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.

Following the 2010 UN DRIP declaration [4] the rights it defined began to be asserted. 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]

There were meetings amongst allies,[5] a "Water Convergence Ceremony" in May 2013,[6] with Algonquin grandmothers in August 2013 supported by Kairos Canada,[7][8] and with other indigenous groups. Representative Alma Brooks was sent to the June 2014 UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues,[9] and discussed the Wabanaki/Wolostoq position on Energy East,[10] which was a major motive for organizing:

"On May 30 [2015], residents of Saint John will join others in Atlantic Canada, including Indigenous people from the Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet), Passamaquoddy and Mi'kmaq, to march to the end of the proposed pipeline and draw a line in the sand."

This was widely publicized.[11]

2015 Grandmothers' Declaration[edit]

These and other preparatory meetings set an agenda for the August 19–22, 2015, meeting[12] which produced the promised Grandmothers' Declaration[13] "adopted unanimously at N'dakinna (Shelburne, VT) on August 21, 2015". The Declaration included mention of:

  • Revitalization and maintenance of indigenous languages
  • Article 25 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on land, food and water
  • A commitment to "establish decolonized maps"
  • The Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principles
  • Obligation of governments to "obtain free, prior, and informed consent" before "further infringement"
  • A commitment to "strive to unite the Indigenous Peoples; from coast to coast", e.g. against Tar Sands.
  • Protecting food, "seeds, waters and lands, from chemical and genetic contamination"
  • Recognizes and confirms the unique decision-making structures of the Wabanaki Peoples in accordance with Article 18 of the UN DRIP indigenous decision-making institutions:
    • Our vision is to construct a Lodge, which will serve as a living constitution and decision making structure for the Wabanaki Confederacy.
  • Recognizes the Western Abenaki living in Vermont and the United States as a "People" and member nation
  • Peace and friendship with "the Seven Nations of Iroquois"

Position on ecological and health issues[edit]

On October 15, 2015, Alma Brooks spoke to the New Brunswick Hydrofracturing Commission, applying the Declaration to current provincial industrial practices:[14]

  • Criticizing the "industry of hydro-fracturing for natural gas in our territory" because "our people have not been adequately consulted... have been abused and punished for taking a stand" and citing traditional knowledge of floods, quakes and salt lakes in New Brunswick
  • Criticizing Irving Forestry Companies for having "clear cut our forests [and] spraying poisonous carcinogenic herbicides such as glyphosate all over 'our land', to kill hardwood trees, and other green vegetation," harming human and animal health:
    • "Streams, brooks and creeks are drying up; causing the dwindling of Atlantic salmon and trout. Places where our people gather medicines, hunt deer and moose is being contaminated with poison. We were not warned about the use of these dangerous herbicides; but then cancer rates have been on the rise in Maliseet Communities; especially breast cancers in women and younger people are dying from cancer."
  • Open pit mining "for tungsten and molybdenum [which] require tailing ponds; this one designated to be the largest in the world [which] definitely will seep out into the environment. A spill or leak from the Sisson Brook open pit mine will permanently contaminate the Nashwaak River; which is a tributary of the Wolastok (St. John River) and surrounding water ways. This is the only place left clean enough for the survival of the Atlantic salmon."
  • "Oil pipelines and "refineries ... bent on contaminating and destroying the very last inch of (Wblastokok) Maliseet territory."
  • Rivers, lakes, streams, and lands.. contaminated "to the point that we are unable to gather our annual supply of fiddleheads, and medicines."
  • The hollow "duty to consult with aboriginal people”"that "has become a meaningless process", "therefore governments and/or companies do not have our consent to proceed with hydro-fracturing, open pit mining, or the building of pipelines for gas and oil bitumen."


The Passamaquoddy will host the 2016 Wabanaki Confederacy Conference.

"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):


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]