The Wabanaki Confederacy (Waponahki) — translated as “People of the First Light” or “Dawnland” — currently comprises five principal nations: the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot and Abenaki, and stretches from Newfoundland in the north, to mid-Maine in the south, and parts of Quebec in the west.
Historically, the confederacy united five Algonquin language-speaking Indian tribes. While the Wabanaki Confederacy was disbanded in 1862, the five Wabanaki nations still exist and remain closely aligned, in part because all peoples claiming Wabanaki lineage have forbearers from multiple Wabanaki and colonial ancestries.
As Europeans settled and seized land, the Wabanaki were relegated to remote and isolated places. Such is still the case today. A large share of the nearly 7,800 members of the four Wabanaki tribes in Maine reside in Aroostook and Washington counties — the northern and eastern portions of the state — in what are among the most economically challenged counties in the country. These counties are heavily dependent upon natural resource-based, seasonal industries. Aroostook County, home to the Micmacs and Maliseets, has historically been a major potato producer, an industry that has become increasingly centralized and mechanized. Washington County, where the two Passamaquoddy reservations are located, is known for blueberry production, fishing and wreath-making.
All of the tribes, including the Penobscot, have highly skilled artisans who continue to produce beautiful works of art — baskets, drums, carvings, canoes, jewelry and other traditional items.
Additional information on the Wabanaki tribes and associated museums, landforms, waterways, and nomenclature can be found by visiting our Wabanaki Trails site.
Aroostook Band of Micmac
The Mi’kmaq are a First Nations people, indigenous to Maine, Atlantic Canada and the Gaspé Peninsula of Quebec. With the recent recognition of the Qalipu First Nation of Newfoundland and Laborador, the Micmac Nation now comprises 30 Bands with a total population of some 65,000 members. There are various explanations for the origin of the word Mi’kmaq, often centered on the concept of “the family.” The Aroostook Band received Federal Recognition in 1991 and has approximately 1,100 members in Maine, the majority of who reside in Aroostook County. While the tribe has no reservation lands, it owns 1,350 acres of fee and trust land in the vicinity of Presque Isle – north as far as Stockholm and south as far as Littleton. The Aroostook Band is governed by a Chief, Vice Chief and a Tribal Council of ten members.
Houlton Band of Maliseet
Before contact with Europeans, the Maliseets occupied the Saint John River valley and its tributaries, a portion of which is now considered the eastern border line of the United States between Maine and the provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec. They called themselves Wolastoqiyik “People of the Beautiful River” after the Wolastoq River at the heart of their territory and pursued a primarily agrarian economy. Today, the larger Maliseet Nation has approximately 5,000 members. The Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians gained Federal Recognition in 1980 and has approximately 1,340 members, many of whom live in Aroostook County. The Houlton Band regards the Meduxnekeag River as home and owns parcels of fee and trust land totaling 880 acres. The governmental structure includes a six-member Tribal Council and an elected Chief.
The Penobscot are a sovereign people indigenous to what is now Atlantic Canada and the northeastern United States, primarily Maine. The name “Penobscot” is derived from Penawapskewi, which means “rocky part” or “descending ledges” and originally referred to the portion of the Penobscot River between Old Town and Bangor. The Penobscot Reservation consists of 4,866 acres of land that includes Indian Island and an additional 200 islands in the Penobscot River. Following the Indian Land Claims Settlement Act of 1980, the tribe acquired 86,378 acres of Trust Land and another 27,693 acres of fee land. Today, the membership of Penobscot Indian Nation is 2,365 people, with one-quarter of that number living on the reservation. Penobscot Nation is one of the oldest continuously operating governments in the world. The Tribal Council consists of 12 elected members and is led by the Tribal Chief and Sub Chief, each of whom is elected individually.
The Passamaquoddy Tribe, having two locations, is represented by the Joint Tribal Council which consists of the individual Tribal Councils of Indian Township, in Princeton, and at the Pleasant Point Reservation (Sipayik) in Perry, Maine. The St. Croix River (previously known as the Passamaquoddy River and the Schoodic River) serves as the International boundary line between the USA and Canada. This boundary cuts through the middle of the Passamaquoddy ancestral homeland. The Passamaquoddy have occupied this area which includes the St Croix River watershed region for well over 600+ generations (12,000+ years). The name “Passamaquoddy” is an Anglicization of a word meaning “those of the place where pollock are plentiful,” recognizing the importance of fishing as a source of food and economy. A total of 3,575 tribal members are listed on the tribal census rolls with 2,148 listed on Pleasant Point census and 1,427 on the Indian Township census.