Monday, October 14, 2013

Algonquian tribes?

Q: I was looking for information on the Statue of Liberty and on U.S. National Park Service website they write ”In 994 A. D., the first people to occupy the island were Native Americans. These Native Americans, members of the Algonquian tribes, visited …..”-  and so on. When I googled these tribes, I read on your page: "There is no Algonquian tribe." Is the park service website wrong?? Or are you?

 A: We're both correct, though we could both have used slightly clearer language. :-) The park service website might have said "members of the Algonquian-speaking tribes," if they wanted to be more precise, and we might have said "there is no Algonquian tribe, although there are many tribes that speak Algonquian languages."

Algonquian isn't a tribal name, in other words. It's an anthropology and linguistics term used to refer to a group of related Native American languages. The Ojibwe tribe is an Algonquian tribe (or again, to be a little more specific, an Algonquian-speaking tribe.) So is the Cheyenne tribe, and so is the Wampanoag tribe. They can't understand each other's languages, but they are all related, just like the English, French, and Russian languages are all related to each other. But there is no Indo-European culture-- there's England, and France, and Greece, and Russia, etc. Similarly, there is no "Algonquian culture"; there's Ojibwe, and Cheyenne, and Blackfoot, and Wampanoag, etc.

So it's a little confusing, but not really incorrect, to refer to the Ojibwe, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, and Wampanoag collectively as "Algonquian tribes." But there still is no single "Algonquian tribe" that they all belong to. Their cultures are not the same, and they've never been under the same tribal leadership.

The Algonquian-speaking people native to the New York City area near where the Statue of Liberty is located were primarily Delaware, Mohican, and Wappinger tribes, by the way.

Hope that clears things up, have a good day!
Native Languages of the Americas

Further reading:
Algonquian language family
New York Indian tribes

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