|Regions with significant populations|
| United States
(Kansas, Michigan, Oklahoma)
|Wyandot language, English, French|
The Wyandot people or Wendat, also called Huron, are indigenous peoples of North America. They traditionally spoke the Wyandot language, an Iroquoian language. By the 15th century, the pre-contact Wyandots settled in the area of the north shore of present-day Lake Ontario, before migrating to Georgian Bay. It was in that later location that they first encountered the French explorer Samuel de Champlain in 1615.
The modern Wyandot emerged in the late 17th century from the remnants of two earlier groups, the Wendat or Huron Confederacy and the Tionontate, called the Petun (tobacco people) by the French because of their cultivation of the crop. They were located in the southern part of what is now the Canadian province of Ontario around Georgian Bay. Drastically reduced in number by epidemic diseases after 1634, they were dispersed by war in 1649 from the Iroquois, the Haudenosaunee, then based in New York.
Today the Wyandot have a reserve in Quebec, Canada. They also have three major settlements in the United States, two of which have independently governed, federally recognized tribes. Due to differing development of the groups, they speak distinct forms of Wendat and Wyandot languages.
Origin, names and organization: before 1650
Early theories placed Huron origin in the St. Lawrence Valley, with some arguing for a presence near Montreal and other St. Lawrence Iroquoian peoples. Wendat is an Iroquoian language. Recent research in linguistics and archaeology confirm such a historical connection between the Huron and the St. Lawrence Iroquois.
In 1975 and 1978, archeologists excavated a large 15th-century Huron village, now called the Draper Site, in Pickering, Ontario near Lake Ontario. In 2003 a larger village was discovered five kilometres away in Whitchurch-Stouffville; it is known as the Mantle Site. The sites each were surrounded by a palisade. The Mantle Site had more than 70 longhouses. The historian James F. Pendergast states:
"Indeed, there is now every indication that the late precontact Huron and their immediate antecedents developed in a distinct Huron homeland in southern Ontario along the north shore of Lake Ontario. Subsequently they moved from there to their historic territory on Georgian Bay where they were encountered by Champlain in 1615."
In the early 17th century, this Iroquoian people called themselves the Wendat, an autonym which means "Dwellers of the Peninsula" or "Islanders". The Wendat historic territory was bordered on three sides by the waters of Georgian Bay and Lake Simcoe. Early French explorers referred to these natives as the Huron, either from the French huron ("ruffian", "rustic"), or from hure ("boar's head"). According to tradition, French sailors thought that the bristly hairstyle of Wendat warriors resembled that of a boar. But these negative etymological meanings conflict with the "bon Iroquois" attitude held by the French fur traders and explorers. An alternate etymology is from the Algonquin words ronon ("nation"), or Irri-ronon ("Erie" or "Cat Nation"). It was pronounced Hirri-ronon by the French, eventually shortened to Hirr-on, and finally spelled in its present form, Huron. Other etymological possibilities come from the Algonquin words ka-ron and tu-ron ("straight coast" and "crooked coast").
The Wendat were not a tribe, but a confederacy of four or more tribes with mutually intelligible languages. According to tradition, this Wendat (or Huron) Confederacy was initiated by the Attignawantans ("People of the Bear") and the Attigneenongnahacs ("People of the Cord"), who made their alliance in the 15th century. They were joined by the Arendarhonons ("People of the Rock") about 1590, and the Tahontaenrats ("People of the Deer") around 1610. A fifth group, the Ataronchronons ("People of the Marshes or Bog"), may not have attained full membership in the confederacy, and may have been a division of the Attignawantan.
Closely related to the people of the Huron Confederacy were the Tionontate, a group whom the French called the Petun (Tobacco People), for their cultivation of that crop. They lived further south and were divided into two groups: the Deer and the Wolves. Considering that they formed the nucleus of the tribe later known as the Wyandot, they too may have called themselves Wendat.
Tuberculosis (TB) was endemic among the Huron, aggravated by the close and smoky living conditions in the longhouses. Despite this, the Huron on the whole were healthy; the Jesuits wrote that the Huron effectively employed natural remedies and were "more healthy than we."
