Manual The Little Water Medicine Society of the Senecas (Civilization of the American Indian Series)

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Iroquoian-speaking peoples relied primarily on cultivated corn, beans and squash. Fishing, hunting and gathering supplemented these domestic crops. White-tailed deer were one of the most important game animals except in the north, where moose were the staples. Some coastal peoples hunted seals as well as freshwater fish, eels , molluscs and crustaceans. Waterfowl and land birds were seasonally important in some areas. Fur bearers, especially beaver , were significant to trade-based economies. Peoples in the area gathered and ate a variety of berries , nuts , tubers and plants; and some groups harvested maple and birch sap.

While Iroquoian women planted and harvested, men were made to clear the forest for farming.


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Among most Algonquian peoples, horticulture for subsistence was largely marginal, except for the cultivation of wild rice in some communities. On the other hand, farming was important to the Wolastoqiyik economy, especially the growing of corn. The Ojibwe relied on wild rice, which was harvested in the late summer, and may have been responsible for its spread outside the lands where it was typically found. The Nipissing did some cultivating of corn, but they also traded fish and furs for Wendat corn. Hunting and fishing provided the bulk of sustenance for Algonquian peoples.

They hunted deer, bear , moose and caribou , and, where available, seals, porpoises and whales. In hunting they used bows, arrows, lances, traps, snares and deadfalls, and used hooks, weirs, leisters and nets to fish. Meat was either boiled or roasted for immediate consumption or smoke-dried for future use. In the Great Lakes area, Algonquian peoples also collected maple or birch sap in the early spring. The enduring presence of settler-colonial political and social frameworks brought about considerable culture change among all Eastern Woodlands groups.

Hunting, gathering and fishing have become marginal subsistence activities except among some nations, for whom fishing has remained a significant source of income, but not without its challenges. Agricultural practices declined as reserve populations grew, lands were partitioned and new employment opportunities arose. Crop storage among the Iroquoian peoples permitted sedentary permanent and fenced-in settlements ranging from small hamlets with a few families to towns where as many as 2, persons resided.

Population density was high among the Wendat. Although estimates vary, there may have been from 70, to 90, northern Iroquoians at the time of contact. A typical village contained a large number of elm - or cedar -bark longhouses. Seasonal activities among the Algonquians tended to inhibit a strictly sedentary existence, although the abundance of certain food, especially fish and some horticulture, permitted a greater degree of sedentation than among Subarctic peoples farther north.

Dwellings were smaller and less permanent than among Iroquoians, varying from conical birchbark tipis to domed wigwams or rectangular structures that housed several families. Village size varied seasonally, with the largest population concentrations generally occurring in summer. The Iroquoians travelled mainly on land or in elm-bark or birchbark canoes. Trade and visiting appear to have been common activities among neighbouring Algonquian peoples. They also traded with Iroquoian peoples, importing corn and fish nets from the Wendat, for example.

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Clothing of the Eastern Woodlands Indigenous peoples was made of animal skins and furs. While the men hunted animals for hides as well as for meat , women were responsible for tanning the skins and creating the clothing. Women also decorated the clothing with beads, quills and other natural products. Typical clothing for the people of the Eastern Woodlands included robes, breechcloths, leggings and skirts. For footwear, people wore moccasins , which are slipper-like shoes made out of animal hide.

Prior to contact, the largest political unit among most Eastern Woodlands Algonquian peoples appeared to be the band-village, a community consisting of various bands. Each band or band-village possessed at least one chief, whose position was usually hereditary within the male line. Patrilineal groups designated by an animal totem seem to have been characteristic of Eastern Woodlands Algonquian peoples. Village-band territories were not strictly demarcated, and all members had access to basic subsistence resources.

In Iroquoian society, longhouses sheltered several related families. As well, descent, inheritance and succession followed the female line. One or more households formed a matrilineage. Several lineages composed an exogamous clan — where individuals must marry outside the social group — designated by a particular totem emblem.

