Algonquin history – Early Native Americans

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Algonquin arrowhead in yellow and white stone - Algonquin history

Algonquin history: Algonquin arrowhead from about 1 AD. It’s made from stone imported from south of the Great Lakes

From Athabascan to Algonquin

Algonquin tradition says that people who called themselves Algonquins first lived along the Atlantic Coast, in the north-eastern part of North America, north of the Iroquois and south of the Inuit (in modern Canada).

More about the Iroquois
Or about the Inuit
All our Native American articles

Probably sometime before 1000 AD the Algonquin came from Athabascan land further west (and thousands of years before that, the Athabascans came over a land bridge from Siberia in Asia).

What’s this land bridge?
Who were the Athabascans?

The Algonquin  language is related to the languages of other Athabascan people like the Cree and the Blackfoot, the Navajo and the Apache. By the 1400s AD, the Algonquins had moved back a little to the west, along the St. Lawrence river.

Who were the Cree?
Where did the Blackfoot live?

Hunters and gatherers

Algonquin people mainly hunted and gathered their food, traveling in small nomadic bands. In the short northern summer, they met in larger groups for fishing and religious ceremonies, like their relatives the Blackfoot further west. When fall came, they split up again into small bands and left for their own hunting territory, which was passed on from father to son.

History of fishing

Trading with the Iroquois and the Cree

The Algonquins lived too far north for farming, (it was too cold and dark), so they got corn and beans by trading with (and raiding) the Iroquois to their south. Algonquin traders used their canoes to travel long distances on the St. Lawrence River to trade with people as far away as the Cree on the Great Lakes.

History of corn
Where did beans come from?

Did you find out what you wanted to know about Algonquin history? Still have questions? Read about what happened to the Algonquin when Europeans arrived in North America in the 1500s, or ask your question in the comments below!

Learn by doing: rent a canoe and paddle around
More about the Algonquin

Bibliography and further reading about Algonquin history:


Later Algonquin people
Cree people
Blackfoot people
Native Americans home

By |2019-01-22T14:48:50+00:00August 8th, 2017|History, Native American|4 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Algonquin history – Early Native Americans. Study Guides, August 8, 2017. Web. January 24, 2019.

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.


  1. Toni Koder January 6, 2018 at 2:26 pm - Reply

    How did the Algonquin tribe come to north America?

    • Karen Carr January 7, 2018 at 10:39 am

      Whoops! I should totally have made that clear at the beginning of this article. I’ll revise it right away – thank you for pointing that out! The short answer is that their ancestors probably came over from Asia with other Native Americans around 20,000 BC, using the land bridge caused by an Ice Age lowering ocean levels. One group, the Athabascans, stayed in Alaska and Canada while other Native people spread out to the south. Later on, maybe around 15,000 BC, the Athabascans also spread out, going mostly eastward: the ones who stayed home are the Blackfoot, and the east-going ones are the Cree and the Algonquin. Much later, about 1300 AD, some Athabascans also moved south – those are the Navajo and the Apache. These groups all speak related Athabascan languages.

  2. Henry Grismore January 5, 2018 at 1:39 am - Reply

    Is Algonquin related to eskimos

    • Karen Carr January 5, 2018 at 3:54 pm

      Any individual Algonquin could be related to Inuit people (that’s what we call Eskimos nowadays!). But as a group, no, Algonquin people are not descended from the same group as Inuit people. You might want to read our article about the Inuit here:

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