Most Woodland tribes spoke languages of the Algonkian language family. There are at least thirty Algonkian-speaking tribes in the Woodlands, and those in the Great Lakes region include the Ojibwe, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Menominee, Cree, Sauk, Fox, Kickapoo, Miami, Peoria, Illinois, Shawnee, Piankashaw, and Prairie Potawatomi. Outside the Great Lakes area, the people of Northeast, including the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Micmac, Mohegan, Pequot, Lenni Lenape (Delaware), and others also spoke Algonkian languages. While most Algonkian speaking tribes were part of the Woodland cultural pattern, the Blackfeet of Montana and Alberta also speak an Algonkian language.

Besides Algonkian languages, the Woodlands also include languages of the Iroquoian and Siouan language families. In New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Quebec, and Ontario, the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk, Susquehannock, Huron, Erie, Conestoga, Neutral, and other tribes spoke Iroquoian languages. The Santee Sioux and the Ho-chunk (Ho-chunk) speak languages of the Siouan family.

With the advent of Europeans, some Indian languages fell into disuse or were used only within Indian homes and tribal communities. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, missionaries and government boarding schools stressed the abandonment of Indian languages and dependence on English. Children who went to boarding schools were forced to use English. Without reinforcement, they forgot their tribal languages or could only understand them and not speak them. Today, language teaching programs are important to Indian communities because language is seen as both an important part of traditional heritage and knowledge.

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