The Northeast Culture Area is defined as covering the
following territory: east-to-west, from the Atlantic
Ocean to the Mississippi River; north-to-south, from the
Great Lakes to the Ohio Valley, including the Chesa peake Bay and Tidewater region. The following present-
day states are included in this huge expanse of land:
Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts,
Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey,
Pennsylvania, Delaware, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan; plus most of Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Wisconsin; and smaller parts of Virginia, North Carolina, Missouri, Iowa, and Minnesota. The following present-day provinces of Canada are also included: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, plus parts of Quebec and Ontario, as well as a tiny piece of Manitoba.
Most of this land is woodlands. That is why the culture area is sometimes called the Northeast Woodland culture area and the Indians of this region sometimes are referred to as Woodland Indians. Yet since there were many other Indians living in the forests of North America—for example, in the northern forest of the Subarctic and in the Pacific Northwest—the term Woodland can be confusing when used for just eastern Indians.
The forest is the one constant in the Northeast Culture
Area. The terrain is otherwise varied, including sea
coasts, hills, mountains, lakes, and river valleys. The
Appalachian Mountains run in a general north-south
direction through the culture area. Enormous inland
bodies of water—the five Great Lakes—are located in
the north-central region. Some of the big rivers flowing
through the culture area are the St. Lawrence, Ottawa,
Connecticut, Hudson, Delaware, Susquehanna,
Allegheny, Ohio, Wabash, and Illinois.
The forests of the Northeast provided a great natural resource for the Native peoples: wood for houses, boats, tools, and fuel (plus bark for clothing, roofing, and bedding). Moreover, the forests were the home of abundant game that provided the Indians with meat for food, hides for clothing, and bones for tools. Of the many kinds of mammals living in the forests, deer were the most important resource for Native Americans. The oceans, lakes, and rivers were a plentiful source of fish and shellfish.
In addition to being hunter-gatherers, Northeast Indians were also farmers. Many of their villages, where they had their cultivated fields, were permanent. But Northeast Indians generally left the villages to hunt in certain seasons, living on the trail. Many tribes can thus be called “seminomadic.”
The Indians of the Northeast Culture Area spoke dialects of two language families: Algonquian, part of the Macro-Algonquian language phylum, and Iroquoian, part of the Macro-Siouan language phylum. ALGONQUIANS and Iroquoians shared many cultural traits. Yet there were differences too. For example, most Algonquians lived in wigwams, and most Iroquoian peoples lived in longhouses.
The various Northeast Algonquians included in this book are listed under the entry ALGONQUIANS. The different Northeast Iroquoians included are the IROQUOIS (HAUDENOSAUNEE)—that is, the CAYUGA, MOHAWK, ONEIDA, ONONDAGA, SENECA, and TUSCARORA— as well as the ERIE, HURON (WYANDOT), NEUTRAL, SUSQUEHANNOCK, and TIONONTATI. Only one tribe of the Northeast Culture Area spoke a language other than Algonquian or Iroquoian: the WINNEBAGO (HO-CHUNK), who spoke a dialect of the Siouan language family.