Population and Territory
The Algonquin are Indigenous peoples in Canada, whose home communities are located in western Quebec and adjacent Ontario, centring on the Ottawa River and its tributaries.
Algonquin should not be confused with Algonquian, or
Algonkian, which is used to describe a much larger linguistic and cultural
group, which includes the Anishinaabeg, as well as the Innu
Algonquin people are closely related to Ojibwe and Odawa,
with whom they form the larger cultural group known as the Anishinaabeg —
also known as Anishinaabek, or Anishinaabe in the
In the 2016 census,
40,880 people identified as having Algonquin ancestry.
Algonquin nations hunted, traded and lived in large territories
in the Eastern
Woodlands and Subarctic
regions, and were largely independent of one another. Like their Anishinaabeg
relatives, the Algonquin lived in easily disassembled birch bark
dwellings known as wigwams,
and shared knowledge of their culture through oral history. In the southernmost locations where both
climate and soils permitted, some groups practiced agriculture.
Society and Culture
The Algonquin lived in communities comprised of related patrilineal clans
(meaning they followed the male line of descent). Clans were represented
by animal totems such as Crane, Wolf, Bear, Loon and many others. The
communities were egalitarian, with leadership provided by respected elders and
heads of clans. Intermarriage within a clan was forbidden, even if the parties
were from separate communities.
Relations between an
and other Indigenous groups depended largely on local conditions. Generally,
relations between neighbouring communities were tempered by kinship ties
regardless of language or other designations. However, relations with the Haudenosaunee
(Iroquois) nations were turbulent, with hostilities most pronounced during the
17th and 18th centuries; however, some Algonquin lived peacefully alongside Catholic
Haudenosaunee at Oka,
reserve near Montreal.
The Algonquin language, also known as Omàmiwininìmowin,
is part of the Algonquian language family. The word Omàmiwininì, the
root of Omàmiwininìmowin, is often used by the community at large to describe
Algonquin people in particular.
The Algonquian linguistic group includes a number of
languages, including those of the Atikamekw,
Wolastoqiyik, Mi’kmaq, Innu,
and Oji-Cree. According to the 2016 census,
the Algonquian language group was the largest in Canada, with approximately 175,825
speakers. The majority of these speakers reside in Manitoba
(21.7 per cent); the rest live in Quebec
(21.2 per cent), Ontario
(17.2 per cent), Alberta
(16.7 per cent) and Saskatchewan
(16.0 per cent).
However, the Algonquin language is considered endangered,
with 1,575 people who identified the language as their mother tongue. Algonquin
communities actively work to promote and preserve their language through various
programs, such as community-led education initiatives and university-level language
courses. (See also Indigenous
Languages in Canada.)
DID YOU KNOW?
The Algonquin language is intrinsically linked to place names in Canada, as many early French explorers mapped or named topographic features using Algonquin words. For example, Quebec comes from the Algonquin word kébec, meaning “place where the river narrows.”
Religion and Spirituality
Though many Algonquin people were converted to Christianity
many Algonquin religious beliefs and customs persist. The underlying spirit or
life force in many Algonquin oral histories is Manitou,
a supernatural being that manifested in a number of different characters,
including the Windigo,
Wisakedjak and Nanabozo.
(See also Religion
and Spirituality of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.)
The Algonquin have been known to Europeans since 1603,
de Champlain encountered them with a number of allies at Tadoussac.
They became allies of the French along with the Innu
(Montagnais-Naskapi) and Huron-Wendat against
In order to facilitate the fur trade,
Algonquin groups made military and trade alliances with both Indigenous and
French allies. Throughout this period, war with the Haudenosaunee and disease
brought by European traders and missionaries decimated Algonquin communities,
weakening their political and territorial influence. (See also Epidemic.)
After the Peace
of Montreal in 1701, which ended hostilities with the Haudenosaunee,
many Algonquin people frequently travelled to Montreal and participated
actively in the fur trade. Once the British defeated the French in North
America and issued the Royal
Proclamation in 1763, Algonquin people had claim to large
portions of the Ottawa River watershed, though increasingly European settlement
threatened those rights.
During the 19th century, Algonquin communities began to
petition the government for lands to be set aside for reserves.
These communities were often established near former trading posts, where land
outside the reserve was being sold or granted to European settlers. This
continued into the 20th century, as further settlement and the establishment
schools threatened and undermined traditional Algonquin ways of
The lingering effects of residential schools, cultural
and generational dislocation, coupled with the seizure of traditional lands
have left many Algonquin communities in poor condition. (See also Social
Conditions of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.) However, many communities,
like the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan in Ontario, have taken action to address
systemic social issues with the establishment of community health programs,
daycare, supportive housing and other programs.
Many Algonquin communities remain active in fighting for Indigenous rights with ongoing treaty negotiation between the Algonquin people in Ontario and the Governments of Ontario and Canada. The negotiations represent an acknowledgement that Algonquin people never signed a treaty with the Crown, and therefore are entitled to lay claim to land never surrendered.
In October 2016, the Algonquins of Ontario signed a land claim
agreement-in-principle (i.e., a step towards a final contract) with the
Canadian and Ontario governments that covers 36,000 km2 of land
in eastern Ontario. As part of the deal, 117,500 acres (475.505 km2)
of Crown land will be transferred to the Algonquins of Ontario. In addition,
the Algonquin will be awarded $300 million total from both levels of
government, as well as rights to the land and natural
resources. Algonquin peoples in Quebec and other Indigenous nations, such
as the Haudenosaunee, have criticized the agreement-in-principle, arguing that
the land claim overlaps their territory. There is also a dispute over who
qualifies as Algonquin under the agreement. While the final details of what
will be Ontario’s first modern treaty may take years to ratify, it remains an
historic agreement — one that has taken 24 years to negotiate.