The Eastern Woodland Indians

The Eastern Woodland Indians



The term Eastern Woodland Indians refers to the many tribes of native North Americans who originally lived in the forests that extended the entire length of the eastern seaboard, across the boreal forests of the Canadian Shield as far north and west as the headwaters of the MacKenzie River that flows into the Arctic Ocean.

Notwithstanding the difficulties with travel and communication within that vast territory, and despite the fact that there were three major language families and a multitude of tribes that spoke their own dialects of those languages, there was a common glue that held the Eastern Woodland Indian culture together. It was the system of governance – the universal authority, obligation and responsibilities undertaken by each of the seven clans in the areas of leadership, protection, education, hunting, physical welfare, spiritual welfare and sense of community. The system of governance was known as dodem…a word misinterpreted for hundreds of years by non First Nations people.

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Wherever a traveler went within the immense Eastern Woodland Indians’ territory the question that would be asked of the newcomer was, “Who is your grandmother?” and the answer would determine where the visitor was stationed round the fire. Clan membership for the Eastern Woodland Indians was handed down through the mother’s line and knowing his clan meant knowing much of the man. Knowing his clan meant knowing what he had been trained from birth to contribute to his community. Knowing his clan meant knowing what he could be counted on to provide for the common good.

The exception to this particular clan system of the Eastern Woodland Indians, was the Iroquois confederacy in that that tribe had its own language, system of governance and social patterns.

The Eastern Woodland Indians were hunters and gatherers but given that there were such enormous differences in habitat and terrain from one end of the territory to another, it meant that there were also differences in types of housing, food resources and clothing. Those tribes that lived in the southern part of the continent learned basic farming techniques, for example.

Farming meant that a tribe became less nomadic and required a somewhat different social structure than the small itinerant family groups that depended on following the game for their existence.

About Author:

Nokomis is an Ojibwa elder and storyteller who grew up on a trap line north of Lake Superior seventy years ago. She shares her art and stories at

. Learn more about

Eastern Woodland Indians

at her Web site.

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