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The Wyandot (also called Huron) are indigenous peoples of North America, known in their native language of the Iroquoian family as the Wendat. Modern Wyandots emerged in the 17th century from the remnants of two earlier groups, the Huron Confederacy and the Petun. They were located in what is now the Canadianmarker province of Ontariomarker before being reduced by disease and dispersed by war with the Iroquois. Wyandots today have a reserve in Quebec, Canada and three major settlements and separately governed communities in the United Statesmarker.

Before 1650: Hurons and Petuns

Names and organization

Huron-Wendat group - Spencerwood, Quebec City, QC, 1880
In the early seventeenth century, the people known as Hurons by the French called themselves the Wendat, which means "Dwellers of the Peninsula" or "Islanders". The Wendat homeland was bordered on three sides by the waters of Georgian Baymarker and Lake Simcoemarker. Early Frenchmarker explorers called these natives 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 men resembled that of a boar.

The Wendat were not a tribe, but a confederacy of four or more tribes with a mutually intelligible language. 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 confederated 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.

The largest Wendat settlement, and capital of the confederacy, was located at Ossossane, near modern-day Elmvalemarker, Ontariomarker. Their traditional territory was known as Wendake.

Closely related to the people of the Huron Confederacy were a group known to the French as the Petuns (Tobacco People), who lived further south. The Petun were divided into two groups: the Deer and the Wolves. What the Petun called themselves is not known. Considering that they formed the nucleus of the tribe later known as the Wyandot, they too may have called themselves Wendat.


Hurons, like other Iroquoian people, were farmers who supplemented their diet with hunting and fishing. Corn was the mainstay of their diet, which was supplemented primarily by fish, although they hunted and ate some venison and other meats available during the game seasons. Women did most of the agricultural work, 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.

Hurons 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 long houses, similar to other Iroquoian cultural groups. The typical village had 900 to 1600 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. Hurons engaged in trade with neighboring tribes, notably for tobacco with the neighboring Petun and Neutral nations.

Tuberculosis was endemic among Hurons, aggravated by the close and smoky living conditions in the long houses. Hurons were on the whole healthy, however; the Jesuits wrote that the Huron were "more healthy than we."

European contact and Wendat 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 Rivermarker in the early 1600s. Some Hurons decided to go and meet the Europeans for themselves. Atironta, the principal headman of the Arendarhonon tribe, went to Quebecmarker 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, Hurons were devastated by European infectious diseases, such as measles and smallpox, to which they had no immunity. Numerous villages and areas were permanently abandoned. About 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 Iroquois to the south. Several thousand Huron lived as far south as present-day central West Virginiamarker along the Kanawha River by the late 1500s, but they were driven out by the Iroquois' invading from present-day New Yorkmarker in the 1600s. Once the European powers became involved in trading, this conflict intensified significantly. The French allied with the Huron, because they were the most advanced trading nation at the time. The Iroquois tended to ally with the Englishmarker, who took advantage of their hatred of the Huron and new French allies.

Introduction of European weapons and the fur trade increased the severity of inter-tribal warfare. On March 16th, 1649, an Iroquois war party of about 1000 burned the Huron villages of St. Ignace and St. Louise killing about 300 people. Many of the Jesuit missionaries were killed (see North American Martyrs); the Jesuits burned the mission after abandoning it to prevent its capture. The Iroquois attack caused the Huron to enter a state of terror. By May 1st, 1649, the Huron, in their panic, burned 15 of their villages and fled as refugees to surrounding tribes with about 10,000 fleeing to 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. Most who survived were believed to have resorted to cannibalism. After relocating and spending the bitter winter of 1649-50 on Gahoendoemarker, the surviving Huron relocated near Quebec Citymarker and settled at Wendake, Quebecmarker. They absorbed other refugees and became the Huron-Wendat Nation.

Emergence of the Wyandot

In the late 17th century, elements of the Huron Confederacy and the Petuns joined together and became known as the Wyandot (or Wyandotte), a variation of Wendat. The western Wyandot eventually re-established themselves across the border in the area of Ohiomarker and southern Michiganmarker in the present-day United States. Some descendants of the Wyandot Nation of Anderdon still live in Michiganmarker.

However, in the 1840s, most of the surviving Wyandot people were displaced to Kansasmarker through Indian removal. In 1867 after the American Civil War, additional members removed to Oklahomamarker. Today more than 4,000 Wyandot can be found in eastern Kansasmarker and Oklahomamarker.

In June 1853, Big Turtle, a chief of the Wyandot tribe, wrote to the Ohio State Journal regarding the current condition of his tribe. The Wyandots 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. $100,000 of the proceeds was invested in 5% government stock.

Removed from Ohio to the Indian Territory, the Wyandot tribe 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 Wyandot's general thrift exceeded that of any tribe north of the Arkansasmarker line. The Wyandot nationwas contented and happy, and enjoyed better living conditions in the Indian Territory than formerly in Ohio.

A United States government treaty ceded the Wyandot Nation a small portion of fertile land located in an acute angle of the Missouri Rivermarker and Kansas Rivermarker. In addition the government granted thirty-two "floating sections", located on public lands west of the Mississippi River. By 1855 the number of Wyandots had diminished to 600 or 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 elderly braves, who were trusted by their peers. Some of the floating sections of land were offered for sale on the same day at a price of $800. A section was composed of . Altogether 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.

An October 1855 article in The New York Times reported that the Wyandots were free (that is, 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 Statemarker movement of Kansas.

The last of the original Wyandot of Ohio was Margaret "Grey Eyes" Solomon, a.k.a. "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. For photograph see this reference site.

20th century to present

In February 1985 the U.S. government agreed to pay descendants of the Wyandot Indians $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.

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 an 1830 Federal law which required Native Americans to move west of the Mississippi River. Originally the Wyandots were paid 75 cents per acre for land that was worth $1.50 an acre.

In 1999, representatives of the far-flung Wyandot bands of Quebec, Kansas, Oklahoma and Michigan gathered at their historic homeland in Midland, Ontario, and formally re-established the Wendat Confederacy.

Each modern Wyandot community is an autonomous band:

The Wyandot Nation of Kansas has had legal battles with the Wyandotte Nationa of Oklahoma over the Huron Cemeterymarker in Kansas City, Kansas. It has been a point of contention for over 100 years. Because of complications from the Indian removal process, the land was legally under control of the Wyandotte Nation, who wanted to redevelop it for the benefit of its people. The local Kansas group strongly opposed most such proposals, which would have required reinterment of Indian remains, including many of their ancestors. In 1998 the two nations finally agreed to preserve the cemetery for religious, cultural and other uses appropriate to its sacred history and use.

The approximately 3,000 Wyandots in Quebecmarker are primarily Catholic and speak French as a first language. They have begun to promote the study and use of the Wyandot language. For many decades, a leading source of income for the Wyandots of Quebec has been selling pottery and other locally produced crafts.



  • Dickason, Olive Patricia. "Huron/Wyandot". Encyclopedia of North American Indians, 263–65, Ed. Frederick E. Hoxie. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996. ISBN 0-395-66921-9.
  • Steckley, John. "Wendat Dialects and the Development of the Huron Alliance"
  • Trigger, Bruce G. The Huron: Farmers of the North, New York: Holt, 1969. ISBN 0-03-079550-8.
  • Trigger, Bruce G. The Children of Aataentsic: A History of the Huron People to 1660. Kingston and Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press. 1987. ISBN 0-7735-0627-6
  • Gabriel Sagard, Le grand voyage au pays des Hurons (Paris, 1632)

Further reading

  • 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

External links

Official tribal websites:



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