Wendat

Beginnings

It is believed that the Wendat people, known to the French as the Huron, initially made contact with Europeans in 1535 when Jacques Cartier was at Hochelaga. Eventually, this group of people moved west and joined other indigenous groups to form what is known today as the Huron Confederacy. They would not make significant contact again until 1609 near the St. Lawrence river, one year after Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec. Champlain had created a trade network among the Algonquin there, but it was struggling under the constant threat of the Algonquin’s enemy, the Iroquois.  Eventually, he decided to accompany a group of Algonquin people on a raid on the Mohawk to see the issues for himself.  Blended into this group were members of the Huron Confederacy, and after the French helped them win their battle, the Wendat signed a simple trade agreement with them. It would be years before Champlain took the Wendat seriously, however, as the French location made continued trade with the Algonquin easier to conduct. When Etienne Brule came to stay with the Huron to learn their language and culture in 1610, he discovered that they had better furs to trade, and were in contact with tribes that had items of even higher quality than that. Champlain finally became interested in the Huron, and in 1614 a formal trade agreement was signed in Quebec, marking the beginning of the formal relationship between the two groups.

1. Briefly describe the Indigenous society you have been assigned.

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The Wendat people were comprised of four major tribes: The Bear Tribe, The Cord Tribe, The Rock Tribe, and The Deer Tribe. These tribes were then divided into clan systems. The clans determine the different families within a tribe and would be determined by a common female ancestor.   Day to day life was centered around these clans, and responsibilities would be shared between the members. These tribes then settled North and West of the Lake Simcoe and to the South and East of the Georgian Bay. They lead a sedimentary lifestyle, which is founded around agriculture, hunting, trading and gathering resources from surrounding land. Most of what the Wendat’s cultivated, they used, making corn, beans and squash essential components of their diet. They were originally Iroquoian speaking tribes, but after European interaction they soon lost their language to French and English. Also due to a competitive trading system, most of the large game became depleted; making the Wendat’s even more dependent on European relations.

2. Where did these people come into contact?

Samuel De Champlain went through the St. Lawrence River in 1609, where he met the Wendat who were well settled in the territory near the lake we now call Lake Simcoe in what is now central Ontario. Because of a tribal dispute against the Haudenosaunee (French called them Iroquois) they got Champlain to help them fight them for trade ‘rights’. They met at what we call Lake Champlain today, to where they did their first unified attack.

3. With whom did the Wendat come into contact with?
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The Wendat first came into contact with the Iroquois, who they fought against because of the fur trade along the      Mississppi and in the Ohio valley. In 1535 Jacques-Cartier arrived in North Americawhere he came into contact with both the Wendat and the Iroquois. The Europeans brought firearms with them which eventually both bands took up against each other. This made the situation much worse. The Wendat also came into contact with Samuel de Champlain in 1609. Champlain wanted to create a fur trading network with the Wendat. His goal was to use the Wendat as a bridge between the French and the Algonquians.

4. For what purpose were Europeans in this area?

The European, mostly French, settlers had come into the Wendat, or Huron as the French called them, territory after the formation of the city of Québec in 1608. The French wished to trade with the Wendat people instead of trying to settle their lands like the English or conquer the Wendat land like the Spanish. The French realized the superior furs that the Wendat possessed and set up a fur trade with the different tribes. Missionaries, known as Jesuits, were also found on Wendat territory. Their mission was to convert the Wendat people to Christianity as many other Christian groups tried to do during this time.

5. How did the North American people respond to Europeans?

The Wendat response to the French was initially one of reluctance. However, when Samuel de Champlain accompanied them on a raid against the Mohawk in 1609, the beginnings of a relationship began to form. The Wendat saw the benefits in a trade partnership with the French and an alliance was made the same year, one that would be formalized, solidifying the bond, in 1614. A relationship with the Europeans meant more access to the fur trade and greater success for the Wendat, as well as a new arsenal of French weaponry. They had been involved in a serious conflict with the Iroquois, and with the new alliance—though it seemed to intensify tensions even more—there was a level of protection attached. However, a series of outside factors drove a wedge between the two groups. The introduction of Jesuit missionaries into Wendat communities divided the indigenous people and caused great unrest among them as the new faith split them apart; these missionaries were only accepted in the first place to please the French, and they did not get along with them very well. At the same time, the Jesuits brought with them diseases that succeeded in wiping out half of the Wendat population. Eventually, the relationship between the Wendat and the French was frayed as they realized just how much these Europeans were trying to change them. When widespread war broke out between the Wendat and surrounding tribes, the divisions in the people caused anti-French feelings to run high. Unfortunately, in 1649, Huronia, as it was known to the French was destroyed, and the trade network that had been created so intricately was reworked with some of the remaining Wendat peoples and surrounding tribes.

6. How did Europeans respond to the North Americans they encountered?

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Samuel de Champlain and his fellow colonists recognised the advantages of an alliance with the well-established Wendat nation (Huron to the French). In order to build an alliance with them, the French helped them to victory against the Iroquois in 1609.  Champlain would later write in his journals of his shock at the gruesome actions the Wendat took on their enemies.As part of the new alliance, both groups traded a young man to live with the other culture for the year in 1610.  Étienne Brûlé, was sent to stay with the Wendat and would remain there for most of his life while,a Wendat youth named Savignon accompanied Champlain to France in 1610.  Brûlé was incorporated into the Wendat tribe, learned their language and survival skills and became a very valuable “truchement” to the French. He accompanied the Wendat on many explorations around the great lakes.  Brûlé was later joined by other Frenchmen who became known as the “coureurs de bois.”  Champlain was impressed by Brûlé’s description of the Wendat nation, its large villages and trade network.  By the 1620s, the Wendat were supplying the French colonists with 60% of their furs. While the French, highly respected the Wendat’s knowledge and economic value of the alliance, they did not respect the Wendat spiritual beliefs. In 1627, Champlain sent Jesuit priests to establish Catholic settlements in Wendat territory, including St-Marie-Among-the-Hurons.  The Jesuits were in awe of the Wendat, although they clearly considered the Wendat an inferior race.  Père Le Jeune wrote “Oh, whoever would see in the great streets of Paris what I saw three days ago near the great river St Lawrence?  Five or six hundred Hurons in their savage costumes – some in bearskins, other in beaver, and others in Elk skins; all well-made men of splendid figures, tall, powerful, good-natured, and able-bodied.”Pierre François Xavier de Charlevoix, would write after his stay with the Wendat that they had a “solid, judicious, elevated mind, capable of reflection.” Père Jean de Brébeuf spent many years with the Wendat and found their reluctance to embrace the Christian God frustrating.  Brébeuf wrote “they are very lazy, are liars, thieves [and] pertinacious beggars.”  Although Brébeuf continues in the same letter “their hospitality towards all sorts of strangers is remarkable” and they have a “strange patience in poverty, famine and sickness.” The priests “admired the constancy of [their] new Christians” The Wendat were an integral part of the survival of the French colonists and the development of the fur trade in Canada.   While all the French recognised the value of the knowledge of theWendat, the early coureurs de bois gained respect for the Wendat and adapted to their lifestyle, while many other colonists were unable to overcome their racial prejudices to appreciate the Wendat as equal human beings.

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