Of Algonkian origin[1], the name of the Waban-Aki Nation comes from the terms "W8ban" (white light) and "Aki" (land) meaning, according to anthropologist Frank. G. Speck "people of the dawn".  According to the times and customs, the spelling and designation of this people will vary. However, today, the name "Abenaki" is most often used to describe
ntify the members of the communities of Odanak and Wôlinak, which make up the Waban-Aki Nation in Quebec. Proud of their cultural heritage and language, the Abenaki also identify themselves as "W8banakiak" from the "W8banaki" Nation. This etymology is derived from one of the oldest indigenous linguistic forms, where the symbol "8" would express a nasal "o".

When the Europeans arrived, the W8banakiak shared vast forest areas in what is now southern Quebec, the United States, and the United States.
Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and part of New Brunswick[2]. In the 17th century, many villages dotted the territory of the W8banakiak[3].  At that time, there were six major entities: the Canibas or Kennebecs, the Pennacooks, the Passamaquoddies, the Penobscots, the Sokokokis and the Arosaguntacooks or Assagunticooks[4]. To these must be added the Etchemins, whose name would evoke the oldest W8banakiak with access to the St. Lawrence Valley.  At first contact, their population would have been about 26,000 individuals[5]. American ethnologists tended to group them into confederates, but overall it can be agreed that there were subdivisions into smaller or larger nations and that the latter could include sister groups[6].


The W8banakiak considered the forest as a living environment where the territorial space was associated with seasonal cycles. This space was almost a part of the natural environment, and it was the constraints of the same environment that determined its limits. The W8banakiak cultivated the land in semi-sedentary villages located in forest areas. Their agriculture, mainly corn, required them to move their village after about fifteen years.  They also picked wild fruits when the season and environment suited it. Their living space was also limited to the shores of lakes and rivers where they had better access to wildlife resources. 
In winter, family groups could travel long distances to access hunting grounds far from the towns. Obviously, the presence of wildlife resources close to the flying camps was essential for the survival of family hunting groups. It must be understood, however, that only individuals with sufficient physical capacity participated in large winter hunts[7]. The other members of the families who lived in the village consumed the small game from the surrounding area[8] and the reserves from seasonal agriculture. In addition, when W8banakiak travelled over greater distances, it was usually systematic and to the same locations[9]. All in all, survival still imposed restrictions on comings and goings in the heart of the great woods and customary trails that marked out the traditional Aboriginal space. The W8banakiak did not wander through the vastness of the forest in search of food. Their semi-sedentary way of life rather implied a relative sedentary lifestyle in stationary towns and a nomadism through seasonal spaces.

The w8banaki territorial space is also reflected in the organization of their society. As with most Algonkians in the forest, there are areas reserved for small family hunting groups and a wider geographical area; that of grouping in bands or towns. All in all, the village had a much larger forest area than the simple hunting group. This extensive awareness of the environment, both spatial and social, would be at the root of the idea of a nation within Algonkian society itself[10]. The boundaries of a nation's territorial space were established on the basis of the presence of sufficient wildlife resources to ensure its survival, but also on the basis of the ability of its members to occupy or defend the territory. It must be understood, however, that since the W8banakiak are also farmers, it is the village that represents the main place where the nation is anchored and that it is the centre of it[11]. The winter hunting territories constitute territorial margins which are seasonal extensions of the village. The village itself is subdivided into huts, which generally house an extended family of about 16 to 20 people[12]. Among the W8banakiak, the idea of a "small nation" is certainly appropriate for groups of several hunting families in towns[13]. Moreover, in the 17th century, the many villages were part of a vast socio-cultural group[14]. 

The boundaries between groups, or by extension nations, were most often delineated by the watersheds of the main rivers[15]. On the other hand, there were also places where people could gather to trade with other nations. These seasonal "rendezvous" locations were usually located at a relatively remote nautical junction[16]. In fact, the river systems of the main rivers represented the transportation routes.

Although the W8banakiak practiced subsistence agriculture, in relatively permanent towns, seasonal nomadism and by extension predation remained essential to the survival of communities. Also, by considering that a nation could be smaller or larger, the number of watersheds associated with the territory of the same nation could vary. Obviously, the carrying capacity of the environment in terms of wildlife resources was also a determining factor in the traditional representation of the territory.