Clan mates among the Haudenosaunee, regardless of village or community affiliation, considered themselves to be siblings. Nations were composed of 3 to 10 clans whose members were scattered in several villages. Among some groups, clans were united into moieties kinship groups. Most Iroquoian peoples possessed both civil chiefs and war chiefs.

The Haudenosaunee Confederacy had a council of about 50 permanent and hereditary offices, which have survived in modified form to the present. Condolence ceremonies commemorated deceased confederacy chiefs, bestowing upon their successors the honorary names associated with the office. The Wendat had a similar political system. Intricate beadwork and quillwork is one feature of Eastern Woodlands art. Iroquoian peoples often decorated clan symbols on their longhouses. Beadwork was sometimes more than decorative; it could hold political meaning.

Eastern Woodlands peoples created wampum , tubular purple and white beads made from shells used for ornamental, ceremonial, diplomatic and commercial purposes. In some early treaties, wampum belts featured the major tenets of the agreement. To accept a wampum belt in formal council was to agree to adhere to the principles embodied in its woven design. The wampum thereafter served to help perpetuate the memory of the treaty. In some Eastern Woodlands cultures, art was also expressed on the body.

Tattooing of the face and body was common for both men and women. A noteworthy art form of the Haudenosaunee is the False Faces, wooden masks with metal eyes and, sometimes, horsehair that were carved by men for use in curing ceremonies see False Face Society. A revitalization of certain aspects of traditional cultures, including languages, arts, crafts, dances and rituals, as well as a greater political awareness, has served to reinforce identity and esteem after more than three centuries of cultural erosion by colonialists.

In contemporary art, the Woodland school of art refers to the colourful and pictographic paintings of artists such as Norval Morrisseau , Daphne Odjig , Jackson Beardy and Alex Janvier. Featuring supernatural beings, animals or people, this art expresses Indigenous identity and culture see Indigenous Art in Canada and Contemporary Indigenous Art in Canada.

Iroquoian languages belong to two branches, a southern one composed of Cherokee, and a northern branch that includes the Erie, Neutral, Wenro, Haudenosaunee, Wendat, Petun and St. Lawrence Iroquoians. The languages of the St. Lawrence Iroquoians, the Wendat, Petun and Neutral are all extinct. Efforts are being made to bring back the Wendat language. These languages are still spoken today, but they are endangered see Indigenous Languages in Canada.

Languages within each branch show a high degree of mutual intelligibility, with the Central Algonquian forming dialect chains. The Haudenosaunee had a number of medicine societies focused on healing, the best known being the False Face Society. During ceremonies, members wore elaborately carved wooden masks. The Haudenosaunee also practised the Longhouse Religion, a blend of ancient Indigenous traditions and innovations introduced by the Seneca prophet Handsome Lake.

Algonquian peoples practiced Midewiwin Grand Medicine Society. Once widespread, the Midewiwin became less prevalent after the arrival of Europeans in the 18th and 19th centuries. Generally speaking, Indigenous peoples in the Eastern Woodlands possessed religious specialists known as shamans. Among the Algonquian, the shaman performed magical rites to ward off evil spirits, such as the Windigo , and assisted in locating game. Shamans in Iroquoian communities performed similar roles, ensuring the spiritual and physical well-being of their people. Eastern Woodlands peoples and their shamans engaged in healing practices and in seasonal rituals often associated with crop harvests and periodic feasts.

The Wendat, for example, held elaborate Feasts of the Dead , usually at the time when villages were to be moved to new locations. The bones of dead relatives were gathered and placed in mass graves with personal items. Algonquian peoples also held Feasts of the Dead, although they were not identical to those of the Wendat. During the 17th century, these feasts attracted large numbers of people, often from several nations.

Vision quests associated with the acquisition of a personal supernatural guardian existed among Eastern Woodlands cultures. Generally speaking, young males would venture out alone into the wilderness with no food or water and wait for a spirit guide to reveal to them great knowledge. In some nations, such as the Odawa and Menominee, young girls also participated. Once the adolescent performed the quest, they returned to their village an enlightened adult. Berlin, Brent. Speculations on the growth of ethnobotanical nomenclature. Folk systematics in relation to biological classification and nomenclature.

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