The Algonquin Nation is a patriarchal society which means that
the families were attached to the father side of the family. For
hunting territories were handed down from father's to son and in
case of a wedding; the woman would leave to go stay with her husband’s
The Chief was not elected, but inherited his title from his father.
In the eventuality where a Chief did not have a son, his title was
given to his first son-in-law.
It is also important to know that the Chief was more a spokesperson
than someone imposing his views. In fact, the decision making process
was very democratic because every member, be it a man or a woman,
was allowed to express its opinion and the final decision was a consensus.
During the summer, many families would get together for weddings
and other common subjects. They were extended families or families
that were not related to each other. During the warm season people
would stay in the same spot or move around the same area. It
was the time to gather food in prevision of winter. They would dry
meat, gather wild fruits, farm certain plants, find medicine plants,
etc. The food would then be used by the families when they traveled
to their hunting grounds and last them until the end of November,
when the winter season would start. Winter was a survival and subsisting
For that reason, once fall came around, the group would divide in
small groups of no more than 30 people. The reason was simple enough;
each family had a hunting territory of about 1000 square kilometers,
therefore, a bigger group would not have been able to
survive from the available resources.
The small groups were made of extended families such as a grand-father,
a grand-mother, their kids, the kids’ spouses and the grandchildren.
When the warm weather was back, the snow melting and the ice breaking,
the cycle would start all over again with the families going back
to their summer camps.
Today the communities are staying in one place and have built houses
and buildings. Even though they still practice traditional activities
such as hunting and fishing, people have jobs and the kids are in
At the base of the Anishinabeg’s beliefs is the notion of
respect. Which signifies that every animal, every plant, every stone,
etc., is part of the circle of life. Everything has its purpose
and deserves respect just as much as anything else. For that reason
only the necessary resources were harvested and offerings were
made as a thank you (with tobacco).
Another strong element of the belief system is the circle. Everything
revolves around a circle. Seasons are going through a circle, life
is a circle, etc. This was also reflected on hunting habits. It
meant that when families were moving to their winter territories,
they would use a different section every year, in rotation, in
order to give the forest time to regenerate.
A big significance was also given to dreams and visions. For example,
the shaman had visions that permitted him to know where herds would
be, therefore where the group should hunt.
That is also why, when they were reaching puberty, each group member
had to isolate himself and go on a vision quest where his name,
the name of his protecting spirit and his role in life (to become
a hunter, a medicine man, etc.) would be revealed to him.
The creation of the world
There are many interpretations, but according to the Anishinabeg
this is how the world was created: At the beginning of the world,
were master of the world and all living in peace. Then an incident
happened and animals started fighting with each other. This got the
creator, Kichi Manito mad. For that reason he decided to flood the
world and start a new one. Following the big flood, the world almost
disappeared; there was only one group left.
That is when Wisakedjak
told the animals that for the world to be revived one of them had
to dive to bring back to the surface a handful of dirt to allow
plants, trees and grass to grow back. The first one to try was the
was considered the best diver. He dove, stayed under water for
one complete sun and came back out of breath, almost dead. Duck decided
to try but was even less successful than loon. Then otter dove,
mink, then beaver, but none of them were able to bring back dirt.
Finally, the muskrat said that he did not get easily discouraged.
He said that sometimes he would have to dive many times to find
his food. So he dove, hoping to save the world.
He was gone for three
suns and everybody thought he was dead. Yet at the end of the third
day he reappeared. He looked dead, but was still breathing and
opened an eye and smiled as he opened his paw to reveal dirt. Wisakedjak
took it and put it on turtle back and that is how the new world
started to become the world we know today. Floating on turtle’s back.
Most of the traditional clothing was made of moose and deer hide,
the most common being the tunic, loincloth, leggings and moccasins.
In winter time bear fur was widely used, especially for capes.
For the smaller stuff such as toques and mitts, muskrat and beaver
fur was used.
The most important characteristic was that it was made of material
easy to find in the immediate environment and that did not take
long to undo.
A Pikogan was made of posts covered with bark. There was an opening
at the top for air circulation. The ground was covered of fir branches
that in turn were covered by fur or straw. People were inside only
when it was really cold outside and to sleep, otherwise they were
There were also more permanent dwellings built on hunting territories
where people were coming back year after year.
Anishinabeg were a hunting Nation which meant that mobility was
essential. Material used had to be light and easy to
Canoes were made of birch bark, sowed with spruce roots and render
waterproof by the application of heated up spruce resin and grease.
It was easy to move and the material readily available. During
winter, toboggans were used to transport material and people
used snowshoes to get around. For babies, takinagan were
to carry them. It was built with wood and covered with an envelope
made of leather or material. The baby was standing up with his
feet resting on a small board. The mother would then put the
takinagan on her back. This allowed the infant to look around
his surroundings, therefore start learning how everyday tasks
The Anishinabe language is part of the Algonquian family. It is
the widest First Nation language in the Americas. The Algonquian
includes the Innus, the Odjbway, the Atikamekw, etc. This means
though each Nation has its own language, they can discuss and understand
each other. Below are a few examples of Anishinabe words.
Kwey = Hi
Megwetch = Thank you
Pijashig = Bienvenue
Sigwan = spring
Nibin = summer
Tagwagi = autumn
Pibon = winter