The Abenaki (or Abnaki), pronounced OBB-uh-nah-kee, are an Algonquian-speaking people that call themselves Alnôbak, meaning “Real People”. Abenaki means “people of the dawn.” The Abenaki were a linguistic and geographic grouping, rather than a single tribe. They were made up of numerous smaller bands and tribes who shared many cultural traits. Their homeland, which they called Ndakinna meaning “our land” extended across most of northern New England, southern Quebec, and the southern Canadian Maritimes.
Historically, the Abenaki have been classified into two geographic groups: Western Abenaki and Eastern Abenaki.
The Eastern Abenaki population was concentrated in portions of New Brunswick, Canada and in Maine, east of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Some of these tribes included the Kennebec, Maliseet, Penobscot, Ossipee, Mi’kmaq, and the Passamaquoddy.
The Western Abenaki lived in the Connecticut River Valley in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. Some of these tribes included the Pennacook, Pequawket, Sokoki, and Winnipesaukee.
Before European contact, the Abenaki (excluding the Pennacook and Mi’kmaq) were estimated to have numbered as many as 40,000 people. However, after European contact, the people began to suffer from numerous diseases and ailments such as typhus, influenza, smallpox, diphtheria, and measles, often resulting in 75% mortality among the tribes.
As settlers continued to populate New England, many of the Abenaki retreated north into Quebec, Canada. Those who stayed joined with the Wabanaki Confederacy to fight the encroachment upon their lands.
They were engaged against the English in six Indian Wars, including:
- King Philip’s War, from 1675 to 1678
- King William’s War from 1688 to 1697
- Queen Anne’s War from 1702 to 1713
- Lovewell’s War from 1722 to 1725
- King George’s War from 1744 to 1748
- French and Indian War from 1754 to 1763
After years of war and disease, there were less than 1,000 Abenaki remaining after the American Revolution.
Their descendants live in on two reservations in Quebec and are scattered around New England.
©Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated September 2018.