The Northeastern Woodlands
include three very different regions occupied by two distinct
linguistic groups :
lived on the Atlantic seaboard and the southeastern part of the
Canadian Shield while
Iroquoian-speaking peoples lived in the Great Lakes - St
Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia, Aboriginal People: Eastern
groups extended from Lake Superior to the Ottawa Valley,
and east to the Atlantic coast through present-day New
England and the Atlantic provinces.
On the Atlantic coast,
groups like the
Mi'kmaq and the Maliseet benefitted from both coastal
and inland resources. Food
from the sea included fish, shell fish, seals, eels,
dolphins and small whales; however, especially in the
winter, big game like caribou or deer was
also hunted. The abundant food source allowed a
semi-sedentary lifestyle, with seasonal moves between
coastal habitations and more permanent inland camps.
Further inland, other
Algoquian speaking peoples lived on the Canadian Shield
with more limited resources. They included the
Ojibwa (eastern Lake Superior), the Algonquin (Ottawa
River and tributaries), the Abenaki (southeastern
Québec). These groups were nomadic hunters-gatherers;
deer was the most important game animal except in the
north, where moose and caribou were the staples. Peoples
in the area gathered and ate a variety of berries, nuts,
tubers and plants like wild rice.
Fur bearers, especially
beaver, were significant to trade-based economies of the
Canadian Shield peoples, who traded meat, furs, medicinal
plants and berries with southern peoples in return for
agricultural products like corn and squash.
peoples of the Eastern woodlands could make use of the extensive
lake and river system to travel and trade. They developed the
birch bark canoe as the ideal mode of transportation travel by
rivers and lakes separated by narrow watersheds or portages.
Iroquoian-speaking peoples (the Iroquois Confederacy of Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca,
Tuscarora, along with the Hurons, Petun and Neutral) lived around the Great Lakes,
in areas that are now now southern Ontario, northern Ohio,
Pennsylvania and New York.
There they benefitted from fertile lands and could grow corn, beans and squash
(also known as "the Three Sisters"), but also
sunflowers (for oil) and tobacco.
Three Sisters is an Iroquois farming system. Corn, beans and
squash are planted together, or interplanted, in mounded hills.
The smallest of the sisters (representing the bean) was
harvested in late summer. The second sister (representing
squash) was harvested at the beginning of fall and the third
sister (corn) was harvested in late fall. Interplanting has
numerous ecological benefits. Beans, a member of the legume
family, are nitrogen fixing plants, meaning they take nitrogen
from the air and convert it into a natural fertilizer. When the
beans are harvested, the fixed nitrogen in their roots is
released, and fertilizes the ground for the next year’s crop.
The corn acts as a support for the beans, while the squash grows
out over the soil helping to control the weeds.
Farming was complemented by hunting
and harvesting berries, nuts,
tubers and plants as well as maple and
Traditional maple-sugar making.
Source: Moeurs des sauvages ameriquains comparées aux mœurs
des premiers temps. P. Lafitau, Paris, 1724. National
Library of Canada
Farming provided an abundant and stable food source which
allowed the development of a large population. The Great Lakes
was the second most densely populated area of pre-Contact
Canada. The Iroquoian-speaking
peoples lived in large
villages of around 2,000 people characterized by the long house.
Villages were semi-permanent; their location would be changed
every 10 to 15 years, when the fields around the villages were
no longer fertile enough.
houses were shared by 6 to 8 families, with a central fire (hearth)
for each family. Living and sleeping areas were on the sides,
and storage areas overhead.
Iroquoian-speaking people of the Great Lakes were wealthy
societies that developped complex political and economic
systems and high quality crafts.
The Iroquois and the Hurons had
political and religious systems, with a grand council of fifty sachems or
chiefs chosen by the clan mothers which met to reach consensus and
take collective action.
They developed intense economic
exchanges among themselves and with their Algonquian-speaking
neighbours and developed a form of currency called wampum
(shells sawn over hides to form distinctive patterns).