European contact and Wyandot dispersal
The earliest written accounts of the Huron were made by the French, who began exploring North America in the 16th century. News of the Europeans reached the Huron, particularly when Samuel de Champlain explored the Saint Lawrence River in the early 17th century. Some Huron decided to go and meet the Europeans. Atironta, the principal headman of the Arendarhonon tribe, went to Quebec and made an alliance with the French in 1609.
The total population of the Huron at the time of European contact has been estimated at about 20,000 to 40,000 people. From 1634 to 1640, the Huron were devastated by Eurasian infectious diseases, such as measles and smallpox, to which they had no immunity. Epidemiological studies have shown that beginning in 1634, more European children immigrated with their families to the New World from cities in France, England, and the Netherlands, which had endemic smallpox. Historians believe the disease spread from the children to the Huron and other nations. Many Huron villages and areas were abandoned. About half to two-thirds of the population died in the epidemics, decreasing the population to about 12,000.
Before the French arrived, the Huron had already been in conflict with the Haudenosaunee Confederacy ("Five Nations") to the south. Several thousand Huron lived as far south as present-day central West Virginia along the Kanawha River by the late 16th century, but they were driven out by the Haudenosaunee Confederacy ("Five Nations"), who invaded from present-day New York in the 17th century to secure more hunting grounds for the beaver trade. Once the European powers became involved in trading, the conflict among natives intensified significantly as they struggled to control the fur trade. The French allied with the Huron, because they were the most advanced trading nation at the time. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy ("Five Nations") tended to ally with the Dutch and later English, who settled at Albany and in the Mohawk Valley of their New York territory.
Introduction of European weapons and the fur trade increased competition and the severity of inter-tribal warfare. On March 16, 1649, a Haudenosaunee Confederacy ("Five Nations") war party of about 1000 burned the Huron mission villages of St. Ignace and St. Louis in present-day Simcoe County, Ontario, killing about 300 people. They also killed many of the Jesuit missionaries, who have since been honored as North American Martyrs. The surviving Jesuits burned the mission after abandoning it to prevent its capture. The Iroquois attack shocked the Huron.
By May 1, 1649, the Huron burned 15 of their villages to prevent their stores from being taken and fled as refugees to surrounding tribes. About 10,000 fled to Gahoendoe (Christian Island). Most who fled to the island starved over the winter, as it was a non-productive settlement and could not provide for them. Those who survived were believed to have resorted to cannibalism to do so. After spending the bitter winter of 1649–50 on Gahoendoe, surviving Huron relocated near Quebec City, where they settled at Wendake. Absorbing other refugees, they became the Huron-Wendat Nation. Some Huron, along with the surviving Petun, whose villages the Iroquois attacked in the fall of 1649, fled to the upper Lake Michigan region, settling first at Green Bay, then at Michilimackinac.
Huron-British Treaty of 1760
On September 5, 1760, just preceding the capitulation of Montréal to British forces, Brigadier General James Murray signed a Treaty of Peace and Friendship with the chiefs of the Wendat then residing at Lorette, present day Wendake. The text of the treaty reads as follows:
- THESE are to certify that the CHIEF of the HURON tribe of Indians, having come to me in the name of His Nation, to submit to His BRITANNICK MAJESTY, and make Peace, has :been received under my Protection, with his whole Tribe; and henceforth no English Officer or party is to molest, or interrupt them in returning to their Settlement at LORETTE; :and they are received upon the same terms with the Canadians, being allowed the free Exercise of their Religion, their Customs, and Liberty of trading with the English: -- :recommending it to the Officers commanding the Posts, to treat them kindly.
- Given under my hand at Longueil, this 5th day of September, 1760.
- By the Genl's Command,
- JOHN COSNAN, JA. MURRAY.
- Adjut. Genl.
The treaty recognized the Huron-Wendat as a distinct nation and guaranteed that the British would not interfere with the Huron-Wendat's internal affairs. In 1990, in R. v. Sioui, the Huron-British Treaty of 1760 was found by the Supreme Court of Canada to continue to be valid and binding on the Crown. Accordingly, the exercise of Huron-Wendat religion, customs, and trade benefit from continuing Canadian constitutional protection throughout the territory frequented by the Huron-Wendat at the time the treaty was concluded.
