Indigenous peoples of the Northeastern Woodlands include Native American tribes and First Nation bands residing in or originating from a cultural area encompassing the northeastern and Midwest United States and southeastern Canada. It is part of a broader grouping known as the Eastern Woodlands. The Northeastern Woodlands is divided into three major areas: the Coastal, Saint Lawrence Lowlands, and Great Lakes-Riverine zones.
The Coastal area includes the Atlantic Provinces in Canada, the Atlantic seaboard of the United States, south until North Carolina. The Saint Lawrence Lowlands area includes parts of Southern Ontario, upstate New York, much of the Saint Lawrence River area, and Susquehanna Valley. The Great Lakes-Riverine area includes the remaining inland areas of the northeast, home to Central Algonquian and Siouan speakers.
The Great Lakes region is sometimes considered a distinct cultural region, due to the large concentration of tribes in the area. The Northeastern Woodlands region is bound by the Subarctic to the north, the Great Plains to the west, and the Southeastern Woodlands to the south.
Around 200 B.C the Hopewell culture began to develop across the Midwest of what is now the United States, with its epicenter in Ohio. The Hopewell culture was defined by its extensive trading system that connected communities throughout the Eastern region, from the Great Lakes to Florida. A sophisticated artwork style developed for its goods, depicting a multitude of animals such as deer, bear, and birds. The Hopewell culture is also noted for its impressive ceremonial sites, which typically contain a burial mound and geometric earthworks. The most notable of these sites is in the Scioto River Valley (from Columbus to Portsmouth, Ohio) and adjacent Paint Creek, centered on Chillicothe, Ohio. The Hopewell culture began to decline from around 400 A.D. for reasons which remain unclear.
By around 1100, the distinct Iroquoian-speaking and Algonquian-speaking cultures had developed in what would become New York State and New England. Prominent Algonquian tribes included the Abenakis, Mi'kmaq, Penobscot, Pequots, Mohegans, Narragansetts, Pocumtucks, and Wampanoag. The Mi'kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Abenaki, and Penobscot tribes formed the Wabanaki Confederacy in the seventeenth century. The Confederacy covered roughly most of present-day Maine in the United States, and New Brunswick, mainland Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Island, Prince Edward Island and some of Quebec south of the St. Lawrence River in Canada. The Western Abenaki live on lands in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts of the United States.
The five nations of the Iroquois League developed a powerful confederacy about the 15th century that controlled territory throughout present-day New York, into Pennsylvania and around the Great Lakes. The Iroquois confederacy or Haudenosaunee became the most powerful political grouping in the Northeastern woodlands, and still exists today. The confederacy consists of the Mohawk, Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca and Tuscarora tribes.
The area that is now the states of New Jersey and Delaware was inhabited by the Lenni-Lenape or Delaware, who were also an Algonquian people. Most Lenape were pushed out of their homeland in the 18th century by expanding European colonies, and now the majority of them live in Oklahoma.
See also: Eastern Agricultural Complex
The characteristics of the Northeastern woodlands cultural area include the use of wigwams and longhouses for shelter and of wampum as a means of exchange. Wampum consisted of small beads made from quahog shells.
The birchbark canoe was first used by the Algonquin Indians and its use later spread to other tribes and to early French explorers, missionaries and fur traders. The canoes were used for carrying goods, and for hunting, fishing, and warfare, and varied in length from about 4.5 metres (15 feet) to about 30 metres (100 feet) in length for some large war canoes.
The main agricultural crops of the region were the Three Sisters : winter squash, maize (corn), and climbing beans (usually tepary beans or common beans). Originating in Mesoamerica, these three crops were carried northward over centuries to many parts of North America. The three crops were normally planted together using a technique known as companion planting on flat-topped mounds of soil. The three crops were planted in this way as each benefits from the proximity of the others. The tall maize plants provide a structure for the beans to climb, while the beans provide nitrogen to the soil that benefits the other plants. Meanwhile, the squash spreads along the ground, blocking the sunlight to prevent weeds from growing and retaining moisture in the soil.
Prior to contact Native groups in the Northeast generally lived in villages of a few hundred people, living close to their crops. Generally men did the planting and harvesting, while women processed the crops. However, some settlements could be much bigger, such as Hochelaga (modern-day Montreal), which had a population of several thousand people, and Cahokia, which may have housed 20,000 residents between 1050 and 1150 CE.
For many tribes, the fundamental social group was a clan, which was often named after an animal such as turtle, bear, wolf or hawk. The totem animal concerned was considered sacred and had a special relationship with the members of the clan.
The spiritual beliefs of the Algonquians center around the concept of Manitou (//), which is the spiritual and fundamental life force that is omnipresent. Manitou also manifest itself as the Great Spirit or Gitche Manitou, who is the creator and giver of all life. The Haudenosaunee equivalent of Manitou is orenda.
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