Overview: In this lesson, students examine Native American place names and connect them to a regional map. From the evidence, they discuss how Native Americans named places and compare this with European methods. Finally, students draw a Native American place and create a class dictionary.

Focusing Questions

Who first lived in the area we now call New Hampshire/Vermont? Can we find evidence of first peoples on today’s maps?

Topical Understandings

The Abenaki first lived in the area we now call New Hampshire/Vermont
The Abenaki named places on the land differently than Europeans
There are place names in our region that were named by Native Americans

Background Information

Who first lived in the area we now call New Hampshire and Vermont?


Local Native American Place Names
Abenaki Homeland Map
Maps of local region
Colored pencils
Lightly colored construction paper cut in half


  1. Introduction discussion and activity
    1. Ask students if they know of any places in their area with Native American names
    2. Each student receives a list of local Native American place names in their region
    3. Students identify and highlight these names on a copy of a regional map
    4. Navigate a journey from one place to the next using Native place names. e.g. How might you get from Mt. Ascutney to Lake Sunapee? Travel east from Kaskakadenak (Wide Mountain) to Kwanitekw (Long River). Follow the river south to Senomoziktekw (Sugar Maple River); then east up the river to Seninebes (Rock Lake).
    5. Discuss how Native Americans name places, comparing their method to European methods (descriptive vs. memorializing a place or person)
  2. Drawing
    1. Students receive ½ sheet of construction paper
    2. At the top, they carefully write their native word
    3. At the bottom, they write the definition / translation
    4. In between, they imagine and then draw a picture of that definition, translation or action: e.g. someone gathering wild onions (Winooski) or making a pot from river bank clay (Mascoma). As they work on their drawings, ask the students to try to memorize both their word and its meaning.
    5. Students share their work
    6. Collectively, the drawings can be compiled into a dictionary of local Native American place names
  3. Concluding Discussion
    • Emphasize many Abenaki still inhabit this community
    • Emphasize Abenaki folk-ways and food-ways still inform our lives: paved roads trace Abenaki trails; planted fields trace the floodplains; we enjoy and recreate in Abenaki sacred places; and honor the seasonal harvests (sap run, fiddleheads, berries ripening) with celebration.
    • Native words – not always correctly interpreted or pronounced by Europeans – surround us today.
    • As Europeans heard Native Americans say a name they would apply these words to name places more permanently by placing the names on maps; and different groups might spell these words in different ways: for example, the name Lake Winnipesaukee has over 100 spellings.

Drawing of Fishing

Suggested Resources

Rebecca Brown, ed., Where the Great River Rises, 132 – 137. This essay on Native Space includes a map and glossary of Native and European names in the Connecticut River watershed.
Try the online activity

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