By Lloyd Divine
Culture Committee Chairman
»Traditional tribal name: Waⁿdát (Wandat)
»English name: Wyandotte Nation
»Language family: Northern Iroquoian
»Historical overview: Prior to European contact more than a dozen tribes along the St. Lawrence River and Upper Great Lakes Region were collectively part of the Iroquoian linguist group. They were all closely related with their own distinct dialect, many cultural similarities, yet they each retained unique tribal identities and names. Four of those tribes comprised the powerful Iroquois Confederacy. Four different and equally powerful tribes were known as the Huron (Wendat) Confederacy. The founders of the Huron Confederacy were the Attignawantan and Attingueenongnahac. Another tribe, the Tionontati, lived adjacent to the Attignawantan; however, the Tionontati were never admitted into the Huron Confederacy. After a series of wars and ensuing defeat at the hands of the Iroquois Confederacy remnants of the Attignawantan, and a third Iroquoian speaking tribe the Wenrohronon, sought asylum among the Tionontati. Old enemies of the Seneca, the Tiononatati upon accepting the refugees were also attacked by the Iroquois Confederacy and henceforth defeated. Survivors from the Tionontati, Wenrohronon, and Attignawantan united as one people, set aside their unique tribal names, and collectively called themselves Wandat. The new tribal name was a unique dialectal variation of Wendat.
In 1701, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, invited the Wandat (known at the time by the French as Tionontati-Huron) to settle near his new Fort Detroit. Within a few years a portion of the tribe ventured south. They settled Upper Sandusky, Ohio, where they and those that remained around Detroit held a position of honor among other tribes of the Ohio Valley. In Ohio, after sustained contact with the British, our traditional name Wandat became corrupted and spelled as Wyandot somewhere in the 1730s-1750s. Pressure from settlers forced the Treaty of 1843 and removal to Indian Territory (Kansas) west of the Mississippi River. Upon arriving in the West, no land or provisions were available. Arrangements were made and land was purchased from the Delaware. Our new reservation was located on highly sought and fought over land in Kansas, which lead to the Treaty of 1855 and tribal termination. Our land was quickly allotted and sold to white interests.
In 1857, some Wyandot who were unwilling to accept citizenship relocated to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and lived as guests of the Mixed Band Seneca-Shawnee. After the Civil War concluded, in 1867 approximately 200 successfully sought reinstatement as a tribe. The name Wyandotte was officially adopted after the 1867 Treaty and reflects an influence from the French language.
Although we came to Indian Territory to remain ‘Indian,’ our small population, external influences, and the decisions we made compromised our traditional way of life. In the early 1900s, many did not teach their children our native language, and soon those capable of continuing the traditional ceremonies were gone. Our tribal interests focused on the care of orphans, land disputes, and ongoing issues with the government.
In 1983, Leaford Bearskin was elected chief. He had a vision and determined purpose for his people. Under his leadership we grew to almost 5,000 citizens, secured our right of self-governance, initiated cultural renewal, and achieved economic growth unlike any other time in our history. In September, we host our Annual Gathering, which includes language, history, traditional dancing, and special interest classes. During the same week our Pow Wow, Annual Meeting, and other activities are held. In June, the Gathering of Little Turtles brings our children and youth together for activities designed specifically for their age groups. During these days in June our kids learn tribal history, language, traditional dancing, lacrosse, bow and arrows, and crafts.
»Total tribal enrollment: @5,800
»Tribal enrollment in Oklahoma: @1,200
»Government: The Wyandotte Nation operates according to a 1999 constitution and by-laws, governed by a business committee comprised of a chief, second chief and four councilpersons.
»Tribal headquarters: 64700 E. Highway 60, Wyandotte, 918-678-2297, wyandotte-nation.org
»Did you know? We were instrumental in the founding of Detroit, MI and Kansas City, KS. At one time Kansas City was named Wyandotte City. Counties named ‘Wyandotte’ exist in Michigan, Ohio, and Kansas.