To spear fish, the Algonquin floated their light
canoes out onto a lake or river.
Algonquin chiefs were known as ogima or ogema. A new chief was usually chosen by the tribal council from among the late chief's sons, nephews, and sons-in-law (the chiefs had to be men). Women gathered herbs, berries, and nuts, took care of the children and the house, and cooked all the food (they also made maple syrup from tree sap). Only men were allowed to hunt animals, to fight and protect the tribe, and to negotiate with other tribes. When they didn't fight with the Iroquois, the Algonquin traded with them, exchanging animal skins for tobacco and corn. This trade relationship was very important to the Algonquin, who did not grow many crops themselves.
Algonquin men wore fur cloaks to
cover their bodies.
The Algonquin generally wore tanned animal hides. Often, the clothes would be decorated with beads, shells, or paint. Occasionally, they even wore a cloak covered almost completely with feathers. Usually, women wore dresses or leather shirts and skirts, held up with a belt, and decorated their heads with a cloth band or cap. Men only used breech-cloths and moccasins, but would sometimes wear a fur cloak over half of their body. While women wore their hair long, usually in a braid, and with one lock of hair longer than the rest, each Algonquin man had a unique hairstyle. A couple of them include shaving one half of the head and let the other half grow long, or shaving everything but a line down the center of the head. The Algonquin wore brightly colored paint made with berries, root juice, charcoal, and soot, and some men got tribal tattoos to mark themselves as permanently part of their tribe.
Shamans used herbs and other natural
cures to help people. They were said to
have special healing powers.
The Algonquin believed in an all-powerful creator and lesser spirits, both good and evil, that were constantly present around them. They believed that the spirits of the dead could also come back to haunt the living or to guide them. The shamans, or medicine men, of each tribe would be responsible for communicating with the spirits and advising the people as to what they should do in addition to healing the sick. Though this was common for most Native American tribes, the Algonquin were unusual in that they passed their property and hunting grounds down from father to son (called a patrilineal system).
Wampum belts were designed with
white or purple shells, and made
very often by Algonquin craftsmen.
The Algonquin were known for their basket-weaving and beadwork, but they also made something that was called wampum, a valuable bead made of purple and white shells. They would create belts with wampum designs that told a story, often a story about the person who had made the belt. When the settlers arrived, they traded guns and other materials to the Algonquin for furs and wampum. The Algonquin became very friendly with the settlers, and soon became one of the first tribes to ally with the French. However, when the Dutch, and later the English, came to North America as well, they allied with the Iroquois and defeated the French and all their Native American allies, including the Algonquin. Eventually, they were only allowed a small area in which to live.