8. Petun

8. Petun

The Tionontatehronnon (Petun)

Twenty-five miles west of Wendake lived the Tionontatehronnon. Their eight (later nine) villages were nestled along the base of the Niagara Escarpment, an ancient ridge that runs from Niagara Falls, around the western end of Lake Ontario to modern day Collingwood, continuing on to the Bruce Peninsula, across the straits to Manitoulin Island and into the state of Michigan. The escarpment is like a giant step; lands to the west are at a higher altitude than those to the east. Occasionally, as in the ancient homeland of the Tionontatehronnon, the rise is dramatic. The Tionontatehronnon found the land below the Escarpment and inland from Nottawasaga Bay to be ideal for their manner of agriculture. The area apparently enjoyed a slightly milder climate from that of Wendake as the Tionontatehronnon were able to grow tobacco. Petun and Tobacco, other names given to this group, commemorate the importance of the crop to the nation.

The Tionontatehronnon, with the Wendat, had been part of a general migration from south to north in Ontario. At contact, the Tionontatehronnon were still showing signs of consolidating their more northerly location. What motivated this migration is still open to speculation.

Although Samuel de Champlain visited the homeland of the Tionontatehronnon in 1616, contact between the French and Tionontatehronnon was limited until about 1640. The Wendat and Tionontatehronnon were on good terms when Europeans arrived in the area, but the Wendat apparently dominated trade with the newcomers. Eager to protect their advantage, the Wendat discouraged for many years any contact between their cousins to the west and the French. The Tionontatehronnon themselves exhibited some hostility toward French overtures until the early 1640s.

Two Jesuit missions were finally established in 1640: one at Ehwae in the south (moved to Etharita in 1641) and another at Ekarenniondi in the north. Most of our current knowledge of these people comes from the Jesuits who lived among them between 1640 and 1650.

The Tionontatehronnon were culturally very similar to the Wendat particularly the Attignawantan, the westernmost nation of the Wendat Confederation. The Jesuits noted few significant differences. They may even have been a confederation, like the Wendat and other Iroquoians. The Jesuits considered the Tionontatehronnon to be made up of the Wolf and Deer peoples. There is some question, however, whether these represented separate nations or merely clans. Despite these similarities, the Tionontatehronnon were not part of the Wendat Confederation and, according to the oral history of the Wendat, had been involved in bitter conflict not long before the arrival of Europeans.

The Tionontatehronnon were politically independent and, though allied with the Wendat, pursued a separate set of interests. They were, for example, closely allied with the Neutral and the Odawa. Close trading relations were combined with a military alliance against the Algonkian speaking peoples of the lower Michigan peninsula, including the Potawatomi.

French observers noted the presence of both the Odawa and Neutrals in Tionontatehronnon villages. The Neutral were said to be seeking relief from famine and the Odawa frequently over-wintered with the Tionontatehronnon. The Wendat guarded their privileged role in the fur trade but the Tionontatehronnon found trading partners among their close allies and remained the primary source of tobacco for the Wendat.

The Tionontatehronnon, like the Wendat, were decimated by disease. Their population at contact may have been 8,000 people but this appears to have been diminished by a half or even two thirds by 1640.

The final Haudenosaunee assaults on Wendake in 1649 brought a flood of refugees to the villages of the Tionontatehronnon. The Attignawantan in particular favoured the shelter offered by their western allies. Although the Tionontatehronnon and Wendat had apparently agreed to a military alliance, there is very little evidence to suggest that the Tionontatehronnon were in a state of open warfare with the Five Nations. It is unclear whether the destruction of the Tionontatehronnon homeland in 1650 represented a continuation of hostilities against this military alliance or a desire on the part of the Haudenosaunee to root out the last of the Wendat. The destruction of the Neutral Confederation in the following year, however, illustrates that the Five Nations were little concerned at that stage with statements of neutrality.

The Tionontatehronnon people, along with the Wendat refugees, were not annihilated. Instead, they chose to flee their burning villages and seek refuge in lands remote from Haudenosaunee aggression. Years of wandering in the Upper Great Lakes, seeking a new role in the transformed fur trade, created a new nation from these two groups of refugees. The name “Wyandot” that came to be applied to this new nation is a corruption of “Wendat”. It has been suggested, however, that most of the refugees who headed west from the Tionontatehronnon villages were the Tionontatehronnon themselves rather than Wendat.

The Wyandot eventually settled in the vicinity of Fort Pontchartrain (Detroit). They remained there until the U.S. government seized their land. A small group crossed the border and settled near modern day Windsor Ontario. These people are known as the Anderdon Band and remain in the area. Most of the Wyandot, however, were removed to Kansas and, eventually, Oklahoma where they still reside today.