Native Americans in New France (Canada)

Introduction

Kleedinge Van Canada [Costumes of Canada], ca. 1650 CA ANC Peter Winkworth Collection R9266-2428When the French first arrived to the eastern part of Canada in the seventeenth century, the area was settled by Natives of three major linguistic groups: the Algonquian, the Iroquoian, and the Inuit (Eskimo). The Inuit occupied the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence River and the Arctic region. The Iroquoian-speaking tribes, including the Five Iroquois Nations and the Huron, resided in the Great Lakes area (namely Lakes Ontario, Erie, and Huron) and the eastern shore of St. Lawrence River. The Algonquian-speaking tribes, including Inuit (Montagnais), the Mi'kmaq, the Abenaki, and the Algonquin, resided on the western and northern shore of the St. Lawrence River. 

The Inuit were nomadic hunters and they had only a sporadic contact with the European settlers till the nineteenth century. The Algonquian tribes were semi-sedentary, relaying on fishing, hunting and gathering as their main source of subsistence. In summers they lived in together in villages near water routes and engaged in fishing and limited farming. When fall came, the tribes separated into small family groups and headed for their winter hunting grounds. In the next spring, they returned again to their summer villages. The Iroquoian tribes were predominantly sedentary with established agriculture. Among all of the Iroquoian tribes, the Huron are probably best known for their farming skills. Even though agriculture was dominant in the Iroquoian societies, gathering, fishing, and hunting were important parts of subsistence as well.

Most of the information we have about the natives in Canada, their way of life and traditions, come from the letters of Jesuit missionaries. The Jesuits in their attempt to Christianize the Natives lived with the Indians in their villages (predominantly with the Huron), learned their languages, and observed their customs. Every year they sent letters about the mission and their work to Paris, where the letters were edited and published. At the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries, these letters were translated from their Latin, French, and Italian originals to English and published by Rueben Gold Thwaites under the name The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents (Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers Company, 1896 - 1901). These letters constitute the basis for this document package (cited hereafter as JR volume number: page number). The Jesuit Relations website is word (number) searchable.

National History Standards

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades 5-12:

Era 1: Three Worlds Meet (Beginnings to 1620)

STANDARD 1: Comparative characteristics of societies in the Americas, Western Europe, and Western Africa that increasingly interacted after 1450.

Standard 1A: The student understands the patterns of change in indigenous societies in the Americas up to the Columbian voyages.

9-12: Explain the common elements of Native American societies such as gender roles, family organization, religion, and values and compare their diversity in languages, shelter, labor systems, political structures, and economic organization. [Analyze multiple causation]

Primary Resources

  1. DESCRIPTION:  The Village, description
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1610 - 1791
    NOTES: The Jesuits left us numerous description of the Native villages and their defenses: JR 10:51, 229; JR 11:7; JR 22: 305; JR 23:57; JR 34: 125-127.
    SOURCE: Reuben Gold Thwaites, The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents. Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers Company

  2. DESCRIPTION:  Inset, The Indian Fort Susquehanok
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  Published as inset in Herman Moll's A new map of the north parts of America claimed by France, 1720
    NOTES:  Fort Susquehannock was located south from the Great Lake region. There was one known fort of the Susquehannock located on the Western Shore of Maryland, however it is not certain that it is the one on the picture presented. The Susquehannock tribe was Iroquoian-speaking but did not belong to the Iroquois Confederacy. The tribe resided in Pennsylvania and northern Maryland.
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to Order Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE: Map Collections: 1500-2004
    REPOSITORY: &nbspLibrary of Congress Geography and Map Division Washington, D.C.

  3. DESCRIPTION:  Dress and Decoration, description
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1610 - 1791
    NOTES: The Native Americans used mostly deer and beaver skins for their dresses. The basic garment was a mantle worn over the shoulders or back and in winter "shoes" or leggings of skins: JR 15:153; JR 17:39. As decoration, the Indians used beads and bead necklaces: JR 15:153. Traditionally, the Indians painted their bodies and faces with natural colors - black, green, red, violet and many others. These colors were mixed with sunflower seed oil, bear's fat, or other animal fats:: JR 15:153; JR 38: 249, 251
    SOURCE: Reuben Gold Thwaites, The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents. Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers Company

  4. DESCRIPTION:  Subsistence, Meals and Their Preparation, description
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1610 - 1791
    NOTES: Agriculture - plants and difficulties: JR 10:33, 39; JR 11:5; JR 15:153, 157. Gathering - many kinds of berries: JR 10:101; including mulberries and grapes: JR 13:11, 83. Fishing: JR 13:113; JR 15:57, 111, 123; JR 10: 145; JR 34: 215; JR 17:49. Hunting: JR 13: 107; JR 15:181; JR 23:61; JR 26:311; JR 30:51. Dogs were eaten as meal as well and often the killing of the dog was a part of a religious ceremony: JR 7:221; JR 9:109; JR 17:193; JR 21:159; JR 23: 171. Dogs were also used for hunting: JR 14:31-33. Meals and their preparation: JR 8:109, 111; JR 11:5; JR 15:181; JR 19:233. Farming, meal preparation, and other household matters were the responsibility of women, while men were in charge of hunting and fishing: JR 14:233; JR 15:153;  
    SOURCE: Reuben Gold Thwaites, The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents. Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers Company 

