Abenaki Flag
Abenaki Flag

American Beaver
American Beaver

Turtle Island: Storytelling Peopling North America:How? North American Culture Areas of Native Americans Maps

The Abenaki are a group of Native Americans that occupy ancestral lands in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and north into Canada up into the reaches of Quebec.

The name for the tribe is also written as Abnaki, Wabanaki, and Wapanaki and the Algonkian word itself is Wapanahki which means "those living at the sunrise", or "people of the dawn land", or "easterners."

The Abenaki group are often merged with other Native American groups that settled in the area of the Northeast of North America, for example the Penobscot, Norridgewock, Passamaquoddy, and Pennacoock. There are more groups that comprise the Algonkian speaking tribes.For a more well defined history of these people consult the website, The Raid on Deerfield:The Many Stories of 1704.

The 1704 Raid on Deerfield is a confluence in Colonial and Native American history when all the groups involved: English colonists, Huron, Mohawk, French from Quebec and Wobanaki (Abenaki, Pocumtuck, Pennacook, and Sokoki) all converged in one place, the fort at Deerfield that was situated on lands of the Indians and the Deerfield River.

The raid is that point in colonial history when the average student has the opportunity to ask why the colonists did not better defend themselves or even leave after all the warnings? Why did the Native Americans ally with the French? What did the French have to gain from the attack? A thoruogh read of the website might answer some of the questions and encourage even more queries.

View of  Mt. SugarloafIn keeping with the understanding of geography, geology and the surrounding patterns of the world, the Abenaki and Pocumtuck shared deeptime stories which adequately translates to the landscape from eons ago.

Amiskwôlowôkoiak - the People of the Beaver-tail Hill is an example of a deeptime story that has been explained by an authorized storyteller from the Abenaki tribe. This story illustrates a good example of proper storytelling.

The above picture is  a view of the Connecticut River from South Sugarloaf.
Holyoke Range visible in the background. Taken on 24 November 2007.

Suggested Lesson Resources:

A read of The Geology and Cultural History of the Beaver Hill Story by Marge Bruchac (Abenaki) which further explains how the landscape in the Connecticut River Valley was geologically formed. This summary provides the scientific reasons for how the mountains were formed.

Then read Amiskwôlowôkoiak - the People of the Beaver-tail Hill which provides the Pocumtuck deeptime legend for the beaver shaped tail hill.

One may want to read the complete article : Earthshapers and Placemakers: Algonkian Indian Stories and the landscape, by Margaret Bruchac, 2005.

Briefly: Mt. Sugarloaf as called by the English and Wequamp (Pocumtuck name) provides a scenic and recognizable landmark in the Connecticut River Valley. The geologic description for the formation of the mountain states that glaciers and earth movements in the area formed the present day mountain range.

Furthermore, the area is inhabited by many beavers and the reference to gigantic beavers, Castoroides ohioensis averaged nine feet long , and were extinct by the time the Natives settled in the area but no doubt the smaller beavers were plentiful in the valley.

Does one see the shape of a giant beaver head and body with his
arms and legs submerged under the water as he lays dying?

Suggested Lessons:

1. Compare both stories for the communication of the facts in science and Abenaki/Pocumtuck storytelling regarding the beaver. If one had no knowledge of the scientific explanantion how informative would the Abenki story be? Does the Abenaki story provide a greater meaning about the environmnt and the importance of the beaver?

2. Research the beaver and its impact on the environment and how the environment has constantly changed and whaat has happenend to the beaver. A notable fact about beavers is that they mate for life and that their place in the environment has been under great stress.

Visit the Living with Wildlife section on beavers to learn more about these animals because they greatly influenced the exchange between early colonial colonists and the Native Americans that lived in the New England colonies and up in Canada.


Native American lore states that the beaver is about building your dreams into real-life.
This totem is also symbolic of family, intuition, and balance
American Beaver


This site was created by Diana T. Mackiewicz at the NEH Summer Institute "Native Americans of New England: A Historical Overview," administered by the Five Colleges, Inc. and held at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, MA, Summer 2013. Last updated August, 2013.