As early as 1604, even before Quebec City was founded, the Champlain explorer considered the Chaudière River (Kik8tegw) as an access road to the W8banakiak (Etchemins) territory from the St. Lawrence River[17]. Also, in 1629, Champlain clearly identified W8banakiak located south of Quebec City with whom he was negotiating[18]. In fact, on a map published in 1632, a village of Abenacquiauoict is located inland, near a tributary of the Chaudière River and north of the Kennebec River. On the other hand, in 1637, W8banakiak were "cabanés" at the mouth of the Saint-Maurice River, an important Aboriginal trading place[19].

By the middle of the 17th century, some groups were already well established on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River. In 1653, W8banakiak, which are currently identified on a map as Almouchiquois (Eastern Abenaki[20]) and Socoquiois (Sokokokis), are located in the St. Lawrence Valley. Other historical sources indicate that in 1669, three winter "cabanages" were six, nine and twelve leagues from the entrance to the Bécancour River (W8linaktegw) opposite Trois-Rivières[21]. Further west, the W8banakiak have been on the banks of the St. Francis River (Alsig8ntegw) since at least 1676[22]. 


Moreover, by the end of the 1640s, the W8banakiak were present at the Sillery[23] (Mk8mki) mission near Quebec City. Until 1683, they settled in large numbers, despite repeated epidemics[24]. At that time, wolves (Mahigan) and other Sokokokis were also present in the St. Lawrence Valley[25]. These are related nations that some ancient documents refer to as "sister" W8banakiak groups[26]. In fact, there is a continuous back and forth between the various towns of New England and those of the St. Lawrence Valley. For good reason, from 1675 onwards, wars with Anglo-American colonials favoured these migrations[27]. In 1685, wolves were also located in the vicinity of Chambly, where they settled to cultivate the land[28].

In 1683, a new mission dedicated to the W8banakiak was created along the Chaudière River, opposite Quebec City. Soon Sillery will be completely abandoned in favour of the Sault de la rivière Chaudière mission. The latter will be open for about fifteen years before being closed by the Jesuits. At the turn of the 18th century, the French founded two new missions in the central St. Lawrence Valley. Through a series of alliances with the W8banakiak, they strengthened their military apparatus, while strengthening the fur trade in the Trois-Rivières region[29]. However, the territory of the Chaudière River is not completely neglected by the W8banakiak, especially since this river remains a natural passage linking the northern and southern parts of the Ndakinna.

The two new missions, Odanak on the Saint-François River (1700) and Wôlinak on the Bécancour River (1708), enabled various groups of W8banakiak to consolidate within military villages and to assert themselves in the central and southern St. Lawrence Valley. At the same time, the French also favoured the installation of W8banakiak in Chambly[30], on the eastern shore of the Richelieu River (Masesoliantegw). Moreover, a little further south, W8banakiak groups have been occupying the Missisquoi Bay area (Masipskwebi) since at least 1680[31]. In the following century, the French periodically served a mission there. In 1738, Missisquoi had more than twenty traditional cabins, representing about 400 w8banakiak residents[32]. 

In the 1670s, other Aboriginal people from various nations moved to another mission on the west side of the Richelieu River, south of Montreal (Caughnawaga). Soon this mission will welcome Mohawks, the majority of whom will soon be there, the site being located within the limits of Iroquois territory[33]. The Richelieu River then became a dividing line between their territory and that of the W8banakiak. In addition, some islands in the Lake Saint-Pierre archipelago, then called "the Richelieu Islands", are the subject of intensive hunting by the W8banakiak. These islands are considered to be part of the w8banaki territory[34]. Even today, the Richelieu River still constitutes the western border of the W8banaki Nation's ancestral territory in Quebec.

Thus, in the 17th and 18th centuries, in addition to the W8banakiak already present in the St. Lawrence Valley, several groups from the southern part of the Ndakinna will officially migrate to the missions in the St. Lawrence Valley[35]. In the middle of the 18th century, there were more than 700 W8banakiak in Odanak, 300 in Wôlinak, 240 in Sartigan (Beauce) and about 400 in the Missisquoi region[36]. In addition, several hundred W8banakiak from the American part of the Ndakinna will be staying in the St. Lawrence Valley. Around 1760, at the time of the British takeover of Canada, the W8banakiak territory in southern Quebec extended from the Richelieu River in the west to the area around Montmagny in the east[37]. In the following century, however, colonization in the Eastern Townships and elsewhere in the southern St. Lawrence Valley would restrict access to hunting grounds between the St. Lawrence River and the Canada-U.S. border[38]. Even the creation of a new reserve in Coleraine will not be enough to ensure hunting south of the river. In this context, family hunting groups will have no choice but to fall north of the St. Lawrence River.


