaki tribe.

What problems do the Abenaki Indians face today?
In the United States, the government does not officially recognize the Abenaki tribe. This upsets the Abenakis because they do not have hunting or fishing rights, they cannot sell arts and crafts under Indian craft laws, and other American Indians don't always recognize or cooperate with them. The Abenaki want to be recognized as a true Indian tribe, but because their ancestors often hid from the Americans or fled into Canada, they cannot prove that they lived in New England continuously since the 1600's. Here's a newspaper article about that.

What about Abenaki religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Abenaki life, and some people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Abenaki people care about them deeply. You can read and learn about them, however. You can visit this site to learn more about Abenaki mythology or this site about Native American religion in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read to learn more about the Abenakis?
You may enjoy Dog People by Abenaki writer Joseph Bruchac. In Abenaki culture, dogs were considered an important part of the family. You can learn a lot about the Abenaki world while reading these stories about Indian children and their dogs. Another good Bruchac book about Abenaki history, suitable for a young teen, is The Winter People. It's an adventure story about an Abenaki teenager who survives the Rogers' Rangers massacre and tries to rescue his captured mother. If you like graphic novels, Dawn Land is an interesting one based on ancient Abenaki legends. If you're more interested in contemporary Abenaki life, Muskrat Will Be Swimming is a wonderful novel about an Abenaki girl learning to be proud of her heritage. Younger children may like Raccoon's Last Race, a lively picture book telling a traditional Abenaki story. For non-fiction books about Abenaki culture and history, two good sources are the history book Voice of the Dawn and the biography Aunt Sarah: Woman of the Dawnland. 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. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2020.

Thank you for your interest in the Abenaki Indians and their language!

Learn More About The Abenaki People

Abenaki Indian Tribe
An overview of the Abnaki Indians, their language and history.
Abenaki Language Resources
Abnaki language samples, articles, and indexed links.
Abenaki Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Abnaki Indians past and present.
Abenaki Words
Definitions of Abenaki Indian vocabulary.

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