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 in and named for the area which they call Wabanahkik ("Dawnland"), generally known to European settlers as Acadia. It is made up of most of present-day Maine in the United States, and New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Island, Prince Edward Island and some of Quebec south of the St. Lawrence River in Canada. The Western Abenaki live on lands in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts of the United States.
In its most recent official communications, the Confederacy has emphasized common cause with and acceptance of alliances with environmental activists toward the goal of protecting their land and waters. They gained powers under the United Nations 2010 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIP) and related treaties which major powers have signed.
The confederacy has historically united five North American Algonquian language-speaking First Nations peoples. It played a key role in supporting the colonial rebels of the American Revolution via the Treaty of Watertown, signed in 1776 by the Mi'kmaq and Passamaquoddy, two of its constituent tribes. Under this treaty, Wabanaki soldiers from Canada are still permitted to join the US military. They have done so in 21st-century conflicts in which the US has engaged, including the Afghanistan War and the Iraq War.
Members of the Wabanaki Confederacy are:
- (Eastern) Abenaki or Penawapskewi (Penobscot)
- (Western) Abenaki
- Míkmaq (Mi'kmaq, L'nu, or Micmac)
- Pestomuhkati (Passamaquoddy)
- Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet or Malicite)
Nations in the Confederacy are also closely allied with the Innu and Algonquin and with the Iroquoian-speaking Wyandot. Wabanaki were also allies of the Huron in the past. Together they jointly invited the colonization of Quebec City and LaHave and the formation of New France in 1603, in order to put French guns, ships, and forts between themselves and the powerful Mohawk people to the west. Today the only remaining Huron First Nation resides mostly in the suburbs of Quebec City, a legacy of this protective alliance.
The Wabanaki ancestral homeland stretches from Newfoundland, Canada to the Merrimack River valley in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, United States. This became a hotly contested borderland between the English of colonial New England and French Acadia following the European settlement in the early 17th century. Members of the Wabanaki Confederacy of Acadia participated in six major wars, beginning with King William's War in 1688, before the British defeated the French in North America:
- King William's War (1688–1697)
- Queen Anne's War (1702–1713)
- Dummer's War (1722–1725)
- King George's War (1744–1748)
- Father Le Loutre's War (1749–1755)
- French and Indian War (1754–1763)
Wabanaki people freely intermarried with French Catholics in Acadia starting in 1610 after the conversion of Chief Henri Membertou. After 1783 and the end of the American Revolutionary War, Black Loyalists, freedmen from the British colonies, were resettled by the British in this historical territory. They had promised slaves freedom if they left their rebel masters and joined the British. Three thousand freedmen were evacuated to Nova Scotia by British ships from the colonies after the war.
Many intermarriages occurred between these peoples, 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. Some white and black parents abandoned their mixed-race children on reserves to be raised in Wabanaki culture, even as late as the 1970s.
The Wabanaki Confederacy was forcibly disbanded by the British in 1862, but the five Wabanaki nations still exist. They remain friends and allies, in part because all peoples claiming Wabanaki heritage have kinship forebears from multiple Wabanaki and colonial ancestries.
The Wabanaki Confederacy gathering was revived in 1993. The first reconstituted confederacy conference in contemporary time was developed and proposed by Claude Aubin and Beaver Paul and hosted by the Mi'kmaq community of Listuguj under the leadership of Chief Brenda Gideon Miller. The sacred Council Fire was lit again, and embers from the fire have been kept burning continually since then. The revival of the Wabanaki Confederacy brought together the Passamaquoddy Nation, Penobscot Nation, Maliseet Nation, the Mi'kmaq Nation, and the Abenaki Nation; they also included the eastern Métis Nation.
Following the 2010 UN DRIP declaration (Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples), the tribes began to assert their rights as defined in it. They invited non-Indian people to participate in the Confederacy meetings, especially environmental activists. The Wabanaki leadership emphasized the continuing 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.
"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').
"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
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. Subcomandante Marcos and other political and military leaders better known to the public there have formally recognized the authority of the "comandantes" (older Indigenous women).
Alma Brooks represented the Confederacy at the June 2014 UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. She discussed the Wabanaki/Wolostoq position on the Energy East pipeline. Opposition to its construction has been a catalyst for organizing:
- "On May 30 , 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.
2015 Grandmothers' Declaration
These and other preparatory meetings set an agenda for the August 19–22, 2015, meeting which produced the promised Grandmothers' Declaration "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
On October 15, 2015, Alma Brooks spoke to the New Brunswick Hydrofracturing Commission, applying the Declaration to current provincial industrial practices:
- She criticized 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 cited traditional knowledge of floods, quakes and salt lakes in New Brunswick;
- Criticized 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:
- Noted "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 since 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 [ferns], and medicines."
- The "duty to consult with aboriginal people...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
The term Wabanaki Confederacy in many Algonquian languages literally means "Dawn Land People".
literally "Dawn Person(s)"
|"Dawn Land Person"
||"Dawn Land People"
or the "Wabanaki Confederacy"
Maps showing the approximate locations of areas occupied by members of the Wabanaki Confederacy (from north to south):
Western Abenaki (Arsigantegok, Missisquoi, Cowasuck, Sokoki, Pennacook
- Toensing, Gale Courey. "Sacred fire lights the Wabanaki Confederacy", Indian Country Today (June 27, 2008), ICT Media Network
- Howe, Miles. "Rebuilding the Wabanaki Confederacy", Halifax Media Co-op (September 3, 2012).
- Prins, Harald E.L., and McBride, Bunny, "Asticou's Island Domain: Wabanaki Peoples at Mount Desert Island 1500–2000," (National Park Service, 2007)
- "Wabanaki tribes cheer UN declaration that defends their rights". Bangor Daily News — BDN Maine. Bangordailynews.com. 2010-12-19. Retrieved 2016-06-27.
- "Ally". Maine-Wabanaki REACH. Retrieved 2016-06-27.
- "Wabanaki Water Convergence ceremony – Kairos". Nationtalk.ca. 2013-05-31. Retrieved 2016-06-27.
- "Kairos Times: October 2013". Kairoscanada.org. 2013-10-15. Retrieved 2016-06-27.
- "Letter from Algonquin Grandmothers, attending Wabanaki Confederacy Conference". Nationtalk.ca. 2013-10-11. Retrieved 2016-06-27.
- Warden, Rachel (2014-06-06). "Indigenous women unite at UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues". Rabble.ca. Retrieved 2016-06-27.
- ""Energy East pipeline poses 'enormous threat' to environment:" Advocates for renewable energy hold parallel summit". NB Media Co-op. 2013-10-14. Retrieved 2016-06-27.
- "The stories of Energy East in New Brunswick | Ricochet". Ricochet.media. Retrieved 2016-06-27.
- "WABANAKI CONFEDERACY CONFERENCE" (PDF). Abenakitribe.org. August 2015. Retrieved 2016-06-27.
- "Wabanaki Confederacy Conference Statement 2015". Willinolanspeaks.com. Retrieved 2016-06-27.
- "Alma Brooks: Statements to New Brunswick Hydrofracturing Commission Oct 2015". Willinolanspeaks.com. 2013-10-18. Retrieved 2016-06-27.
- 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
- Indian Treaties
- Native Languages of the Americas: Wabanaki Confederacy
- "Wabanaki People—A Story of Cultural Continuity", timeline curriculum by Abbe Museum
- Dr. Harald E. L. Prins, "Storm Clouds over Wabanakiak Confederacy Diplomacy Until Dummer's Treaty (1727)", Wabanaki Confederacy website
- Miingignoti-Keteaoag, a partnership for the way of life of the Wabanaki Nations