  5. DESCRIPTION:  Family life, description
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1610 - 1791 
    NOTES:  Courtship and proposition of marriage (one need to remember that these documents were written by the missionaries, therefore they portray only some aspects of the Native society): JR 27:29; JR 30:35-37; JR 33:85. Marriage and divorce (the Huron were monogamous, but divorce was frequent): JR 8:117 - 119; JR 10:211; JR 13:139; JR 14:233; JR 15:77; JR 21:133; JR 23:185; JR 27:67; JR 28:49 - 51; Children: JR 8:125. Residence (though the Huron were Iroquoian-speaking and mostly matrilocal, the cases in the Jesuit Relations do not indicate matrilocal residence): JR 13:9-11; JR 19:145; JR 26:295. Descent: JR 10:231. Kinship terms: JR 10:265; JR 13:67.
    SOURCE: Reuben Gold Thwaites, The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents. Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers Company 

  6. DESCRIPTION:  Drawing, Iroquois woman with a baby
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  Published in Jacques Grasset de Saint-Sauveur, Travelling encyclopaedia: containing a short guide to the history of the customs, domestic habits, religions, holidays, methods of torture, funerals, sciences, arts and commerce of all nations as well as a complete collection of civilian, military, religious and official dress, [Paris], Deroy, 1796
    SOURCE:  Images from the turn of a century, 1760 - 1840
    REPOSITORY:  Montréal, Bibliothèques de l'Université de Montréal, Collections spéciales.

  7. DESCRIPTION:  Religious believes, practices, and other customs, descriptions
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1610 - 1791
    NOTES: The Natives incorporated their religious believes and different ceremonies into all aspects of their lives: JR 10:211 - 215; JR 15: 175 - 179; JR 17:163. Sickness and healing: JR 15:177, 179, JR 16:47; JR 17:157 - 159, 193 - 195, 199, 209 - 211; JR 19:67 - 69, JR 20:261. "Raising the dead" was a ceremony in which a death captain or war chief was replaced by a member of his tribe. The new member accepted the late chief's name and position in the tribe: JR 17:159. Going to war: JR 19:69, 81. Influence of pregnant women: JR 15:179.
    SOURCE: Reuben Gold Thwaites, The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents. Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers Company

  8. DESCRIPTION:  Councils - political structure and decision making process, description
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1610 - 1791
    NOTES:  In the Native society, important things concerning the whole village or tribe were decided in councils. JR 10:211, 217, 227 - 233, 249, 253 - 257; JR 15:25-27, 37 - 39; JR 17:89 - 91; JR 19:75 - 77;
    SOURCE: Reuben Gold Thwaites, The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents. Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers Company  

  9. DESCRIPTION:  Crime and Punishment - Native Justice System, description
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1610 - 1791
    NOTES:  The Native societies had three ways of dealing with crime (namely murders): revenge killing, gift giving and adoption to replace the murdered person. JR 10:213 - 219; JR 15:155; JR 19:83; JR 28:47 - 49; JR 33:229 - 243.
    SOURCE: Reuben Gold Thwaites, The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents. Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers Company 

  10. DESCRIPTION:  Travel, description
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1610 - 1791 
    NOTES:  Traveling within the Great Lakes area was done by foot or by canoe. The canoes were made of birchbark and were light enough to be easily carried by man between two rivers or creeks if necessary: JR 15:149, 159. For the trip back to their village, the Natives left food along the way: JR 7:221; JR 8:75; JR 19:251.
    SOURCE: Reuben Gold Thwaites, The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents. Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers Company 

  11. DESCRIPTION:  Drawing, The Birchbark Canoe
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  Published in Les sauvages vont s'établir à la Prairie de la Magdeleine avec les François [The savages going to settle in the Prairie of the Magdeleine with the French], from the Narration annuelle de la mission du Sault [Saint-Louis]…, Père Claude Chauchetière, 1667-1686
    SOURCE:  New France, New Horizons On French Soil in America
    REPOSITORY:  Library and Archives Canada

  12. DESCRIPTION: Trade, description
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1610 - 1791
    NOTES:  Trade between the different Native groups in Canada had been in existence long before the French arrived. The Huron traded agricultural and other products with the Algonquian for fish and furs: JR 13:247; JR 21:237; JR 31:207. The Natives traded furs with the French for beads, knives, awls, needles, fishhooks, iron arrow points, blankets, kettles, hatchets, and many other items: JR 7:221; JR 12:117 - 119; JR 15:157, 161; JR 18:17.
    SOURCE: Reuben Gold Thwaites, The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents. Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers Company 

