Tionontati

By Lee Sultzman

Location

The highlands south and west of Nottawasaga Bay extending west to the southeastern shores of Lake Huron in Ontario.

Population

As many as 8,000 before contact in 1616. After a series of epidemics swept the area during the 1630s, only 3,000 Tionontati, in nine villages, had survived by 1640. Of these, about 1,000 Huron and Tionontati managed to escape the Iroquois in 1650 and reach temporary safety on Mackinac Island (Upper Michigan). The remainder of the Tionontati were either killed, or captured and later adopted into the Iroquois. The mixed Huron-Tionontati group that escaped became known afterwards as the Wyandot.

Names

Tionontati was the name given them by the Huron and translates as “on the other side of the mountain.” Variations (with approximately the same translation) were: Conkhandeerrhonon, Quieunontati and Khionontateronon. From the moment of their first meeting, the French called them the Gens du Petun, “Tobacco Nation.” Eventually shortened to Petun, this became the name by which they are best known. English versions of this were: Tobacco, Tobacco Indians, Tobacco Nation, or Tobacco Huron. Almost all tribes in the region (including the Huron) referred to themselves collectively as Wendat meaning “islanders” or “dwellers on a peninsula.” After 1649, Wendat was altered slightly to Wyandot, and this became the name of the Tionontati-Huron group which escaped capture by the Iroquois.

Language

Iroquian – almost identical to the Attignawantan Huron

Villages

Ehouae (two missions: St. Pierre and St. Paul), Ekarenniondi (St. Matthieu), Etarita (St. Jean), St. Andre, St. Barthelemy, St. Jacques, St. Jacques et St. Philippe, St. Simon et St. Jude, and St. Thomas.

Culture

In almost every way, including language, the culture and lifestyles of the Tionontati were identical with that of the Huron who lived just to the east of them. Despite these similarities, the Tionontati always maintained their political autonomy and never became members of the Huron Confederacy, only trading partners and military allies. Other than political independence, their only noticeable distinction from the Huron was that the Tionontati grew more tobacco for trade (hence the name given them by the French). Their previous cooperation in trade and war made it fairly easy after 1649 for the Tionontati and Huron refugees to re-organize as a single tribe, the Wyandot. Of the two original groups that formed the Wyandot, the Tionontati were by the far the largest, and their descendents have constituted the majority of the Wyandot ever since. Although much of this has been lost through the years, there should also be at the present a considerable number of Tionontati descendents among both the Iroquois and the Seneca in Oklahoma.

History

The French fur trade did not bring war and destruction to Native America in every instance. In a few cases, it created alliance and cooperation between former enemies. Before 1610 the Tionontati and Huron had been at war with each other for many years, but shortly after this date, as a result of the fur trade, the fighting ended, and they became close allies and trading partners. In 1615, Samuel de Champlain made the long journey west from Quebec to the Huron villages. The following year he met the Tionontati. While the French were welcomed because of their trade goods, the Tionontati were not nearly as enthusiastic about their religion. Protecting their trade advantage with the French as middleman, the Huron had secretly told the Tionontati that the French priests were sorcerers who used magic to cause epidemics. With this type of introduction, it is small wonder the Tionontati were only hostile during the first visits by French missionaries and ordered them to leave their villages. It was not until 1640 (and after numerous conversions among the Huron) that the Jesuits were able to establish their first mission with the Tionontati. However, these were soon successful, and within a few years, there were Jesuit missions located in every Tionontati village.

Like every other tribe that traded fur with the French, the Tionontati exhausted the beaver in their homeland within a few years and then were forced to look elsewhere for more. The Huron maintained their supply through trade with tribes to the north, but the Tionontati (after 1630) crossed into the lower peninsula of Michigan to hunt. Armed with new metal weapons from their trade with the French and allied with the Neutrals and Ottawa, the Tionontati began seizing territory from the “Assitaehronon,” a general Iroquian name for the Algonquin tribes who lived in Lower Michigan. The resulting battles marked the start of the Beaver Wars in the western Great Lakes, but the westward expansion of the Tionontati and their allies were cut-short by a major war with the Iroquois League which began in 1640. After they obtained an almost unlimited supply of guns and ammunition from the Dutch, the Iroquois began a war to gain control of fur trade. In 1645 they signed a peace treaty that kept the French neutral, while they isolated the Huron from their eastern allies by a series of attacks that forced the Algonkin and Montagnais to retreat eastward. Once this was accomplished, the Iroquois began direct attacks into the Huron homeland. In 1647 they destroyed the villages of the Arendaronon Huron.

The fatal blow came when the Huron were completely overrun and dispersed during the winter of 1648-49. As the Huron broke and ran, many of the Attignawantan Huron took refuge in the Tionontati villages. After capturing as many Huron as they could during the summer and fall, the Iroquois attacked the Tionontati in December, 1649. The main village at Etarita was destroyed, its mission (St. Jean) burned, and two Jesuits, Father Charles Garnier and Father Noel Chabanel, tortured to death. The other Tionontati villages surrendered or met similar fates, and it is presumed the Tionontati and Huron who survived were absorbed into the Iroquois. As the Iroquois completed their conquest and occupied their lands, approximately 1,000 Tionontati and Huron (mainly Tionontati) managed to escape to the north by canoe. The refugees eventually reached Mackinac Island (between upper and lower Michigan) where they spent the winter of 1649-50.

Even at this great distance (almost 300 miles), the Iroquois followed and attacked them. For this reason, the Tionontati and Huron left Mackinac in 1651 and moved to an island in Green Bay (Wisconsin). A different small-group of Tionontati-Huron is believed to have fled west to the Illinois Confederation in 1650. The Iroquois soon discovered their location and demanded the Illinois surrender them. When this was refused, the Seneca attacked the Illinois in 1655 and forced them to relocate west of the Mississippi River for many years. The fate of the Tionontati refugees during this time is unknown. By 1652 the group at Green Bay had merged into a single tribe that the French still called Huron, but in later years in Ohio would be known as the Wyandot.

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