Odanak Village
Québec, Canada

Abenaki carving in Odanak church

Along the Rivière St-François, near the village of Pierreville, there's a village called Odanak, a reserve for the Riviere St-FrancoisAbenaki People of the Algonquin Indians. They are referred at times as the St. Francis Indians.

Abenaki take their name from a word in their language meaning "dawn land people" or "easterners." As Europeans arrived on this continent, the Eastern Abenaki occupied what is now the state of Maine, except for its northern and easternmost portions. The Western Abenaki lived in the rest of northern New England, from New Hampshire to Lake Champlain. Birchbark housing

Around 1600, there were nearly 14,000 Eastern Abenaki and 12,000 Western Abenaki, but diseases, particularly measles and smallpox, reduced these numbers by 78% and 98%, respectively, within a few decades.

At contact, all Abenaki were hunters, fishermen and gatherers. Attempts to adopt agriculture did not succeed until after the fur trade developed with Europeans.

Abenaki grandmother

Natives adapted quickly to the fur trade and thus became participants in the world economy. They traditionally lived in villages near falls on major rivers when migratory fish could be harvested. At other times they dispersed in family groups to the coast or to small camps on interior tributaries. These camps became the bases of trapping territories during the heyday of the fur trade.

Abenaki father

Some of the ancestors of the Abenakis here originally lived along the Kennebec River in Maine, where they had been in contact with Jesuit missionaries. As English settlement spread into the lower Kennebec in the early 1700, conflict was nearly constant, often initiated by English settlers. Matters came to a head in 1724, when, during a time of peace, a Massachusetts surprise attack on a Jesuit mission resulted in the murder a French priest, Father Rasles, and many Kennebecs. Surviving Western Abenaki withdrew into refugee communities.

Abenaki mother

Marguerite Hertel, owner of the St-François seigneury, ceded some of her land as a refuge for displaced Native Americans, and the villages of St-François and Bécancour in Québec eventually became the scene of the reconstitution of Abenaki life under the severe tutelage of Jesuits who demanded more cultural assimilation here than they had on the Kennebec. Abenakis were not entirely safe even here; Odanak was destroyed by the British in 1759, apparently in retaliation for the Abenaki long alliance with the French.

When the fur trade declined, many turned to the lumbering industry, canoe manufacture, and basketry. After Confederation, Odanak became a federal Indian reserve. Today, most Abenaki are engaged in the mainstream occupations of Québec and New England. They continue to be known for the quality of their basketry and their lively folklore. However, the stories are now told in English or French, for the Abenaki language is spoken only by a few folks here at Odanak.

Catholic church interior Catholic church at Odanak

Of particular interest is the Mission Church, an earlier version of which had been burned by New England raiders. Since Vatican II validated the use of local culture and art in Catholic churches, fine wood carvings depicting traditional Abenaki life have been added. Unfortunately, the church earlier had discouraged the maintenance of the ancient culture.Abenaki Wampum Necklace

Abenaki Wampum Necklace or Stole was given by the Abenaki to Notre-Dame Catheral in Chartres, France.

The reserve has an excellent museum, and through its exhibits, one can explore the Abenaki culture in some detail.

As always, the hospitality at Odanak is superb and the food delicious..

Abenaki lunch