The Abenaki tribe, together with the Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Mi’kmaq, and Penobscot Indians, were members of the old Wabanaki Confederacy, adversaries of the Iroquois. These allies from the eastern seaboard spoke related languages, and Abenaki and Wabanaki have the same Algonquian root, meaning “people from the east.”
The original Abenaki name for their specific tribe is Alnombak, “the people.” Today there are 2000 Abenaki Indians living on two reserves in Quebec, where they fled from British aggression in the 1600’s, and another 10,000 descendants scattered throughout New England. The Abenaki tribe is only officially recognized in Canada, and only the Canadian population still speaks the Abenaki language.
Abenaki (eastern): Alessikantekw, Amaseconti, Androscoggin, Apikwahki, Eastern Indians, Kennebec, Kinipekw, Kwupahag, Odanak, Ossipee, Panawahpskek, Penobscot, Rocameca, Wabanaki, Wabenaki, Wawinak, Wôlinak
Abenaki (western): Abenacquiouoict, Abnaki, Alnonba, Amoskeay, Arosaguntacook, Arsigantegok, Cocheco, Coos, Cowasuck, Koasek, Masipskwoik, Merrimac, Missiquoi, Nashua, Ossipee, Pemigewasset, Pennacook, Pequaket, Piscataqua, Souhegan, Winnibisauga
Abenaque, Abenaquioicts, Abenaquois, Abnaki,Mawooshen, Moasham, Obenaki, Openango, Oubenaki, Wabnaki
Modern Abenaki history has been a fugue of attrition and regrouping. Up to 75% of the Native Americans in New England were killed by European diseases in the 1500’s and early 1600’s.
Dozens of distinct tribes originally lived in this area, but after each disaster the survivors of nearby villages moved together for safety’s sake, and even Indian oral history became blurry about who was who. Since the Abenaki tribe tended to retreat into Canada to avoid attacks from the British and Iroquoians, England was left with the impression they were Canadian Indians, but in fact the Abenakis were originally natives of New England.
The Abenaki bands’ strategy of merging after heavy losses and keeping more powerful neighbors in the dark about their existence may have caused them headaches in getting federal recognition, but it has also ensured their survival, whether their neighbors are aware they are still there or not.
Abnaki, or Western Abenaki, is an Algonquian language spoken today by only a few elders in Canada.
Native speakers call their language Alnombak, Alnôbak, or Aln8bak (the 8 was a Jesuit symbol for a nasalized, unrounded ‘o’.) Penobscot or Eastern Abenaki, a dialect mutually comprehensible with Western Abenaki, was once spoken in Maine. Sadly, the last fully fluent speaker of Penobscot Abenaki has passed on, but several elders know something of the language and are working to revive the language in the Penobscot Nation today.
www.native-languages.org, one of the best online resources for Native Languages of the Americas. – This article first appeared at