Dr. Charles Marius Barbeau (1883-1969) is widely recognized as a pioneer in the fields of anthropology and folklore studies. Barbeau was born in Sainte-Marie de Beauce, a town in the heart of French-speaking Québec and not far from the Huron-Wendat of Wendake, the Wendat community located near Quebec City.
Barbeau studied law at the Université Laval and won a Rhodes Scholarship, which enabled him to go to Oxford University in England. It was there that he studied anthropology. He earned his degree in 1911 and returned to Canada, where he joined the staff of the National Museum of Canada (known today as the Canadian Museum of Civilization).
While he would later undertake studies of French Canadian folk culture and of Native communities in Western Canada, the focus of his earliest work was Wendat (Wyandotte) traditional culture. Barbeau visited communities in Quebec, in Ontario (near Detroit, Michigan) and in Oklahoma. Among the Oklahoma Wyandotte, Barbeau met at least one tribal member who was born in, and remembered, their Ohio settlement and there were more elders with first hand knowledge of their time in Kansas.
A particular focus of his efforts in Oklahoma was documenting traditional stories. In 1915, these were published in a book titled Huron and Wyandot Mythology. The narratives told by Wyandotte elders and gathered by Barbeau testified to the richness of the nation’s culture and to the artistry of Wyandotte people.
While incomplete and shaped by his times, Barbeau’s Wyandotte studies greatly expanded understanding of an important people. In particular, it showed how much cultural knowledge the dispersed Wyandotte communities continued to share. For Wyandotte people, Barbeau created a record of stories, objects, customs, language and family members that still matter greatly today.