The presence of W8banakiak on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River dates back to the 1640s, when the W8banakiak of the Sillery Mission certainly had access to the forest on the north shore of the river. In fact, during the 1670s and 80s, marriage alliances were formed between them and the Algonkians of the Laurentian forest who frequented the Sillery mission[39]. As early as 1704, to justify their presence in the Lac-Saint-Jean region, the W8banakiak claimed that hunting grounds located in Haute-Mauricie were theirs because of its alliances[40]. Also, to access these more northern territories, the W8banakiak of Odanak and Wôlinak will use the Mauricie rivers[41].

It was in the 19th century, however, that the W8banakiak gradually extended their hunting north of the St. Lawrence River, mainly in the Lanaudière and Mauricie regions. Families of W8banakiak residents then find themselves nomadic in the watersheds of rivers such as the Saint-Maurice[42]. Small groups of related hunters also engage in more commercial activities in areas much further north[43]. 

At the turn of the 20th century, Aboriginal people faced a new form of forest appropriation that tended to eliminate their hunting in favour of private hunting and fishing clubs. Moreover, some W8banakiak will find themselves employed by these same private clubs[44], while others, by necessity, will work in forest sites. For the latter, industrial exploitation certainly represented a different universe compared to the traditional use of forest resources. Also, at the same time, the W8banakiak economy was undergoing a profound transformation, with the trade in ash baskets taking centre stage, and the production of ash baskets would expand at an unprecedented rate.


Today, the W8banaki Nation has more than 3,081 members, 634 of whom are from the Wôlinak community and 2,447 from the Odanak community. Also, the W8banaki Nation proudly assumes its cultural heritage and diligently asserts its ancestral territory in respect of traditions, but also in a perspective of sustainable development.

Mario Marchand, Historian

Ndakinna Office, Grand Council of the Waban-Aki Nation.

1] Claude Chapdelaine, Images de la préhistoire du Québec, La recherche amérindienne au Québec, vol. VII, no bones 1-2, Montréal, 1978, p. 43-54. Les “Algonquins” Voici les Indiens nomades et semi-nomades de la forêt, qui appartiennent à la même famille linguistique et partagent globalement une culture similaire. 2] Sylvie Savoie, Les Algonquins et la forêt du Québec vers 1600, Inverness, Projet Wataban, Conseil de bande des Abénaquis de Wôlinak et Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, avec la collaboration d’Alain Cuerrier, 2004, p.13. 3][Jésuites], 1658, p.22. Jesuit Relations, contenant la plus remarquable des missions des Pères de la Compagnie de Jésus en Nouvelle-France 1611-1672, 6 volumes, Montréal, Éditions du Jour, coll. “Bibliothèque de Québec, 1972. 4] Joseph-Pierre Anselme Maurault, Histoire des Abénakis : de 1605 à nos jours. Imprimé dans l’atelier typographique de la Gazette de Sorel, Sorel, 1866, p. 5-8, Maurault parle de sept grandes tribus abénakises, dont les Etchemins qui parlaient abénakis. 5] Sylvie Savoie, op.cit. , p.13. Par confédération, il faut concevoir une entité socioculturelle plutôt qu’un groupe politique comme tel. En effet, Paul-André Sevigny dans Les Abénakis, habitat-migration 17e-18e siècle, Montréal, Bellarmin, 1976, p.87-88, mentionne : “Les zones d’influence, qui sont monnaie courante aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles Ce sont les deux concepts les plus importants de la confession, qu’ils soient politiques ou religieux. 7] Maurault (1845), Mission de Saint-Maurice, p. 131-132. F. Andrieux, JSM Dumoulin, PM Maurault et E. Payment. Mission de Saint Maurice. Rapports sur les missions du diocèse de Québec, 1839-1849, 1851-1853. 8] Sylvie Savoie, op.cit. , p.102. La chasse au petit gibier était également pratiquée sur les longues journées et près des campements saisonniers.

