Abenaki of the St Lawrence Valley

In the late 1670s, during a period of conflict with the New England colonies, several hundred Abenaki found refuge in the St Lawrence Valley. They first settled in the Québec region along the Chaudière River before migrating west at the end of the 17th century. They then split into 2 communities: the Odanak (Saint-François-du-Lac) and the Wôlinak (Bécancour). The village of Odanak was more densely populated, comprising more than 1500 people at the end of the French Regime, while the Wôlinak then numbered fewer than 300.

Since the mid-1700s the Abenaki have been part of the Seven Nations of Canada. Due to their location south of the St Lawrence River, their villages were considered strategic for the defence of New France. The Abenaki continued to play an active role on the North American military scene until the War of 1812. Due to warfare and disease the population declined after the Conquest, and by the middle of the 19th century there were approximately 550 Abenaki in the St Lawrence region.

The Abenaki of Odanak and Wôlinak raised crops but also dedicated several weeks a year to hunting. Their hunting territories generally were located south of the St Lawrence, but in the 19th century, when game was scarce, they ventured more frequently to the north side of the river, which provoked tensions with the Algonquin. Since the early decades of the 19th century, the importance of hunting in the Abenaki lifestyle rapidly declined, and they turned to producing and selling crafts, notably baskets. For the Abenaki of Odanak, basket making became an industry, and this activity remained very profitable until the early 20th century, with sales mainly to the United States.

Since 1986 Odanak and Wôlinak have been united in the Great Council of the Waban-Aki Nation. The council advocates for the expansion of Abenaki communities, the acquisition of hunting and fishing territory, the expansion of pine plantations, and the development of a variety of small and medium businesses. By 2007 the Québec Abenaki population had increased to approximately 1900, with 1500 at Odanak and 400 at Wôlinak. Smaller Abenaki communities and family groups live elsewhere in Québec.

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