PEOPLE OF THE DAWNLAND
In the Family Discovery Center, Jones House
According to Tribal oral tradition, Abenaki people have lived in the place now called New Hampshire for more than 12,000 years -- since before Tribal memory. The Abenaki are part of a larger group of indigenous people who called themselves Wabanaki or “People of the Dawn,” and form one of many communities connected by a common Algonquian language family. From present-day Newfoundland to the mid-Atlantic, these peoples also shared traditions, beliefs, and resources, and were connected by trade networks and family relationships.
Just as people enjoy vacationing on the Seacoast today, Abenaki people came to this area seasonally to set up camps for hunting, fishing, and food preparation.
This space is dedicated to learning more about the People of the Dawnland, past and present, by exploring their culture, arts, foodways and storytelling traditions.
Objects found by archaeologists in the Puddle Dock neighborhood of Strawbery Banke include pottery and stone tools; and demonstrate that Native people have been here for millennia.
In 2021, museum staff worked with the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook-Abenaki People and the Indigenous New Hampshire Collaborative Collective to build a wigwam on the museum grounds, near the location. Wigwam is the word for “house” in the Abenaki language.
The frame of this Wigwam is made from young red maple saplings; however, red willow or swamp maple can be used. Saplings are bent and woven together to make a domed shape. Once the frame is constructed, it is tied together in order to ensure a secure structure. A doorway is created facing east, in the direction of the rising sun. A wigwam would typically then be covered with birch bark, red oak bark, or elm bark, in order to create a dry, warm shelter that would last anywhere from 2 to 5 years. However, the structure at Strawbery Banke has been left uncovered for now so that visitors can see the internal structure.
This wigwam would be the typical size to house a single family. Inside a family home, you would find a line of bench-style seating built around the perimeter, covered with furs for sitting and sleeping. There would be a center fireplace for heating the wigwam, and various items would hang from the rafters for storage.
Traditionally, wigwams can vary in size, from temporary hunting shelters that housed two or three people, to large ones for an extended family. Some larger, more elongated structures that would have had multiple fire hearths inside could be used for community gathering spaces. An Abenaki community would have been home to multiple families, each with their own wigwam.
“We’re Still Here”
Today, according to the latest US Census, there are over 7,000 Native Americans and Alaska Natives living in New Hampshire. These are Abenaki people, as well as people from other tribes across the United States who have made NH their home. Other Abenaki people live across the U.S. and Canada. Native people are members of our schools, our neighborhoods, and our communities.
Although Abenaki people today live modern lifestyles and live in modern homes, many also honor traditions, which may include making special meals or practicing traditional arts.
Traditional Abenaki Arts
For thousands of years, the Abenaki have made intricately handcrafted goods to meet their everyday needs, working with materials supplied by the natural world around them. Abenaki homes, clothing, weapons, canoes, baskets, pottery, cradleboards, etc. were practical yet beautifully made because Abenaki aesthetic traditions ask that an object made for daily use should be visually appealing as well as functional.
Today there is a revitalization of Abenaki culture underway throughout N’Dakinna (Abenaki territory, literally “Our Land”) – and a whole new generation of people of Abenaki descent are expressing a renewed interest in preserving their heritage by learning and practicing the traditional crafts of their ancestors.
We are on the homelands of the Abenaki people, who have ongoing cultural and spiritual connections to this area. We acknowledge the land and the people who have stewarded it through the generations.
Liz Greene Charlesbois, Abenaki, creates intricate patterns in birch bark, using her teeth.