The focus of my inquiry is to determine how the Wendat Confederacy’s role as a principle ally and trading partner with the French influenced their role as a prevalent society in Canada.

Historical Significance:

The Wendat Confederacy was named after the word Ouendat, meaning “people of the island.” The Confederacy was divided into four main tribes: the Bear Tribe (Attignawantan), the Cord Tribe (Attigneenonghnahac), the Rock Tribe (Arendarhonon) and the Deer Tribe (Tahontaenrat). Each of these peoples were separate political and territorial entities, with similar cultures and a common origin that spoke similar languages. Once a year, the leaders of these four tribes would come together for a confederacy meeting, where they would discuss things such as the defence of the Wendat Nation.

Map of Wendat Territory and the locations of the Bear tribe, the Cord tribe, the Rock tribe, and the Deer tribe

Map of Wendat Territory and the locations of the Bear tribe, the Cord tribe, the Rock tribe, and the Deer tribe

In 1608, French settlers led by Samuel de Champlain began the formation of Quebec City and entered Wendat territory. The French wished to trade with the Wendat people instead of trying to settle their lands like the English or conquering the Wendat land like the Spanish. Samuel de Champlain and his fellow colonists recognised the advantages of an alliance with the well-established Wendat Confederacy. At the same time they did not understand the culture or historic relationships of the four tribes. Christien Le Clerq, a Recollet missionary wrote, “[I]n fact they do not know what civility is, nor decorum. Since they consider themselves all equal, and one as great, as powerful, and as rich as another, they mock openly at our bowings, at our compliments, and at our embracings. They never remove their hats when they enter our dwellings; this ceremony seems to them too troublesome.” This lack of understanding of the Wendat Confederacy and their social contracts made it immediately apparent that there would be significant impact on the Wendat Confederacy social contracts and subsequently an impact on the role of the Wendat Confederacy in Canadian history.

Samuel Du Champlain

Samuel Du Champlain


Champlain Arrives in Quebec

Champlain Arrives in Quebec

The French realized the economic value of the furs that the Wendat possessed. Champlain understood that if he formed an alliance, the French could infiltrate the Confederacy fur trade. In order to build such an alliance with the Wendat people, the French agreed to help them defeat the Iroquois in a battle for trading rights in 1609. This act enmeshed the French in the Wendat-Innu-Algonquin-Iroquois conflict.

Champlain assists the Wendat Confederacy in their raid against the Iroquois.

Champlain assists the Wendat Confederacy in their raid against the Iroquois.

The Wendat’s response to the French was initially one of reluctance. However, Champlain’s assistance in their raid against the Iroquois made them more open to making agreements, and was the catalyst of a strong alliance. In addition to entering this relationship for military support, the Wendat also saw the benefits in a trade partnership with the French. Such an agreement would give the Wendat access to far greater trade opportunities. An alliance was made the same year, one that would be formalized, solidifying the bond, in 1614.

Champlain discusses trade and military agreements with people from the Wendat Confederacy.

The Wendat were a trading nation long before the French came to the New World. They traded their corn for tobacco, dried meat, copper and other goods with the tribes near them. Champlain was impressed by the Wendat nation’s large villages and trade network. While the French recognized the value of the experience and knowledge of the Wendat people, they did not understand the Wendat culture nor respect the Wendat spiritual beliefs. In order to forge closer trade relations and obtain military aid from the French, the Wendat accepted missionaries and adapted to a different culture. The Recollét Missionaries were sent to the Wendat in 1615 and were replaced by the Jesuits in 1625.

Jesuit Missionaries

Jesuit Missionaries

By the mid-1630s, the Wendat had become one of the most important suppliers of furs to the French. About 500 men from various villages operated the Wendat fur trade network, meeting fur suppliers along the canoe route to the French posts on the St. Lawrence, and later exchanging the fur for French goods. As a result, the Wendat became a major trading power of furs. They acted as middlemen; as they had quickly killed most of the fur-bearing animals in their area, they traded with the Algonquins for furs to trade with the French. In order to protect their position as middlemen, the Wendat people retained their knowledge of the land and trade routes, thereby restricting the French from moving North and West to trade with new nations.

Champlain trading with the Wendat people

Champlain trading with the Wendat people.

