Wabanaki is roughly translated at “People of the First Light” and the
Wabanaki Confederacy is a Native American confederation of five nations: the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Abenaki and Penobscot. The Wabanaki peoples are located in Maine, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick, and parts of New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Quebec. (Note: I spell Mi’kmaq as Micmac, both here and in the Rhe Brewster Mystery series. It’s because I found Mi’kmaq too difficult to type in a hurry!)
This confederacy united five of the Algonquian language-speaking
Peoples and beginning in 1688, members of the Wabanaki Confederacy participated in six major wars on the side of the French. before the British defeated the French in North America. During this period, their population was radically decimated by the decades of warfare, famines and devastating epidemics.
The Confederacy also played a key role in the American Revolution, as a result of the Treaty of Watertown signed in 1776. This treaty established a military alliance between the United States and the Micmac and Passamaquoddy nations, and warriors of both nations fought in the Revolution. Wabanaki soldiers from Canada are still permitted, due to this treaty, to join the US military, and have done so during the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars.
The Wabanaki Confederacy was forcibly disbanded in 1862, but in 1993 the confederacy meetings were revived and the first reconstituted confederacy conference was hosted by the Penobscots; the sacred Council fire was lit again, and embers from the fire have been kept burning continually since then.
The Micmac (Mi’kmaq, L’nu, Mikmaw), who play a role in the second and third of the Rhe Brewster Mysteries, today live in Newfoundland and the northeastern region of Maine. The nation has a population of about 40,000, of whom nearly 11,000 speak their language. The name “Micmac” was first recorded in a memoir by Charles de La Chesnaye (1632 -1702), a French businessman active in Canada
Before the English and French came to their part of North American, the Mi’kmaq lived a life of seasonal movement between dispersed interior winter camps and larger coastal communities during the summer. They harvested fish during spawning runs of smelt and herring in the spring, collected waterfowl eggs, and hunted geese. The coast offered abundant cod and shellfish, and ocean breeze brought relief from the biting black flies and mosquitoes (I can attest they are as large as birds!). In September they harvested American eels, then returned to their winter camps to hunt moose and caribou. Moose were the most important animal hunted by the Micmac and they used every part of the body: meat for food, skin for clothing, tendons and sinew for cordage, bones for carving and tools. The weapon they used most for hunting was the bow and arrow.
In the 16th century, early European fishing camps for catching and dry-curing cod for shipment traded with Micmac fisherman and expanded the trade to include into furs. This led to fewer coastal camps of Micmacs, instead gathering them into centers of trade.
I had a wonderful lunch with John Denis, a Micmac elder, in Caribou, Maine, last February. During the course of our conversation, I asked him a great deal about what had happened to the Micmac during the settlement of America by Europeans. When I mentioned I had read quite a bit about the effects of this settlement on Native Americans, he said, “Then you do not know the real truth of it because everything you read is written by white people.”