The Algonquin tribes lived in houses called wigwams, made of poles covered with elm-tree bark. In winter the poles were covered with mats woven out of cattail stalks, because these were warmer than bark. The floor was earth that had been stamped down with the feet. A fire was built in the middle of the floor and smoke escaped through a small hole in the roof. Raised platforms around the sides were used for sleeping and sitting. The clothing worn by both men and women was usually made from deerskins. They wore soft shoes of deerskin called moccasins.
The men usually wore only a breechcloth during the summer. The women raised corn, squash, and beans, in small forest clearings. The men were forest hunters, and deer supplied most of their meat as well as fine skins for clothing. They made jugs and pots out of clay and knew how to make strong thread and twine from the inner bark of such trees as the swamp ash and linden. Until the white man came they knew nothing about metal, and made knives, needles and tools out of animal bones and stone. Their weapons were bows and arrows, knives, and battle axes called tomahawks.
The arrowheads, knives and ax heads were made of stone. One of the best things made by the Algonquins was the birchbark canoe, a boat that was strong enough to carry three people yet light enough to be carried by one man. It was made of a framework of light strong wood tied tightly together and covered with birchbark. Using a canoe, the Algonquin Indian could travel swiftly and silently through the forests for long distances. Their medicine men knew a great deal about healing herbs and roots, and many of the white settlers called upon them for help when they were ill. Algonquin Indian women had their own beauty aids. They used bear fat to keep their hair glossy, and wore their hair long, since this was considered beautiful. They put fish oil and eagle fat on their faces to keep the skin soft.
Sometimes they mixed red color into the fat to give color to the face, just as women do today when they put rouge on their faces. The men took even greater care of their hair than the women. They dressed it with bear fat every day and even mixed soot into it to make it look blacker than it was. They shaved their heads except for a ridge of hair in the middle of the head from front to back and often tied all sorts of ornaments like bits of shell and stone into it. They also painted pictures of animals and birds on their bodies and carried bags of paint about with them as part of their toilet kit. Both men and women liked to wear an embroidered band of skin around the head. In this they often stuck a row of feathers, but the big feathered headdress so often seen on Indians in the movies was not worn by Algonquin Indians but mostly by the Sioux, a tribe of the western plains. Each tribe had a chief who was the leader in peace and war, but serious problems were discussed by a kind of mass meeting of all the people of the tribe.
This meeting was often called a powwow, a word now used in the English language also. At the powwow a big fire was built and everybody sat around it and ate food. Some sang sacred songs and offered prayers. There was much pounding of drums, shaking of rattles, singing, and dancing. In between the singing and dancing there was a discussion of the problem. This might go on for days until a decision was made. Algonquin tribes living along the Atlantic coast were the Abnaki, Algonkin Delaware, Mahican, Massachusetts, Micmac, Narraganset, Neskapi, Pequot, Powhatan, and Wampanoag tribes. Algonquin tribes living around the Great Lakes were the Cree, Illinois, Kickapoo, Menomini, Miami, Ojibway, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Sauk and Fox, and Shawnee.