The Huron Indians

The history, culture, religion and way of life of these fierce Huron woodland Indians

The Huron, also known as the Wyandot, are a tribe of Native Americans who originally inhabited an area of central Ontario. The Huron were the bitter enemies of the Iroquois, and - after being driven from their lands in 1650 - split into two factions. The first group travelled to Quebec, while the other, larger band moved into the Ohio Valley region. During the 1840's these people were moved on to Kansas. Many of these people still live in the Kansas area.

Prior to the arrival of the white man the Huron may have numbered as many as 40,000 people. When the French arrived in the early 1600s, there was a confederacy of four main Huron bands, comprised of about twenty villages. Each Huron village was relatively autonomous, The people lived in sometimes cramped and always well fortified settlements of up to 1,000 members. As with most of their neighboring native tribes, the Huron were to lose vast numbers to the guns and the diseases of the Europeans. By 1640, they were down to just 10,000 people. Some Huron were to amalgamate with other tribes, leaving only a few thousand to move to Kansas. Today those Huron living in the United States are known as Wyandot and are to be found primarily in Kansas and Oklahoma.

Like most of the other Eastern woodland tribes the Huron were farmers during the Summer and hunters during the winter. Corn, squash, beans and tobacco were all cultivated. Hunting in the winter period was mainly of bison, deer, bear and small game.

The Huron Confederacy was the first great eastern Indian confederacy. Around 1560 they were joined by the Arendahronin and the Tahonaenrat. The council members met regularly to work out disputes among the member tribes. Huron society was divided along Clan lines, in accordance with the descent from the mother. The original clan names are not known today, but the Clan names Bear, Cord and Rock have survived. Government of the Huron was by way of a governing council, chosen by the clan mothers.

The Huron were a spiritual people who believed in a supreme deity. A religious ceremony that was unique to these people was the "╦ťFeast of the Dead.' This occurred once every decade. At the time the body's of all people who had died over the last ten years were dug up and reburied in a communal burial plot. The Huron believed that this ceremony was necessary to allow the souls of the departed to enter into the spirit realm.

The Huron had a system of justice that was reminiscent of Biblical justice. It was customary for a convicted murderer to be tied to the corpse of his victim and allowed to starve to death. Later, murderers were killed by firing squad.

The Huron first encountered French traders in 1535. These Europeans found a proud and powerful people who generally had good relations with their neighboring tribes. Their life long enemies, the Iroquois were, however, the exception. Around 1609 the Huron entered into an alliance with the French against the Iroquois. Following this victory, the Huron signed a trade agreement with the French. They soon became the preferred trading partners of the French because of the superior quality of their furs. The Huron soon became the intermediaries between the French and the other trading tribes. When their own beaver supplies became exhausted, the Huron traded with tribes further west for furs.

Franciscan Missionaries entered the world of the Huron from about 1615. Early attempts to establish a mission, however, did not meet with success. The first mission was not set up until 1634, where one was located at Ihonatiria. As epidemics ravaged their villages many Huron turned to the Christian missionaries for help from the unknown sickness. Christianity, however, generally had a negative effect, leading to divisions among the people.

War between the Huron and the Iroquois continued throughout the 17th Century. Eventually the Iroquois were to overrun the Huron, killing many and forcing the survivors to flee to Wisconsin. From there they were moved by the French to Detroit, where they joined the French during the Fox War. About 1750, however, they switched allegiances to the British. As the French Indian War flared, though, they again sided with the French. During the American Revolution the Huron sided with the British against the Americans. By the end of the War they were reduced to only about 100 warriors.

Following the Revolution the newly formed United States began moves to take as much of the Huron land as they could. Around 1810 they joined a confederation of tribes under the leadership of the great Shawnee leader Tecumseh. This dissolved with Tecumseh's death in 1813. The 1830 Indian Removal act took more of the Huron's land. In 1842 they were moved to Kansas. When Kansas was opened to white settlement, more of their diminishing reservation land was taken from them. Today there are about 4,000 Huron in the United States and Canada. They are known today as the Wyandot.

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