Sainte Marie among the Wendat

I’ve been to the Sainte-Marie among the Hurons historical site three times (once in the seventies as a child, 2 years ago and this past week) and enjoyed it very much each time. What was a fun family trip when I was a kid has become more to me as an adult as more is understood about this 10-year period of history. The Historical Interpreters at the site do an excellent job of showing the complex differences between the traditional and Christian Wendat (the natives who lived in the area), the well-meaning Blackrobes (Jesuit Missionaries) and the lay people who volunteered to help them.
On this last trip I was especially impressed by one of the Interpreters named Brian. He sat down in the Christian Wendat Longhouse and explained the complex position of the Wendat in the 17th century. Through a series of trading alliances, they were a powerful native people. Disease, starvation and the attacks upon them by the Iroquois in the winter of 1648-49 caused a dispersal of the Wendat south to Sioux country and east to Quebec.
I wonder if the Jesuit attempts to Christianize the natives led to the Wendat decimation and disperal. I don’t know. Certainly the existence of a fortified Sainte-Marie symbolizing a union with the French and the Wendat must have been threatening to their enemies. Certainly diseases brought by the white man weakened them.
What the Iroquois and their confederacy did was brutal from our comfortable 21st century perspective but they were reacting not only to the encroaching Europeans but also to the fact that they were surrounded by hostile native peoples as well. From their perspective they needed to defeat the enemies at their backs before they could provide a unified front and bargain politically with the technologically advanced French, English and Dutch. The Iroquois were virtually alone in that part of North America in their desire to retain their own culture instead of being changed by the European tide. It is certainly arguable that the Iroquois way allowed them to survive better than did the Wendat and many other native nations.
I’ve certainly been inspired to do some more reading on the topic. I’ve put some Bruce Trigger and other books on hold at the library.
I would like to attend the First Light event in early December too.


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