Located near the mouth of the Bécancour River, in the Center-du-Québec region, Wôlinak is one of two Abenaki communities that are part of the Waban-Aki Nation in Quebec. Wôlinak means in Abénakis “the river with long bends” and in the 17th century, the Abenakis used this river to access their winter hunting territory located in the great forest. During milder seasons, these same Abenakis would come down to the mouth of the Bécancour to set up their summer camp and practice subsistence agriculture. Their historical presence in the region is contemporary with the founding period of New France. In fact, as early as 1637, only three years after the founding of Trois-Rivières, we find “cabanés” Abénakis very close to the new French habitation. Some thirty years later, in 1669, it was the turn of the coureurs des bois of Trois-Rivières to visit three Abenaki winter camps located along the Bécancour River (see map 1). In addition, from 1675, groups of Abenaki originally from New England settled in the region, joining those already present along the Bécancour River.
At the same time, missionaries regularly visited the Abenakis and a small chapel was built not far from the mouth of the Bécancour. In 1681, the Abenaki village was populous enough to be visited by the Bishop of Quebec. In many ways, this town can be considered the first mission located in the seigneury of Bécancour, although no land has yet been granted to the Abenakis. However, in 1708, under pressure from military and religious authorities, the Lord of Bécancour granted land to the Abenakis on the condition that they received a mission there (see map 2). It is also a military town where the Christianized Abenakis will put their talent as forest warriors at the service of the French colony.
The new mission will allow the Abenakis to maintain themselves as a Nation at the very heart of colonial development. Indeed, throughout the first half of the 18th century, Wôlinak will be a rallying point for several brother groups of the Abenakis such as the Sokokis and the Wolves. During this period, the village constitutes an important place of native culture where the Abenakis still practice their traditional way of life. Also, the ancestral hunting territory of the Abenakis of Wôlinak then included the entire watershed of the Bécancour River with extensions to the east over vast forest areas located south of the St. Lawrence River.
At the change of colonial empire (1760-63), despite the War of Conquest which had raged for 7 years, 300 Abenakis are still listed at the mission of Bécancour, which represents about half of the population at the time of its foundation. . On the other hand, it was also at this time that the mission lands were gradually handed over to colonization. Indeed, between 1758 and 1763 the Abenakis will welcome and share part of their land with Acadian refugees who, little by little, will settle down, especially south of Lake Saint-Paul. At the turn of the 19th century, however, colonization took on the appearance of arbitrary dispossession. Indeed, during the colonial war of 1812, and in the absence of the Abenaki warriors, English-speaking speculators will plunder the majority of the lands of the mission. Returning from a war in which they had distinguished themselves in the service of the British, the Abenakis threatened to take up arms again to assert their territorial rights. Subsequently preferring to negotiate, however, they were only able to retain a tiny fraction of the original mission territory.
Throughout the 19th century, the Abenakis of Wôlinak will practice hunting in the great forest while maintaining subsistence agriculture on the little territory that remained to them and which was soon considered as a reserve. At the turn of the 20th century, some will become hunting and fishing guides while others will work in log drives or in logging camps. At the dawn of the 21st century, the Abenaki will initiate a more modern industrial development and at the same time we will see the emergence of a service economy in the community. However, hunting, fishing and traditional activity practices related to nature will remain a living expression of the culture of the Abenaki of Wôlinak.