The name "Huron" was given to the Wyandot by the French and is thought to derive from "une hure," which in 16th-century French meant "shock of hair," referring to the traditional hairstyle of Huron men. In older French it also referred to an animal, and when applied to a person indicated someone whose hair appeared bristly or unkempt. Their own confederacy name was Ouendat (Wendat, Wyandot or Wyandotte), commonly thought to mean "people of the island." The confederacy comprised the Attignawantan ("bear people"), Attigneenongnahac ("people of the cord"), Arendaronon ("rock people"), Tahontaenrat ("deer people") and Ataronchronon ("swamp people"). By the early 17th century the latter three tribes had migrated into Huron country from southern and eastern Ontario to join the other two tribes in a loose defensive alliance against their common enemy, the five IROQUOIS bands of upper New York State.
Prior to 1600, the Huron numbered from 20 000 to 25 000, but between 1634 and 1640 they were reduced to about 9000 by a series of epidemic diseases, particularly the SMALLPOX epidemic of 1639. Intense warfare among the Iroquois nations, starvation, and the spread of disease resulted in a dramatic decline in the Huron population and by 1760 it is estimated that there were only 100 Huron in the Québec region. The population stabilized and gradually began to increase to approximately 300 by the mid 19th century.
The Huron lived in 18 to 25 villages, some with up to 3500 people. Their subsistence economy was based on corn, beans, SQUASH and fish. At the time of French contact (1615-49), these efficient farmers occupied a territory of about 880 km2, achieving an average population density of 23 people per km2. Agriculture became less important with the growth and demand of the lucrative fur trade and the Huron began to shift their focus from crop cultivation to hunting. This cultural change also resulted in the Huron becoming more nomadic than some of the more sedentary Iroquois groups.
At the time of the defeat and dispersion of Huronia by the Iroquois, 1649-1650, about 500 Huron had converted to Catholicism and left Georgian Bay to seek refuge close to the French in the region that is now Québec City. Some re-settled on Ile d'Orléans (1650-1656), and by 1697 others had moved to northern Québec at Jeune-Lorette (Wendake), also known as Village-des-Hurons, or "Huron Village." Many Huron joined the Iroquois; others fled westward with remnants of the Petun, taking refuge on what is now the Wyandot Reservation in Oklahoma.
As one of the SEVEN NATIONS alliance, the Huron were allies of the French until 1760, and allies of the British after that. However, due to their small population they played only a modest role in the North American conflicts. Most villages were well fortified with palisades as a defense against attacks from the Iroquois and their European allies. Villages usually stood on a slight rise, adjacent to a permanent water supply and close to good farming soils. Every 10-15 years, when soils and firewood were exhausted, villages were moved.
The Huron formed monogamous nuclear families; however the fundamental socioeconomic group was the matrilineal extended family, made up of a number of families whose female members traced common descent to a mother or grandmother, who was in charge of daily affairs. The extended family lived in LONGHOUSES, which were about 7 m wide and varied in length with the size of the family. Houses up to 90 m in length have been reported from archaeological work. Huron individuals belonged to one of 8 matrilineal clans. Clan members considered themselves cousins and were not permitted to marry each other. Village affairs were run by 2 councils, one in charge of civil affairs, the other of war. All men over 30 were members. In concept, matters that affected the village members were decided by consensus, but in reality the older men and elected chiefs governed their communities because of their status and powers of oratory.
The Huron were experienced traders, with close relations to the PETUN, NEUTRAL, OTTAWA, Nipissing and ALGONQUIN bands of the Ottawa Valley. In 1609 they contacted the French under Samuel de CHAMPLAIN and concluded a military and trading alliance which drew the French into the Huron-Iroquois conflict (see IROQUOIS WARS). RÉCOLLET missionaries were sent to the Huron in 1615, followed by the JESUITS in 1625. Skillful traders, by the 1620s the Huron had become the most important suppliers of furs to the French, with a trade network that encompassed most of Ontario and western Québec. The Huron economy also included the production and sale of traditional items such as snowshoes, baskets and canoes, but the main portion of their trade of fur was with the "coureurs de bois."
Today the Wyandot are among the most urbanized and most prosperous Aboriginal communities in Québec, with the largest group of Wyandot located near Québec City at Loretteville. The majority of Wyandot are Roman Catholic and most use French as their first language. In 1999 the Huron-Wyandot commemorated the 350th anniversary of their dispersion from northern Ontario and Québec. Representatives of the 4 main Wyandot groups formed a new Wyandot Confederacy.
According to the Government of Canada, in 2009, there were 3029 registered Huron- Wyandot in Canada.
Author C.E. HEIDENREICH
J.S. Frideres, R.R. Gadacz, Aboriginal peoples in Canada; 7th ed (2004), P.R. Magocsi, ed., Aboriginal peoples of Canada (2002); O. Dickason, Canada's First Nations 3rd ed., (2002); R.B. Morrison, C. R. Wilson eds., Native Peoples: The Canadian Experience 3rd ed. (2004); A.D. McMillan, eds. Native Peoples and cultures of Canada 2nd ed., (1995); B.G. Trigger, The Children of Aataentsic: A History of the Huron People to 1660 (1987) ed; Handbook of North American Indians, vol 15: Northeast (1978); and The Huron: Farmers of the North (1990).
Links to Other Sites
Canadian Aboriginal Writing and Arts Challenge
The website for the Canadian Aboriginal Writing and Arts Challenge, which features Canada's largest essay writing competition for Aboriginal youth (ages 14-29) and a companion program for those who prefer to work through painting, drawing and photography. See their guidelines, teacher resources, profiles of winners, and more. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
Explore the history of Huronia, including Huron and Ojibway heritage, art and artists from the Georgian Bay Region, the marine history of Georgian Bay, and more.
Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples
The website for the "Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples." Click on the links for feature articles about Canada's many multicultural communities, access to their extensive digital archives collection, learning modules, and much more. From "Multicultural Canada."
Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons
A site outlining the programs and exhibitions of Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons in addition to providing a historical overview of the historic site and of the Wendat (Huron).
Raid on Deerfield
A narrated history of the 1704 Raid on Deerfield and its aftermath from Native and European perspectives. Also features fascinating stories about Native societies, cultures, trade practices, and traditions. This multimedia website is from the Memorial Hall Museum in Deerfield, Massachusetts.
Jean Nicollet de Belleborne
A detailed biography of Jean Nicollet de Belleborne, a 17th century explorer, interpreter, and French liaison with First Nations tribes. From the “Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.”
Four Directions Teachings
Elders and traditional teachers representing the Blackfoot, Cree, Ojibwe, Mohawk, and Mi’kmaq share teachings about their history and culture. Animated graphics visualize each of the oral teachings. This website also provides biographies of participants, transcripts, and an extensive array of learning resources for students and their teachers. In English with French subtitles.