The Wabanaki People


The Wabanaki people are a group of Native Americans that originated from the Eastern United States and the Maritimes region of Canada. The Wabanaki or the “people of the dawn” are comprised of five tribes. These tribes are the Micmac, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, Maliseet and the Abenaki. Today, four of these tribes are found in various regions across Maine and eastern Canada. The Wabanaki people were considered to be the first Americans before Europeans landed on the continent in search of “The New World.” At first, the Natives were often seen as stand-offish assuming that the Europeans were there to drive Natives off their land. Later on, Natives seemed to open up to the Europeans, most importantly the French settlers. The Natives often quarreled with the English over the years, setting off a series of wars over the course of a century.

The Wabanaki people were separated into different tribes as the Europeans made landfall in Maine in the 1600s, as documented by French explorer Samuel de Champlain. The Penobscot Tribe originated from the central part of Maine. The Penobscot tribe is centralized in the present-day Bangor, Maine area. The Passamaquoddy tribe originated from eastern Canada, but establishes a presence along the Gulf of Maine and the St. Croix River. The Micmac or “Mikmaq” and Maliseet tribes both originated from the Maritimes and have significant populations in northern Maine, Atlantic Canada, and Quebec. The Abenaki has over 12,000 in existence across northern New England and parts of New Brunswick and Quebec.

The Wabanaki people were oral historians. Though very little written records noting their existence, the Wabanaki often told stories of their history to others. Many of their historical stories were based on one main character, Gluscap. Gluscap is considered to be a prophet, perhaps a god of the Wabanaki. According to the Wabanaki, Gluscap created the people by shooting an arrow into an ash tree. As a result, the people emerged from the trees. However, stories of Gluscap often differ between tribes.

The Wabanki people were often ambivalent towards European settlers when they arrived as early as the 17th century. One of the first notable explorers was Giovanni de Verrazano . When Verrazano made land fall in America, he encountered the Natives. The Natives believed that the Europeans were taking land from them without any form of consent. Since the incident with Verrazano, the Natives remained aloof with European explorers. The Natives began to develop a relationship with the French. The French often traded with Natives, and in return lived with the Natives and learned their culture and way of life. However, the Natives did not develop a good relationship with the British.

The British came to the Americas with the mindset that the land was never discovered and therefore was considered free to take. This often lead to a series of wars between the Natives and British colonists. One war took place in parts of New England known as the “King Phillip’s War.” Over 600 colonists and 3000 Natives were killed, including King Phillip, best known as “Metacom.” Natives would continue to lose more of their own people due to war and even diseases.

Scores of Natives were killed off due to diseases that were often carried by European explorers. Though Europeans had the medicine to ward off illnesses and diseases, the Natives lack the technology and medicine to treat them. Among the illnesses affecting the tribes was smallpox, typhoid, spotted fever and measles.