A HISTORY OF THE WENDAT PEOPLE IN FIFTEEN MINUTES
a talk presented at the
Greetings Honored Mayors, Town Supervisors and other Elected and Appointed Officials of Ontario’s Smaller Municipalities;
Greetings to all who have decided to join us this morning.
I greet you!
In greeting you I ask you to remember that I am just one individual, standing before you as the representative chosen by a consensus of the Elected Council at Wendake to be all the Voices of my Nation for you, today:
In greeting you I ask you to remember that much of the material I will be presenting this morning was prepared by and approved of by others, and thus, I speak with a collective and louder voice than mine alone.
This is our Way.
I have a story for you –
It is all at
once very funny and quite profound; a brief Traditional Narrative collected in
The Skunks and the Small Pox
Long ago an Indian went to visit the settlement of the white men who gathered together and hired him to introduce smallpox into his country. [They told him] “Uncork this bottle in your country, and let its contents run out!” So he uncorked the bottle in the midst of a large crowd [of his people whom he had] called together. When it was done, they went back to their homes, and all of them fell ill with smallpox, a disease still unknown to them. So many Indians died that the few who were left ran off to the woods and gathered there. The game animals also assembled there and planned to stamp out the new disease. The skunk said, “I am surely able to kill smallpox.” The skunks, drawn up in battle arrayal across the country visited by the disease, began to shoot their scent. In this way they stamped out smallpox and reduced its dreadful powers so much that it was no longer the same disease that had come across the great waters. From that time on, they knew how to prevent smallpox; that is, before being sick, one should drink five drops of the skunk’s secretion once a week in order to secure immunity. This done, no danger could be incurred on visiting those who were sick with the disease. This remedy never fails and smallpox cannot prevail against it.
So, why do I
tell you this tale? Because in a nut-shell (which is about how much time I have
with you today) it provides a mirror in which to capture a few ideas and share
them with you regarding why what occurred at Little Lake Park in
In the mid-15th
century Europeans made their way into the history of the Western Hemisphere, and
unfortunately for the Aboriginal Inhabitants of the Hemisphere, they brought
much more than just their technologies of glass and iron manufacture, the
writing and printed word which enabled the commencement of the historic era, or
fire-arms and gun powder; more than the Christian theology they believed was to
be carried to all of humanity for its salvation; much more… they carried, unbeknownst to themselves, what
ultimately impacted The Americas as if the entire Hemisphere had been blasted
with a devastating biological weapon, a
kind of germ warfare, in its most primitive evolution. The Europeans brought
with them microbes that they, and all the other Races of the Eurasian land-mass
had acquired a kind of generalized immunity to over many millennia, but which
were a bomb-shell to the previously unexposed Peoples of the Western Hemisphere
– Smallpox, Influenza, Tuberculosis, Syphilis, Gonorrhea and more… even the Common
Cold seems to have been unknown before the arrival of the Europeans. Again,
totally unbeknownst to them, their infectious diseases, which in this virgin
environment were extremely contagious and far more virulent, traveled across
In his excellent work on the mythologies, history, demographics and culture of the Wendat Nation entitled Huron Wendat: Heritage of the Circle Georges Sioui takes a through look at the written and archeological evidence and comes to the conclusion that epidemics, rather than warfare was the likely cause of this demographic shift.
Furthermore, Sioui provides sufficient evidence to uphold his belief that the modern community of Wendake, just north of Quebec City, represents an unbroken continuum of an agricultural lifestyle which was practiced by the Ancestors of the modern Wendat Nation in what are now the Provinces of Quebec and Ontario, just north of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario from at least 300 B.C., that reached its greatest extent in the 13th through the 16th centuries and became consolidated around the south shore of the Georgian Bay between the Penetang Peninsula and Lake Simcoe. It is here, during the early historic period, that the Wendat Confederacy became one of the most closely examined, well documented First Nations in North America.
Between 1609 and
1649 the explorer
Unfortunately, these very things which made life so easy and attractive may have also been contributing factors in the ultimate de-population of the region as smallpox and other illnesses continued to take lives, reaching epidemic proportions in the mid-1630’s, by which time psychological turmoil was also being experienced throughout the communities of the Wendat Confederacy. With the added element of inter-tribal conflicts (particularly with the Haudenosaunee / NY League of the Iroquois) taking place on a scale not previously known in the Eastern Woodlands, due, at least in part, to the pressures which resulted from the arrival of the Europeans, the agricultural security that the Wendat had for millennia been accustomed to relying upon -- gave way. There were not only too few healthy people available to prepare the fields and tend the crops, those who might have done these tasks were required to tend the ill and defend the villages. It was not long before malnutrition and starvation became as familiar as smallpox.
It was under
these circumstances that the most Sacred Ritual of the Wendat, that which
represented in tangible actuality all the honoring of ones Ancestors that the
Wendat were also renowned for: the Feast of the Dead, was observed and reported
on by Europeans at a number of locations during the Jesuit Period. None of the
Europeans who wrote about this event seem to grasp its full significance as it articulates
the most profound cosmological and religious beliefs of the Wendat and is
rooted in a notion so foreign to the Christians way of thinking: for the Wendat
the individual human has two souls living simultaneously within the body.
Sioui later goes
on to describe the Feast of the Dead in some detail and I refer you to his book
(on the bibliography being provided as a hand-out) as a starting place if you
are interested in learning more, here I will simply note that the Feast of the
Dead took place every ten to twelve years during the early spring and lasted
about 10 days, bringing together in one massive burial site the remains of “all
Wendats of a particular nation who had died of natural causes since the last
such feast... Archaeologist
As you probably are aware by now, last spring, in Little Lake Park, on land owned by the Township of Midland, Ontario, one such Ossuary burial site dating from the Contact Period was accidentally unearthed during a publicly funded building project. Later in this presentation others will be telling you more about that, and the ways in which it was so successfully managed, but before turning this over to Shelley and Fred, I would like to just take a brief moment to bring you up to date on where the Descendents of those who, not so long ago, and not far east of here, called “Home” -- are living now:
And you will be happy to know that in 1999 a number of important events took place in the history of the collective Wendat People, including the fact that the Chiefs of all four of these groups got together and reestablished their Confederacy:
And then, we
come to be here with you today, at
However, it is
somewhat east of here, at Craigleith, that perhaps the more significant
involvement of Wendats in
One of the
essays on the official Website of the Wyandot Nation of Kansas, written by
“On the night of
So it was here,
in our host
Thank you for your kind attention.
29 April 2004
THE FOXFILES © 1996-2004, Rebekah Tanner