Emergence of the Wyandot
In the late 17th century, elements of the Huron Confederacy and the Petun joined together and became known as the Wyandot (or Wyandotte), a variation of Wendat. The western Wyandot re-formed in the area of Ohio and southern Michigan in the United States. Some descendants of the Wyandot Nation of Anderdon live in Ohio and Michigan, Toronto, and Brantford, Ontario, on the Six Nations Reserve, where they have intermarried with the Cayuga and other indigenous peoples. In 1819, the Methodist Church established a mission to the Wyandot in Ohio, its first to Native Americans. In August 1782, the Wyandot joined forces with Simon Girty, a British soldier and in 1782 surrounded Bryan Station and forced the Kentucky militia to Lower Blue Licks where the Wyandots defeated the Kentucky militia led by Daniel Boone. The Wyandots outnumbered the Kentuckians and out maneuvered their foes at Blue Licks by getting the high ground and surrounding the Kentuckians.
In 1807, the Wyandot joined three other tribes, the Odawa, Potawatomi, and Ojibwe people, in signing the Treaty of Detroit. The agreement, between the tribes and William Hull, representing the Michigan Territory, gave the United States a part of today's Southeastern Michigan and a section of Ohio near the Maumee River. The tribes were able to keep small pockets of land in the territory.
In the 1840s, most of the surviving Wyandot people were displaced to Kansas through the US federal policy of forced Indian removal. Using the funds they received for their lands in Ohio, the Wyandot purchased 23,000 acres (93 km2) of land for $46,080 in what is now Wyandotte County, Kansas from the Delaware. They had been grateful for the hospitality the Wyandot had shown them in Ohio. It was a more-or-less square parcel north and west of the junction of the Kansas River and the Missouri River.
A United States government treaty ceded the Wyandot Nation a small portion of fertile land located in an acute angle of the Missouri River and Kansas River, which they purchased from the Delaware in 1843. In addition, the government granted 32 "floating sections," located on public lands west of the Mississippi River.
In June 1853, Big Turtle, a Wyandot chief, wrote to the Ohio State Journal regarding the current condition of his tribe. The Wyandot received nearly $127,000 for their lands in 1845. Big Turtle noted that, in the spring of 1850, the tribal chiefs retroceded the granted land to the government. They invested $100,000 of the proceeds in 5% government stock. After removal to Kansas, the Wyandot had founded good libraries along with two thriving Sabbath Schools. They were in the process of organizing a division of the Sons of Temperance and maintained a sizable Temperance Society. Big Turtle commented on the agricultural yield, which produced an annual surplus for market. He said that the thrift of the Wyandot exceeded that of any tribe north of the Arkansas line. According to his account, the Wyandot nation was "contented and happy", and enjoyed better living conditions in the Indian Territory than in Ohio.
By 1855 the number of Wyandot had diminished to 600–700. On August 14 of that year the Wyandot Nation elected a chief. The Kansas correspondent of the Missouri Republican reported that the judges of the election were three elders who were trusted by their peers. The Wyandot offered some of the floating sections of land for sale on the same day at a price of $800. A section was composed of 640 acres (2.6 km2). Altogether 20,480 acres (82.9 km2) were sold for $25,600. They were located in Kansas, Nebraska, and unspecified sites. Surveys were not required, with the title becoming complete at the time of location.
The Wyandot played an important role in the politics of Kansas. On July 26, 1853, William Walker, a Wyandot, was elected provisional governor of the territory of Nebraska (which included Kansas) at a meeting at the Wyandot Council house in Kansas City, Kansas. He was elected by Wyandot, white traders, and outside interests who wished to preempt the federal government’s organization of the territory and to benefit from settlement of Kansas by white settlers. Walker and the others were promoting Kansas as the route for the proposed transcontinental railroad. Although the federal government did not recognize Walker's election, the political activity prompted the federal government to pass the Kansas-Nebraska Act to organize Kansas and Nebraska territories.
An October 1855 article in The New York Times reported that the Wyandot were free (that is, they had been accepted as US citizens) and without the restrictions placed on other tribes. Their leaders were unanimously pro-slavery, which meant 900 or 1,000 additional votes in opposition to the Free State movement of Kansas.
The last of the original Wyandot of Ohio was Margaret "Grey Eyes" Solomon, known as "Mother Solomon." The daughter of Chief John Grey Eyes, she was born in 1816 and departed Ohio in 1843. By 1889 she had returned to Ohio, when she was recorded as a spectator to the restoration of the Wyandot's "Old Mission Church", a Wyandot Mission Church at Upper Sandusky. She died in Upper Sandusky on August 17, 1890. The last Wyandot to live in Ohio was Bill Moose (1836–1937).