  13. DESCRIPTION:  War, description
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1610 - 1791
    NOTES:  The fur trade with the French caused tension between the Indian tribes in the Great Lakes region, as they competed for hunting grounds and securing better deals with the European traders. Traditionally, the Iroquois were enemies to the Huron and the Algonquian tribes in the area. The Huron and their allies were in slight disadvantage, because the French did not trade guns as did other Europeans with the Iroquois. JR 18:33; JR 22:305; JR 23:33, 245; JR 24:269 - 271, JR 25:19, 23 - 25; JR 26:29, 181 - 183; JR 27:35, 61-63; JR 28:43; JR 29:245; JR 33:65; JR 34:121, 195, 219. Most prisoners taken in wars (Natives as well as French) were brought back to the victorious tribe's villages and tortured to death (some of these documents are quite descriptive, discretion advised): JR 15:183 - 185; JR 17:63, 71 - 75, 105 - 109; JR 18:27 - 31; JR 22:255 - 265.
    SOURCE: Reuben Gold Thwaites, The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents. Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers Company

  14. DESCRIPTION:  Drawing, Iroquois warrior
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  Published in Jacques Grasset de Saint-Sauveur, Travelling encyclopaedia: containing a short guide to the history of the customs, domestic habits, religions, holidays, methods of torture, funerals, sciences, arts and commerce of all nations as well as a complete collection of civilian, military, religious and official dress, [Paris], Deroy, 1796
    SOURCE:  Images from the turn of a century, 1760 - 1840
    REPOSITORY:  Montréal, Bibliothèques de l'Université de Montréal, Collections spéciales.

  15. DESCRIPTION:  Drawing, Iroquois warrior
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  Published in Jacques Grasset de Saint-Sauveur, Travelling encyclopaedia: containing a short guide to the history of the customs, domestic habits, religions, holidays, methods of torture, funerals, sciences, arts and commerce of all nations as well as a complete collection of civilian, military, religious and official dress, [Paris], Deroy, 1796
    SOURCE:  Images from the turn of a century, 1760 - 1840
    REPOSITORY:  Montréal, Bibliothèques de l'Université de Montréal, Collections spéciales.

  16. DESCRIPTION:  Engraving, Champlain and the Iroquois
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  
    NOTES:  In 1609, Samuel de Champlain, the founder of the colony New France, joined with the Huron in an attack on an Iroquois village. Engraving published in Samuel de Champlain, The works of Samuel de Champlain, Vol. III  1615-1618. Toronto: Champlain Society, 1922-1936.
    SOURCE: Champlain Society Digital Collection
    REPOSITORY:  Champlain Society

See also:

Additional Media Resources

A Mohawk Iroquois Village, New York State Museum

Nouvelle-France, Horizons Nouveaux / New France, New Horizons, web site in French and English

From Revolution to Reconstruction: The Constitution of the Iroquois Nation

NARA: ALIC - Archives Library Information Center: Indians / Native Americans

Additional Instructional Resources

Iroquois Creation Story

Secondary Resources

Davis, Natalie Zemon. "Iroquois Women, European Women." in Women, "Race," and Writing in the Early Modern Period. Hendricks, Margo and Patricia Parker, eds. New York: Routledge (1994): 243 - 258.

Eccles, W. J. The Canadian Frontier, 1534 - 1760. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1983.

Ray, Arthur J. "The Northern Interior, 1600 to Modern Times." in The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas. 2 vols. Trigger, Bruce G. and Wilcomb E. Washburn, eds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Richter, Daniel. The Ordeal of the Longhouse: The Peoples of the Iroquois League in the Ear of European Colonization. Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1992.

______. "War and Culture: The Iroquois Experience." in Colonial America: Essays in Politics and Social Development. Katz, Stantley N., John M. Murrin, and Douglass Greenberg. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1993.

Salisbury, Neal. "Native People and European Settlers in Eastern North America, 1600 - 1783." in The Cambridge History of the Native People of the Americas. 2 vols. Trigger, Bruce G. and Wilcomb E. Washburn, eds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Tooker, Elizabeth. An Ethnography of the Huron Indians, 1615 - 1649. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press. (reprint 1991).

Trigger, Bruce G. Huron: Farmers of the North. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1969.

_____. The Children of Aantaenstic: A History of the Huron People to 1660. 2 vols. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1976.

_____. Natives and Newcomers: Canada's "Heroic Age" Reconsidered. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1985

White, Richard. The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650 - 1815. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Associated Heritage and Preservation Organizations

National Museum of the American Indian
4th Street and Independence Ave., SW
Washington, D.C. 20024
Phone: 202-633-1000
National Museum of the American Indian - Cultural Resources Center
4220 Silver Hill Road
Suitland, MD 20746
Phone: 301-238-1435

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Teaching American History in Maryland is a collaborative partnership of the Maryland State Archives and the Center for History Education (CHE), University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), and the following sponsoring school systems: Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Baltimore City Public School System, Baltimore County Public Schools, and Howard County Public Schools.

Other program partners include the Martha Ross Center for Oral History, Maryland Historical Society, State Library Resource Center/Enoch Pratt Free Library, with assistance from the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress. The program is funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

This document packet was researched and developed by Lucie Kyrova.

 

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