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People began settling in the Northeast region of North America thousands of years ago, after their ancestors traveled east from Alaska, around the Great Lakes, and eventually ended up along the Atlantic coast. They built their homes near lakes, rivers, and streams, and navigated these waterways in canoes made of hollowed-out logs or bark from birch trees.
Each tribe had clan groups that were named after an animal: The Turtle, Snipe, Bear, Heron, and Wolf clans of the Cayuga (pronounced ky-YOO-gah) tribe still exist today. Members would put their clan animal on pottery and clothing, and they sometimes drew the animal to use like a signature.

A clan could have a hundred members, who’d spend most of the year living together in hundred-foot-long bark houses. During summer, many clans moved closer to the coast or to large lakes where they could fish. To stay cool, they lived in dome-shaped shelters called wigwams, which were made of young trees, bark, and cattails.Tribes that lived only on the coast—including the Micmac (pronounced MIK-mak) and Pequot (pronounced PEE-kwot)—often ate meat from clams and sea snails, then pounded and polished the shells into beads called wampum. (Purple beads were especially prized because shells of that color were more rare.) They could then trade these beads with members of inland tribes for furs and food.
When Europeans began to arrive in the 1600s, they often fought with tribal members over land. Tribes sometimes made treaties with these immigrants to cease fighting, and these agreements moved the Native Americans to land called reservations—but those areas were often far from their original homes. Today many tribal members choose to live on reservations, where they have their own governments and support themselves with businesses such as forestry and blueberry farming.

Many tribes are working to protect the natural resources of the land that they live on. For instance, the Maliseet (pronounced MAL-uh-seet) people are working to protect bald eagles, and the Penobscot (pronounced puh-NOB-skot) people are active in helping endangered Atlantic salmon.

Algonquian and Siouan homes were wickiups or wigwams; Iroquoians lived in longhouses. Wickiups were made by driving a number of pointed poles into the ground to make a circular or oval floor plan ranging from 15 to 20 feet (4.5 to 6 meters) in diameter. These poles were tied together with strips of bark and reinforced with other poles tied horizontally to make a dome-shaped framework that was covered with bark, reeds, or woven mats, the type of covering depending on the availability of materials in the area. A single fire in the center provided heat for cooking and for warmth. Typically, a wickiup would house a single two- or three-generation family, although two close families would occasionally share a home.

Traditional longhouses were also made of a framework of poles covered with bark sheets but were roughly rectangular in floor plan, with a door at either end and an arched roof; in terms of construction, a longhouse was rather like a greatly elongated wickiup. After European contact, longhouse construction techniques changed so that walls were built to remain vertical, rather than to create a roof arch, and were topped with a gable roof. A longhouse was usually some 22 to 23 feet (6 to 7 metres) wide and might be anywhere from 40 to 400 feet (12 to 122 metres) in length depending on the number of families living in it. Interior walls divided longhouses into compartments, and usually one nuclear family would reside in each. A series of hearths was placed down the middle of the structure, with the families on either side of the central walkway sharing the fire in the middle. The average longhouse probably had 5 fires and 10 families.


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