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Atikamekw, French

Roman Catholicism, Other, None

Native American

The Atikamekw are the indigenous inhabitants of the area they refer to as Nitaskinan ("Our Land"), in the upper Saint-Maurice River valley of Quebec (about 300 kilometers (186 mi) north of Montreal), Canada. Their population currently stands at around 4500. One of the main communities is Manawan, about 160 kilometers (99 mi) northeast of Montreal. They have a tradition of agriculture as well as fishing, hunting and gathering. They have close traditional ties with the Innu people, who were their historical allies against the Inuit.

The Atikamekw language, a variant of the Cree language in the Algonquian family, is still in everyday use, making it therefore among the indigenous languages least threatened with extinction.[1] But their home land has largely been appropriated by logging companies and their ancient way of life is almost extinct. Their name, which literally means "Whitefish", is sometimes also spelt "Atihkamekw", "Attikamekw", "Attikamek", or "Atikamek". The French colonists referred to them as TĂȘtes-de-Boules, meaning "Ball-Heads" or "Round-Heads".

A small number of families still make their living making traditional birch bark baskets and canoes.




The early documents begin to mention the Atikamekw at beginning of the 17th century, when they lived in the boreal forest of the upper Mauricie. They had formed themselves into a group of 500 to 600 people, thus present themselves as "one of the nations more considerable of the north". In these early documents, the Atikamekw were recorded as "Atikamegouékhi".

For food, they fished, hunted, and trapped, supplementing their diet with agricultural products such as corn and maple syrup that the Atikamekw made by boiling the sap extracted from maple trees. Implements would be made of wood and clothing of animal hides, and obtaining other necessities through trade with tribes in nearby areas. In summer, the Atikamekw would gather at places like Wemotaci. Then in the fall, they would pack up and disperse through the boreal forest for the winter.[3]

When the French arrived in the region, the Atikamekw became increasingly dependent on externally controlled trade, particularly the fur trade. They were considered a peaceful people, sharing the region with the Innu (Montagnais) in the east, the Cree in the north, and Algonquin to the south. But they had conflicts with the Mohawks. Through their Innu allies, the Atikamekw caught devastating diseases that were brought over by the Europeans. Around 1670-1680, a smallpox epidemic devastated the Atikamekw tribe.[3]

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