Huron / Wyandot
Huron / Wyandot Indians
Tribal Origin: Wendat Conferacy
Native Name: Wendat, meaning ‘Dwellers of the Peninsula’ or ‘Islanders’ or “Villagers”
Ouendake (called Huronia by the French) was the original homeland of the Huron occupying a fairly compact area of central Ontario between the southern end of Georgian Bay and Lake Simcoe. After the dispersal of the Huron by the Iroquois in 1650, one group relocated to Lorette (just north of Quebec) where it has remained ever since.
By 1701 they had moved to the Ohio Valley between present-day Detroit and Cleveland where they were known as the Wyandot. They remained there until they were removed to Kansas during the 1840s.
Only one group of Wyandot managed to remain in the Great Lakes area, when a small band of the Canadian Wyandot in southwest Ontario was given a reserve near Amherstburg.
For the Wyandot relocated to Kansas, problems began with the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854) which opened their lands to white settlement. The majority opted for citizenship and allotment and currently have state recognition as the Wyandot of Kansas.
Most still live in the vicinity of Kansas City, Kansas.
The more traditional Wyandot left Kansas for northeast Oklahoma after the Civil War to become the Wyandotte Tribe of Oklahoma, now known as the Wyandotte Nation.
Combined with populations of the Neutrals, Tionontati, and Wenro, the Huron in 1535 probably numbered somewhere between 30,000 and 45,000. French estimates of the four core tribes of the Huron Confederacy in 1615 varied from 20,000 to 30,000 and 16 to 25 villages.
By 1640 epidemics and war had reduced them to less than 10,000. After their dispersal in 1649 by the Iroquois, only 300 Huron were able to relocate safely at Lorette near Quebec.
Another 1,000, mixed with Tionontati and Neutrals, and escaped to the western Great Lakes area to become the Wyandot.
The number of Huron adopted into the Iroquois League is uncertain but must have been considerable. In 1736 the population at Lorette had remained near its original 300, while the Wyandot, relocated to the west end of Lake Erie, had increased to near 1,500.
By 1908 the Lorette population had risen slowly to 466 but afterwards increased dramatically. In 1994 the Quebec government listed it at 2,650.
There were about 100 Wyandot at the Anderdon Reserve (southern Ontario) in 1829, but they have since been absorbed by other native peoples.
The United States currently has more than 4,000 Wyandot organized in two main groups: the Wyandot Nation of Kansas; and the Wyandotte Tribe of Oklahoma.
Only the Oklahoma Wyandot are federally recognized as a tribe. The Kansas Wyandot, organized in 1959 from the “absentee” or “citizen” Wyandot, are state recognized by Kansas and have applied for federal status.
Huron Clans or Sub-Nations
Bear Clan (Attignaouantan, Attignawantan,Attignaouentan, or Attignousntan, meaning Bear People)
Cord Clan (Attigneenongnahac or Attiguenongha, meaning Cord People)
Deer Clan (Tohontaenrat, Scanonaerat, or Scahentoarrhonon, meaning “White Ears” or Deer People)
Rock Clan (Arendahronon, meaning Rock People)
One House Lodge (After the inclusion of Wenro (1639) and Algonkin (1644) refugees, the Ataronchronon were considered a fifth member tribe.)
Ontario Villages-Missions (before 1649):
Cahiague (St. Jean Baptiste)
Ihonatiria (Immaculate Conception 1)
Ossossane (Immaculate Conception 2)
Ste. Cecile, St. Charles (2)
St. Francois Xavier
Ste. Marie (2)
Scanonaerat (St. Michel)
Teanaustayae (St. Joseph)
Teandewiata (Tonache or Teadeouita)
Teanhatenaron (St. Ignace)
Touaguainchain (Ste. Madeleine)
After the dispersal in 1649, the Huron who were not killed or captured divided into two groups. One settled near Quebec. The other moved to the western Great Lakes before settling permanently in Ohio.
Upper Michigan Villages-Missions (after 1649):
Taenhatentaron (St. Ignace)
Quebec Villages (after 1649):
Michigan Villages (after 1701):
Brownstown (Sindathon’s Village)
Ohio Villages (after 1701):
Half King’s Town
Lower Sandusky (2)
Upper Sandusky (3)
Wisconsin Villages (1658-70):
Huron / Wyandot Culture
The Huron Confederacy was the first of the great Iroquian confederations in the region, and as such, probably the inspiration for the later formation of the Iroquois League.
