Wabanaki Confederacy

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The Wabanaki Confederacy (Wabenaki, Wobanaki - translated roughly as 'People of the First Light' or 'People of the Dawnland') are a First Nations and Native American confederation of five principal Nations: the Mi'kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Abenaki and Penobscot.

Members of the Wabanaki Confederacy — the Wabanaki peoples — are located in, and named for, the area they call Wabanahkik ('Dawnland'), generally known to European settlers as Acadia. It is now most of Maine, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, plus some of Quebec south of the St. Lawrence River. The Western Abenaki are located in New Hampshire, Vermont, and into Massachusetts.[1]

In its most recent official communications the confederacy has emphasized common cause, and acceptance of alliances, with environmental activists allied with its goal of protecting the land and waters, powers gained under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and related treaties major powers have signed.[2]


Historically, the confederacy has united five North American Algonquian language-speaking First Nations Peoples. It played a key role in the American Revolution via the Treaty of Watertown signed in 1776, by two of its constituent Peoples, the Mi'kmaq and Passamaquoddy. Wabanaki soldiers from Canada are still permitted, due to this treaty, to join the US military, and have done so in the recent conflicts the US has engaged in, including the Afghanistan war and the Iraq War.

Members of the Wabanaki Confederacy are:

Nations in the Confederacy are also closely allied with the Innu and Algonquin, and with the Iroquoian-speaking Wyandot. Historically, Wabanaki were also allies of the Huron and with them jointly invited the colonization of Quebec City and LaHave and the formation of New France in 1603, to put French guns, ships and forts between themselves and the Mohawk people. Today the only remaining Huron First Nation is in the suburbs of Quebec City itself, a legacy of this protective alliance.

The Wabanaki ancestral homeland stretches from Newfoundland, Canada, to the Merrimack River valley in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Following the European settlement in the early 17th century, this became a hotly contested borderland between colonial New England and French Acadia. Beginning with King William's War in 1688, members of the Wabanaki Confederacy of Acadia participated in six major wars before the British defeated the French in North America:

During this period, their population was not only radically decimated due to many decades of warfare, but also because of famines and devastating epidemics.[3]

Wabanaki people freely intermarried with French Catholics in Acadia starting in 1610 after the conversion of Chief Henri Membertou. After 1783 Black settlers, refugees from the US, began to settle in the historical territory and many intermarriages between these peoples occurred, especially in southwest Nova Scotia from Yarmouth to Halifax. Suppression of Acadian, Black, Mi'kmaq and Irish people under British rule tended to force these peoples together as allies of necessity. Mixed-race children were commonly abandoned on reserves to be raised in Wabanaki tradition, as late as the 1970s.

The Wabanaki Confederacy was forcibly disbanded in 1862, but the five Wabanaki nations still exist, and they remain friends and allies - in part because all peoples claiming Wabanaki heritage have forebears from multiple Wabanaki and colonial ancestries.

Contemporary Wabanaki Confederacy[edit]

In 1993 the Wabanaki Confederacy gathering was revived and the first reconstituted confederacy conference was hosted by the Mi'kmaq community of Listuguj under the leadership of the Chief Brenda Gideon Miller. The sacred Council fire was lit again, and embers from the fire have been kept burning continually since then.[1] This gathering was held in Listuguj. The Listuguj community hosted this event and witnessed the rebirth of the Wabanaki Confederacy which brought together the Passamaquoddy Nation, Penobscot Nation, Maliseet Nation, the Mi'kmaq Nation and the Abenaki Nation to include also the Métis Nation.

