Neutral Nation

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The Neutral Confederacy, also known as the Attawandaron, or "Attiwendaronk", was a collection of Iroquoian-speaking[1] nations of North American indigenous people who lived near the northern shores of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie.

The Jesuit Relations of 1652 describes tattooing among the Petun and the Neutrals:

And this (tattooing) in some nations is so common that in the one which we called the Tobacco, and in that which -- on account of enjoying peace with the Hurons and with the Iroquois -- was called Neutral, I know not whether a single individual was found, who was not painted in this manner, on some part of the body.



During the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the territory of the Attawandaron was mostly within the limits of present-day southern Ontario. There was a single population cluster to the east, across the Niagara River near modern-day Buffalo, New York. The western boundary of their territory was the valley of the Grand River, with population concentrations existing on the Niagara Peninsula and in the vicinity of the present-day communities of Hamilton and Milton, Ontario.[3] Documentary sources indicate that the population of the historic Neutrals ranged from 12,000 to 40,000 persons, with the lower number indicating the devastating effect of new European infectious diseases and periods of famine during the first part of the seventeenth century.[3]

F. Douglas Reville's The History of the County of Brant (1920) stated that the hunting grounds of the Attawandaron ranged from Genesee Falls and Sarnia, and south of a line drawn from Toronto to Goderich.[4]

Étienne Brûlé passed through the Attawandaron territory in 1615 but left no documentation of his presence. Joseph de La Roche Daillon conducted a missionary journey in Neutral territory in 1626. St. Jean de Brébeuf and Chaumonot visited eighteen villages of the Neutrals in 1640–1641, and gave each a Christian name. The only ones mentioned in their writings were Kandoucho, or All Saints, the nearest to the Huron Nation; Onguioaahra, on the Niagara River; Teotongniaton or St. William, in the centre of their country; and Khioetoa, or St. Michael.[5]

F. Douglas Reville described their territory as having been heavily forested and full of "wild fruit trees of vast variety", with nut trees, berry bushes, and wild grape vines. "Elk, caribou, and black bear; deer, wolves, foxes, martens and wild cats filled the woods."[6]


The Neutrals were called Attawandaron by the Huron, meaning "people whose speech is awry or a little different".[1] Both people spoke Iroquoian languages but were culturally distinct and competed for resources.

The French called the people "Neutral" (French: la Nation neutre) because they tried to remain neutral between the warring Huron and nations of the Iroquois Confederacy.[4] The Neutral territory contained flint grounds near the eastern end of Lake Erie. This important resource was used to make spearheads and arrowheads, and its importance gave the Neutral power to maintain their neutrality.[5] Once the neighbouring nations began to receive firearms from the European powers in trade, however, the possession of the flint grounds served as no advantage.

The chief of the Neutrals in their last years was named Tsouharissen ("Child of the Sun") who led several raids against the Mascouten, who lived in territory in present-day Michigan and Ohio. Tsouharissen died around 1646.[1]


The Neutrals had an alliance with the Wenrohronon, both Iroquoian-language peoples, to defend against the powerful Iroquois Nations, who were also Iroquoian speakers. This dissolved in 1639, with devastating effects, particularly to the Wenro. They made an alliance with the Huron, who were located further away and could not offer much support.[7]

Around 1650, during a period now loosely referred to as the Beaver Wars, the Iroquois Confederacy declared war on the Attawandaron; by 1653, the Confederacy had practically annihilated the smaller people, destroying their villages, including Kandoucho.[5][8] The last mention of the Neutrals in French records was in 1671.[1]


The Southwold Earthworks near St. Thomas, Ontario contains the remains of a pre-contact Neutral village and is a National Historic Site of Canada.

The Museum of Ontario Archaeology in London, Ontario is located adjacent to the site of another 500-year-old Neutral village. This village, designated as the "Lawson Prehistoric Iroquoian Village", has been under study since the early 1900s. A portion of the village, including its palisades and longhouses, has been reconstructed. A large collection of Neutral artifacts recovered there is displayed in the museum.

An Ontario Historical Plaque commemorates the role of the Lawson Prehistoric Indian Village Site in Ontario's heritage.[9]

Archaeologist Mary Jackes investigated the catastrophe that led to the extinction of the Neutral Nation by the early 1650s, in spite of reports by the French who first met them "in 1610 as strong, healthy and numerous. They lived in the most fertile and warmest part of Ontario. They were determined to remain neutral in the conflicts between the Iroquois from south of the Great Lakes and the Ontario Iroquoians who lived to the north of the Neutral. They throve on trade, rather than war."[10] Jackes re-examined French reports including the Jesuit Relations and the artifacts found in the Grimsby site.[10] When grounds were prepared for a new housing development in Grimsby, Ontario, in 1976, a Neutral Nation burial site was uncovered in sheltered embayment of the Niagara Escarpment. The excavation by Kenyon was closed after only two months in 1977 and the skeletons were reburied near the original site. Estimates of over a hundred bodies were made at the time. "Natural disruption, disease, famine and years of severe weather would have been sufficient to begin population decline. Intensifying war, with many killed, taken captive or forced to become refugees, led to almost complete population collapse."[11] Jackes suggested that this burial site "had significance and that it was a place of refuge", "especially for women and children."[12]

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