Penobscot Indian tribe (Eastern Abnaki, Penawahpskewi, Penobscott)
The Penobscot tribe, together with the Mi'kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, and Abenaki Indians, were once members of the old Wabanaki Confederacy, enemies of the Iroquois. These allies from the eastern seaboard region spoke related languages, and "Abenaki" and "Wabanaki" have the same Algonquian root, meaning "people from the east." The Penobscot are not affiliated with the Abenakis today, and distance themselves from the Abenaki of New England. There are 3000 Penobscot Indians now, most of whom live in Maine. Famous Penobscot people include Louis Sockalexis and Molly Spotted Elk.
Members of the Wabanaki Confederacy, the Penobscot Indians were longstanding enemies of the Iroquois, particularly the Mohawk. This led them to side with the French and Algonquins in the costly war against the English and Iroquoians. The English paid out bounties for dead Penobscots, but it was European diseases (especially smallpox) that really decimated their nation, killing at least 75% of the population. Still angry with the British, the much-reduced Penobscot tribe supported the Americans in the Revolutionary War, and in reward for picking the winning side they were permitted to stay on reservations in their native Maine, where they and their Passamaquoddy allies live to this day.
Recently the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot Indians--despite formidable harassment from white neighbors--successfully argued that their treaty rights had been violated, and in 1980 received a settlement of $81 million for land that was illegally stolen from them. The Penobscot tribe was able to buy back some of their ancestral lands, and today they are a sovereign nation working to maintain their traditions, language, and self-sufficiency.
Abnaki is an Algonquian language spoken today by only a few elders in Canada. Penobscot or Eastern Abenaki, a dialect mutually comprehensible with Abnaki, 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.