In September 2012, at St. Mary's First Nation, "Unceded Wabanaki Territory (New Brunswick)", non-Indigenous peoples were invited to participate, especially environmental activists.[2] The leadership emphasized the ongoing role of the Confederacy in protecting natural capital. Some key quotes from leading participants:

"When we talk about Wabanaki people, we're also talking about Wabanaki people being the land, being the trees, being the animals, because in that cultural perspective, we're all related...The Wabanaki are in a far better position to defend the land," says gkisedtanamoogk. "No land was ever ceded, and that's acknowledged by both the province and the federal government. So on the basis of the treaties, what we're suggesting is that you and I have a common responsibility to the land under those treaties." - gkisedtanamoogk, the Gathering's fire keeper.[2]

"Within the Wabanaki territory we're looking for allies that are going to stand against the total annihilation of our land and water and air. We're looking for allies who will help us to put our nation back together, and put it back in order. And we're asking our allies to help us empower that. And in the process of doing that, they will be decolonizing us and they will be decolonizing themselves." - jeaba-weay-quay (roughly translated from Obijway to 'The woman whose voice pierces').[2]

"We're going to rebuild the Wabanaki Confederacy," says LaPorte. "We also invited some non-Natives...to come and be with us and to help us build an alliance, so that when we...come into conflict with the government and some of their decisions and policies...to have them stand beside us and to let their government know that it's not only Native people who are worried about the water, the land, the air. But it's also people from their nation that are concerned." - Harry LaPorte, grand chief of the Maliseet First Nation[2]

The final press release indicated that "the grandmothers" would decide the next step in reconstructing the confederacy as a legal and sovereign entity. The structure resembles that of Indigenous Peoples in Chiapas, especially the recognition of the authority of the 'comandantes' (older Indigenous women) by Subcomandante Marcos and other political and military leaders better known to the public.[2]

"Wabanaki Confederacy" in various Indigenous languages[edit]

The term Wabanaki Confederacy in many Algonquian languages literally means "Dawn Land People".

Language "Easterner(s)"
literally "Dawn Person(s)"
"Dawn Land"
"Dawn Land"
"Dawn Land Person"
"Dawn Land People"
or the "Wabanaki Confederacy"
Naskapi Waapinuuhch
Massachusett language Wôpanâ(ak)
Quiripi language Wampano(ak) Wampanoki
Mi'kmaq Wabanahk Wabanahkik Wabanahki Wabanahkiyik
Maliseet-Passamaquoddy Waponu(wok) Waponahk Waponahkik Waponahkew Waponahkiyik/Waponahkewiyik
Abenaki-Penobscot Wôbanu(ok) Wôbanak Wôbanakik Wôbanaki Wôbanakiak
Algonquin Wàbano(wak) Wàbanaki Wàbanakìng Wàbanakì Wàbanakìk
Ojibwe Waabano(wag) Waabanaki Waabanakiing Waabanakii Waabanakiig/Waabanakiiyag
Odawa Waabno(wag) Waabnaki Waabnakiing Waabnakii Waabnakiig/Waabnakiiyag
Potawatomi Wabno(weg) Wabneki Wabnekig Wabneki Wabnekiyeg


Maps showing the approximate locations of areas occupied by members of the Wabanaki Confederacy (from north to south):


  1. ^ a b Toensing, Gale Courey. "Sacred fire lights the Wabanaki Confederacy", Indian Country Today (June 27, 2008), ICT Media Network
  2. ^ a b c d e f Howe, Miles. "Rebuilding the Wabanaki Confederacy". Halifax Media Co-op (September 3, 2012).
  3. ^ Prins, Harald E.L. and McBride, Bunny "Asticou's Island Domain: Wabanaki Peoples at Mount Desert Island 1500-2000," (National Park Service, 2007)

Further reading[edit]

  • Frank G. Speck. "The Eastern Algonkian Wabanaki Confederacy". American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 17, No. 3 (Jul. - Sep., 1915), pp. 492–508
  • McBride, Bunny. (2001) Women of the Dawn
  • Mead, Alice. (1996) Giants of the Dawnland: Eight ancient Wabanaki legends
  • Prins, Harald E.L. “The Crooked Path of Dummer's Treaty: Anglo-Wabanaki Diplomacy and the Quest for Aboriginal Rights.” Papers of the Thirty-Third Algonquian Conference. H.C. Wolfart, ed. Winnipeg; U Manitoba Press (2002): 360-378
  • Walker, Willard. “The Wabanaki Confederacy.” Maine History 37 (3) (1998): 100-139

External links[edit]