The Algonquian: Tribes & Facts

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  • 0:00 The Old New World
  • 0:46 Culture and Customs
  • 2:15 Beliefs
  • 2:50 Colonization
  • 4:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stacy Chambers
The Algonquian peoples were a vast network of tribes and chiefdoms chiefly joined by the language family they spoke: Algonquian. Learn about the Algonquian peoples' history, culture, and experiences with the early settlers.

The Old New World

The history of the New World and its people is as rich and varied as that of Europe. Many different tribes of Native Americans lived in what is now the United States long before the first European settlers set foot on the east coast. In Virginia, home to several tribes who spoke Algonquian, Native Americans were in the region at least 16,000 years prior to European settlement. Some of this area was the Chesapeake Bay region.

The Algonquian peoples were the largest group of Native Americans that lived in Virginia. They also lived as far north as Canada. They were people who were sometimes linked by language only (they are historically classified by the language family they spoke, Algonquian), other times they were joined by culture and customs as well.

Culture and Customs

In some ways, the Algonquian peoples lived similar lives to their contemporaries in other tribes. Like the Iroquois, the Algonquians lived in longhouses, which were long buildings covered in animal skins and grass that housed several families at once. They also farmed the land and hunted animals for food. They honed bones into fishing hooks and spear tips, and wove nets from weeds and grasses. While the men primarily took care of the hunting and fishing, the women tilled the land, growing maize, squash, and beans.

The Algonquian were patriarchal, meaning the tribe was a society governed and led by men. Hunting territory was passed from father to son, and women left their own families to stay with their husbands' after they were married. All chiefs were men - and they were not elected. Like some European monarchies, chiefs inherited their titles from their fathers. When the chief did not have a son, he gave his title to his first son-in-law. However, the Chief did not 'rule' in the sense that he made a decision and it was acted upon by the chiefdom. Each adult member of the chiefdom was given a say in matters, and the eventual decision was a consensus of opinions.

Families joined together in the summer months for weddings and rituals. When fall began, the chiefdom split into smaller groups of 30 people or fewer. Each family claimed a hunting territory. In this territory, they had to find a way to survive through the winter. Once the warm weather began again, the group would again come together.


Algonquians believed that every living being deserved respect. They strongly believed in respecting the cycle of life, be it observing seasonal changes or establishing new hunting ground to let an old ground regenerate. Dreams and visions held a great deal of significance, which is why their culture had shamans (men who could 'see' things others could not). A shaman might have a vision of where to find animals to hunt, and a youth who reached puberty would be sent on a quest of isolation so that his role in life would be revealed to him in a dream or a vision.

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