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The Abenaki

2009 March 1
by Hillary

So when trying to find a group for this panel i thought it would be interesting to look into a group of Native Americans and how the gender roles of the group inter-played with the technologies of the group. I picked the Abenaki (also known as the Wabanaki, as well as many other names) because I am part Native American and am unsure as to which group I’m related to and there is a good chance it might be the Abenaki or the Mohawks. I chose the Abenaki because they are from the Northeast, specifically Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, as am I. I thought they would have developed some interesting technologies to survive in the often harsh climates and not incredibly fertile land of Northern New England and Canada.

Any way, while doing the research for this group i realized there wasn’t much out there about the group before the English french settlers came, except for work done by this one anthropologist, who is an Abenaki, Frederick Matthew Wiesman. He starts his book Reclaiming The Ancestors by talking about how the Abenaki have been considered “dumb” in comparison to other groups of Native Americans (specifically the Iraqoui). They were considered “dumb” because they “were not” as technologically advanced as the Iraqoui and that any technology they did have came from the Iraqoui. Weisman’s goal is to rectify this by looking at new archeological data and retelling the story of the Abenaki and how in fact they were extremely technologically advanced. He proposes an amazing theory that he supports with a lot of data about their ability to do it and it’s usefulness for explaining an interesting mitochondrial DNA anomaly. He proposes that the Wabanaki had the ability to travel across the Atlantic in the gulf stream and reach Europe, in small trips, well before Europeans made it to America.

I feel this reclaiming of the Wabanaki’s story and capabilities is important to this class because of the importance of technology and how a group’s, (a kin’s) use of it defines what people think of them, in modern times. Because they were a relatively small and dispersed group of people their achievements have been over looked and thusly this group has almost been treated in a similar fashion as women and technology (either women who develop it or use it). They have been marginalized and considered incapable of developing technologies, when in fact they were quite technologically advanced. Also i think it is really interesting that technology, (the creation of and use of) is being used to divided up groups of Native Americans much like it is used in dividing up genders. And how by being tied with a certain group there are preconceived ideas of your technological skill.

Something else i have found while doing this research is that while there were specific gender roles, the men hunted and fished, and the women kept house and made things, they as a whole decided things together (like if they were going to go to war) and there was a mutual respect for the powers of each gender.

Sorry my thoughts are alittle all over the place, i’m still working through many of them as i read more and more. I would love to hear anyone’s thoughts on this stuff.

4 Responses
  1. Guinevere permalink
    March 1, 2009

    I like your idea of the Wabanaki as a marginalized group in overarching Native American society and your analogy of that with women in our human society. Have you been able to find any significant information on gender roles within the Wabanaki? I understand it might be difficult, considering how little they seem to have been studied. Either way, I can’t way to hear more about your ideas on Monday!

  2. Hillary permalink
    March 1, 2009

    there really hasn’t been much done on specific gender roles beyond the stratification of men hunt and fish, and women take care of the homes and make things that they might need, such as baskets and clothes. I did find that while they are a patriarchal society, the councils that decided stuff for the tribes were made up of men and women. In general ALL adults were part of the education and general care taking of the other generations (young and old). i find it interesting that in the culture that has a mutual respect for the genders, is a culture that is based on respect for the land and animals and everything else around them.

  3. Lorraine permalink
    March 2, 2009

    I was very interested in your exploration of the Abeneki nation. I have a very close friend who is Abenaki and an artist. Much of her work is inspired by Abenaki myths. Her mother ran a museum on the reservation at Odenak, Quebec, and was also very interested in their culture. I’d be happy to talk to you more about this if you are interested.

  4. Baibh Cathba permalink
    March 2, 2009

    I think this is fascinating stuff! I mean, why do people consider “primitives” those who are “not up to technological par”? I particularly honed in on your mention of the women who drove the technological advances part of the post. Was most of the technology driven by women medical or art or other? (I mean, you might not know… that’s cool too ^_^)

    Not to get too preachy up in here, but “primitive” was actually the “PC” term for anthropologists when we were still using the little “color wheels” to determine race and establish our white superiority over the other races.

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