This inquiry question is extremely important to research and understand. The extensive contact with the French created by becoming trading partners had a significant impact on all aspects of the Wendat Confederacy’s roles and values. The Wendat were an integral part of the survival of the French colonists and the development of the fur trade in Canada. An example of this can be seen when the Wendat people helped the French colonists defeat James Wolfe and the English army, when they attacked their fortress in Quebec City. While the French acknowledged the benefits of an allegiance with the Wendat Confederacy, most colonists were unable to overcome their racial prejudices and accept the Indigenous people as equals. This led to acculturalization and ongoing exploitation of Indigenous peoples throughout Canadian history.

Death of James Wolfe

Death of James Wolfe.

Cause and Consequence:

Both Champlain and his men and the Wendat Confederacy saw many benefits in working closely with one another. The French wanted to make trade alliances with the Wendat Confederacy because they were in awe of how advanced their lifestyles and relationship skills were in comparison to other Indigenous tribes they had encountered. Père Le Jeune, a French missionary, wrote “Oh, whoever would see in the great streets of Paris what I saw three days ago near the great river St Lawrence?  Five or six hundred Hurons in their savage costumes – some in bearskins, other in beaver, and others in Elk skins; all well-made men of splendid figures, tall, powerful, good-natured, and able-bodied.” Furthermore, Pierre François Xavier de Charlevoix, would write after his stay with the Wendat that they had a “solid, judicious, elevated mind, capable of reflection.” Additionally, Champlain realized the quality and opulence of the beaver pelts that the Wendat Confederacy was trading. He wanted to trade European goods for these items and ship them to France, where they were extremely popular in the form of expensive hats, clothing, and other luxury items.

Hats made from beaver pelts were extremely popular in France

Hats made from beaver pelts were extremely popular in France.

As mentioned previously, the Wendat Confederacy was unsure at first about agreeing with the French. However, they also recognized the benefits of establishing trade agreements. They realized that trading with the French would expand their impact on the worldwide trade market, and have a significant, positive impact on their economy. They were also interested in the ‘exotic’ European goods that were traded for the furs. The Wendat Confederacy wanted to gain control over the St. Lawrence River and all of its connected trading routes. The St. Lawrence River, which flowed to the Great Lakes and continued in smaller rivers and streams throughout Canada would give the Wendat access to trading partners across Canada and expand their trading power even more. The Wendat Confederacy was also aware of their competitors. They understood that other groups of people wanted to gain control over more trading routes. Because of this, the Wendat Confederacy agreed to work with the French in exchange for military support against the Iroquois. This alliance, although beneficial to the Wendat Confederacy, had a significant impact on many aspects of their lives, and therefore shaped their role as a prevalent society in Canada.

The Saint Lawrence River and its connections to the Great Lakes

The Saint Lawrence River and its connections to the Great Lakes.

This strong relationship between the French and the Wendat Confederacy had many positive and negative impacts on the Wendat People. For example, a relationship with the Europeans meant more access to the fur trade and greater economic success for the Wendat. They experienced a phenomenal expansion of their trade routes and created a want for their furs in many European countries. Furthermore, the introduction of European goods and weaponry had a significant impact on the Wendat confederacy’s values. As the Wendat confederacy had been involved in a serious conflict with the Iroquois, their alliance created a level of protection and security.

However, there were also many negative impacts on the Wendat Confederacy. The introduction of Jesuit missionaries into Wendat communities divided the indigenous people and caused unrest among the people as the new faith split them apart. The Wendat accepted these missionaries only to please the French and solidify their alliance. However, the Wendat people  did not get along with the missionaries very well, and many were noncompliant with the teachings. Additionally, documentation of the time shows us that the Jesuits brought with them diseases that succeeded in wiping out half of the Wendat population. Eventually, tensions developed in the relationship between the Wendat and the French as the Wendat realized how much the Europeans were trying to influence their culture and beliefs. When widespread war broke out between the Wendat and surrounding tribes, the divisions in the people caused ‘anti-French’ feelings to run high. Fractionation of the Wendat Confederacy weakened their military efforts and in 1649, Huronia, as it was known to the French, was destroyed. The trade network that had been so intricately created was reworked with some of the remaining Wendat peoples and surrounding tribes. Unfortunately, the damage to the culture and spiritual beliefs of the Indigenous peoples could not be rebuilt.