20th century to present
Beginning in 1907, archaeological excavations were conducted at the Jesuit mission site near Georgian Bay. The mission has since been reconstructed as Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, a living museum which is adjacent to the Martyrs' Shrine, a Roman Catholic shrine consecrated to the North American martyrs.
A program founded in the 1940s to address grievances filed by various Native American tribes allocated $800 million to rectify promises broken by settlers who invaded their territories. The Wyandot settlement was based on the 1830 Indian Removal law, which required Native Americans to move west of the Mississippi River. Originally the Wyandot were paid 75 cents per acre for land that was worth $1.50 an acre.
In February 1985 the U.S. government agreed to pay descendants of the Wyandot $5.5 million. The decision settled the 143-year-old treaty, which in 1842 forced the tribe to sell their Ohio lands for less than fair value. A spokesman for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) said that the government would pay $1,600 each, in July 1985, to 3,600 people in Kansas and Oklahoma who could prove they were Wyandot descendants.
On August 27, 1999, representatives of the far-flung Wyandot bands of Quebec, Kansas, Oklahoma and Michigan gathered at their historic homeland in Midland, Ontario. They formally re-established the Wendat Confederacy.
Contemporary Wyandot groups
In Canada, there is one Wyandot First Nation:
- Huron-Wendat Nation, at Wendake, now within the Quebec City limits, with approximately 3,000 members.
There are two unrecognized tribes in the United States:
- Wyandot Nation of Anderdon, with headquarters in Trenton, Michigan, with 1,200 members
- Wyandot Nation of Kansas, headquartered in Kansas City, Kansas, with perhaps 400 members
The Wyandot Nation of Kansas has had legal battles with the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma over the Huron Cemetery in Kansas City, Kansas. It has been a point of contention for more than a century. Because of complications from the Indian removal process, the land was legally under control of the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma, who wanted to redevelop it for the benefit of its people. Members of the local Kansas Wyandot strongly opposed most such proposals, which would have required reinterment of Indian remains, including many of their direct ancestors. In 1998 the two groups finally agreed to preserve the cemetery for religious, cultural and other uses appropriate to its sacred history and use.
The approximately 3,000 Wyandot in Quebec are primarily Catholic and speak French as a first language. They have begun to promote the study and use of the Wyandot language among their children. For many decades, a leading source of income for the Wyandot of Quebec has been selling pottery and other locally produced crafts.
Like other Iroquoian peoples, the Huron were farmers who supplemented their diet with hunting and fishing. The women cultivated varieties of maize (corn), squash and beans (the "Three Sisters") as the mainstay of the tribal diet, which was supplemented primarily by fish caught by the men. The men also hunted venison and other meats available during the game seasons. Women did most of the crop planting, cultivation and processing, although men helped in the heaviest work of clearing the fields. This was usually done by the slash and burn method of clearing trees and brush. Men did most of the fishing and hunting, and constructed the houses, canoes, and tools. Each family owned a plot of land which they farmed; this land reverted to the common property of the tribe when the family no longer used it.
Huron lived in villages spanning from one to ten acres (40,000 m²), most of which were fortified in defense against enemy attack. They lived in longhouses, similar to other Iroquoian cultural groups. The typical village had 900 to 1,600 people organized into 30 or 40 longhouses. Villages were moved about every ten years as the soil became less fertile and the nearby forest, which provided firewood, grew thin. The Huron engaged in trade with neighboring tribes, notably for tobacco with the neighboring Petun and Neutral Nations.
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- Clarke, Peter Dooyentate. Origin and Traditional History of the Wyandotts, and Sketches of Other Indian Tribes of North America, True Traditional Stories of Tecumseh and His League, Global Language Press, 2006. Reprint of 1870 history written by a Wyandot. ISBN 0-9738924-9-8
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Huron.|
- Official tribal websites
- Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma
- Wyandot Nation of Kansas
- Wyandot of Anderdon Nation, Michigan
- Huron-Wendat Nation, Wendake, Quebec
- Texts on Wikisource
- "Hurons". Collier's New Encyclopedia. 1921.
- Arthur Edward Jones (1913). "Huron Indians". Catholic Encyclopedia.
- "Wyandot". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911.