9] Joseph-François Lafitau, American Indian Mores Compared to the Mores of the First Times, 2 volumes, Paris, Maspéro, 1983, vol 2, p. 52-53.
10] Mario Marchand “La représentation sociale de l’espace traditionnel des autochtones par rapport à celui du territoire des autochtones : l’exemple de la forêt mauricienne, 1534-1934”. Cahiers de géographie du Québec Vol. 56, N o 159, décembre 2012, p. 567-582.
11] Joël Bonnemaison, Géographie culturelle, Cours universitaire, Paris IV-Sorbonne, 1994-1997, Paris, Éditions C. T. H. S., 2000, p. 27.
12] Marcel Trudel, Le régime militaire dans le gouvernement de Trois-Rivières 1760-1764, Édition du Bien Public, Trois-Rivières, 1952. p.20-23. Paul-André Sévigny, op.cit. p.55 et Marc Laberge, Affiquets, matachias et vermillon. Ethnographie illustrée de l’Amérique du Nord-Est algonquienne XVIe, XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles, Montréal, La recherche amérindienne au Québec al. signes des Amériques, 1998, p.131-139.
13][Jésuites], op.cit. 1611. p. 1-16 et 1647, p. 53.
14] Ibid. , 1658, p.22.
15] Ibid. , 1611. p. 1-16.
16] Olive Patricia Dickason, Les Premières Nations du Canada, Des temps les plus reculés à nos jours, Sillery, Québec, Septentrion, 1996 72-73 et Roland Chamberland, op.cit. p. 153-204.

17] Samuel de Champlain, Des Sauvages, présenté par Alain Beaulieu et Réal Ouellet, Montréal, Éditions Typo, 1993, p.101, note 4 et Sylvie Savoie et Jean Tanguay op.cit. , p. 30.
18] Paul-André Sévigny, op.cit. , p 64.
19] Sylvie Savoie et Jean Tanguay, op.cit. p. 30-35.
20] Olive Patricia Dickason, op.cit. , p.107.
21] Raymond Douville, Visages du Vieux-Trois-Rivières, volume 1, Beauport (Québec), Éditions de La Liberté, 1988, p. 24-25, et Jan Grabowski, “Le” petit commerce “entre la Trois-Rivières et les Amérindiens en 1665-1667”, RAQ, vol. 28, no 1, 1998, p. 111.
Maxime Boily, “Les terres amérindiennes dans le système seigneurial : Land Models of Sedentary Missions in New France “, Université Laval, Québec, 2006, p. 191.
23] Sylvie Savoie et Jean Tanguay, op.cit. p. 32.
24] Maxime Boily, op.cit. p. 46. Entre 1637 et 1689, il y a eu près de 1 500 morts indigènes à la mission de Sillery.
25] Ibid, p. 178.
26] Ibid, p. 179.
27] Ibid, p. 121 et Maxime Boily, op.cit. , p. 181.
28] Paul-André Sévigny, op.cit. , p. 112.
29] Ibid, p. 166.
30] Ibid.
31] Ibid, p. 161-162.
[32] Thomas-M. Charland, op.cit. , p.70-73.
33] Maxime Boily, p. 90-91.

34] Antoine-François Prévost, Histoire générale des voyages ou nouvelle collection de toutes les relations de voyage…, Livre III, volume 28, Amsterdam, 1774, p, 448-449. Certaines îles de l’archipel du lac Saint-Pierre sont considérées comme faisant partie du territoire abénakis.
35] Thomas-M Charland, op.cit. p. 11-42, et Lucie Gill, “The Abenaki Nation and the Territorial Question”, Native American Research in Quebec, vol. XXXIII, no 2, 2003, p. 71-74.
36] Mario Marchand, Les Ndakinna de la nation W8banaki au Québec, Document sommaire sur les limites territoriales, Rapport de recherche historique, Bureau de Ndakinna, Grand Conseil de la Nation Waban-Aki, Wôlinak, avril 2015.
37] Doyen d’honneur, Les Abénakis du Canada et le pouvoir civil, Conference Text, Société historique du Québec, no 8, 1985,