While the Wendat people initially did not perceive that a trade alliance posed any danger to their independence, it ultimately revolutionized their way of life and their role in Canadian history. They lost much of their former self-sufficiency as they became more reliant on the Europeans for trade and economic and military support. Furthermore, the success of the fur trade depended on the labour of Indigenous people. The desire of the Wendat people for trade goods caused them to spend longer periods each year hunting inland for fur-bearing animals. This depleted the natural resources that both held cultural significance for the Wendat people and were necessary for their survival. The European demand for furs made them the second staple of the Canadian economy. It also led to the exploration of the Great Lakes and contributed to the war between France and Britain.

Ethical Judgement:

I believe that during the time in which the trade agreements between the Wendat Confederacy and the French was made, it was seen as ethical and fair. Indigenous people were seen as being uncultured and uncivilized; therefore, it was acceptable to form an unequal alliance. Furthermore, exploitation of indigenous cultures for their resources wasn’t seen as unethical; it was completely acceptable for French citizens to wear beaver pelts and other culturally significant goods traded from the Indigenous people of Canada. Another aspect of the French and Indigenous people’s relationship that was considered ethical at the time was Missionaries. Acculturalization wasn’t seen as being wrong or unjust, it was seen as improving the Indigenous population.

Current values and standards, in particular after ‘Truth and Reconciliation’, would not accept this agreement as being ethical. There has been a significant rise in awareness surrounding cultural appropriation within the past few years. For example, ‘First Nations inspired’ Halloween costumes are being recognized as inappropriate and offensive.  Furthermore, it is completely unacceptable in modern society to impose one’s religious beliefs on others in an attempt to convert different beliefs to your own.

Social Studies Inquiry Processes:

The Wendat Confederacy’s role as a principle ally and trading partner with the French influenced their role as a prevalent society in Canada in many ways, both positive and negative. Their trading agreements with the French gave them power over the trade routes extending from the St. Lawrence River. This gave the Wendat Confederacy much more control over and access to trading opportunities across Canada. It also expanded their trading empire across the Atlantic Ocean to France, where their furs were being sold to opulent citizens as items that represented wealth and class. This improved their economy and gave them access to many exotic goods from Europe and other parts of Canada. Additionally, the Wendat Confederacy’s relationship with the French made them much more engaged in war and battles against other tribes and groups of people. With the introduction of French weaponry came extreme power in battle. Because of this, the Wendat Confederacy gained extensive military power and control, which allowed them to protect and expand their trade routes. On the other hand, the close partnership between the French and the Wendat Confederacy changed the Wendat’s role negatively in many ways. For example, the introduction of Missionaries in New France significantly impacted the Wendat Confederacy’s culture and beliefs. This attempt to erase the Wendat people’s culture has had lasting impacts on generations of people with Wendat descent. The missionaries changed the historic role of the Wendat because many of the Wendat people stopped following their own spiritual beliefs and adapted their culture to align with the Missionary teachings. Even those Wendat who tried to maintain their spiritual beliefs and culture were challenged to do so as they were surrounded by new exotic European trades such as metal goods, tools and utensils. Finally, such extensive contact with the French, specifically the Jesuits, led to the introduction of disease and the death of a large portion of the Wendat peoples. The elderly were most impacted, those people who carried the cultural and spiritual beliefs and traditions of the peoples were almost wiped out. In conclusion, the Wendat Confederacy’s role as a leading trade partner and ally of the French colonists significantly impacted their role as a prevalent society in Canada by expanding their impact on worldwide trade and therefore expanding their influence on indigenous culture. Unfortunately, this alliance also negatively impacted the health and spiritual and cultural traditions of the Wendat peoples.

Primary Sources:

Secondary Sources:

To what extent did the European contact and settlement impact the First Nations?’s_World_Champlain_Trade_and_Indigenous_Deathways/links/5776e37a08aead7ba071d2ff.Pdf’s%20role%20as%20a%20leader%20in%20canada&pg=PA344#v=onepage&q=ochasteguin&f=false


Grade 10 Blog Post Consulted:

Canada Independent Investigation – The Fate of the Fur Trade