As early as 1400, the Attignawantan and Attigneenongnahac had entered into an alliance. It is believed that sometime after the formation of the Iroquois League, the Laurentian Iroquois living along the St. Lawrence River between Montreal and Quebec, were forced to move west.
Two groups of them, the Arendahronon (1560) and the Tahonaenrat (1570) joined the Huron Confederacy.
As the most numerous group, the Attignawantan usually dominated the other members.
The purpose of the Confederacy was similar to that of the Iroquois League: prevent blood feuds and fighting between its members.
With a capital at the village of Ossossane, each tribe sent representatives to a council whose purpose was to resolve internal disputes and decide matters of common concern regarding peace, war, and trade with outsiders. Each member tribe retained control of its own territory and was free to pursue its separate interests.
In like manner, each of the Huron villages managed its own internal affairs. These villages varied in size, but the larger ones were usually fortified and had populations well over 1,000. Fortification and large size probably resulted from the region’s constant warfare, but the densely populated villages and large communal bark-covered longhouses (sometimes 200′ long) made the Huron vulnerable to European epidemics.
In most ways, the Huron lifestyle closely resembled that of the Iroquois.
Beginning around 1100, the Iroquian people in this region began large-scale agriculture. A dramatic increase in population followed which, unfortunately, was accompanied by a similar increase in organized warfare.
The Huron diet relied heavily on agriculture (corn at first, with beans, squash, and tobacco added later). It was supplemented by hunting, fishing, and gathering. Villages had to be relocated every 20 years or so as the fertility of local soil declined.
Huron clans are matrilineal
Social organization began with extended families and a matrilineal clan system. Rather than the patrilineal descent of Europeans, Huron clan membership was determined by the mother although it was possible to switch clans through adoption.
The original Huron clan names have been lost, but they were grouped into three phratries (clan groupings for ceremonial and social purposes) corresponding roughly to names of the member tribes: Bear, Cord, and Rock.
After fifty years of wandering to escape the Iroquois, the Tionontati constituted the largest single group of the Wyandot. Two of the three Wyandot phratries (Wolf and Deer) belonged to them. Only the Bear clan of the Turtle phratry was Huron.
By 1750 the Wyandot had ten clans in three groups: Turtle Phratry (Big Turtle, Hawk, Prairie Turtle, Small Turtle, Prairie Turtle); Deer Phratry (Bear, Beaver, Deer, Porcupine, Snake); and Wolf Phratry (one clan of the same name).
The Wyandot were governed by a council made up of the chiefs of each clan. These were chosen by the clan mothers from the male members of each clan.
One member of the council was elected head chief, although by custom, he was usually the chief from either the Bear or Deer clan.
Unlike the Iroquois, the Huron women did not directly own all property. The farmland was owned by the matrilineal clans.
Unique to the Huron was the “Feast of the Dead.” Held every 10-12 years, the remains of all who had died since the last ceremony were disinterred and re-buried in a communal burial pit. Only then were their souls able to go to the “land beyond where the sun sets.”
Huron justice could be harsh. Convicted murderers were often tied to their victim’s corpse and allowed to starve. In later times offenders were shot by firing squad.
One critical difference between the Iroquois and the Huron was the birchbark canoe. Iroquois constructed their canoes from elm-wood (which made them heavy), and as a result, they usually preferred to travel on foot.
The Huron, surrounded by a network of rivers and lakes, built their canoes from only a wood framework covered in light birch bark, and used their canoes to travel great distances and trade their agricultural surplus with other tribes, including the Iroquois.
It was this advantage in transport and trade which first aroused the interest of the French in the Huron. The fur trade, reinforced later by Jesuit missions, blossomed into a political and cultural alliance that endured beyond the defeat and dispersal of the Huron by the Iroquois.
The Huron did disappear in 1649, but survived to become the Wyandot. Allied with the Ottawa, they became the “eldest children” of Onontio (French governor of Canada) and the cornerstone of the French alliance with the Great Lakes Algonquin.
Within this organization, the Wyandot were regarded as something akin to a “founding father” with important links, through their adopted Huron relatives, to the Iroquois League.
Even after the French defeat in 1763, the Wyandot commanded a respect and influence among the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley tribes far greater than the number of their warriors would have suggested.