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Topic – Who Are the Wendat?

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Who Are the Wendat?

The Wendat (or Ouendat) lived in what is now southern Ontario, where the towns of Barrie, Orillia, and Penetanguishene are. Because of where their territory was located, the Wendat are part of a larger group of Indigenous people known as Peoples of the Eastern Woodland. The name Wendat means “people who live on the back of a great turtle.”

Life in a Longhouse

Wendat village surrounded by palisades

A Wendat village was usually located on a hill that had a marsh or swamp around the bottom. These features made the village easy to defend and the Wendat could easily see enemies approaching. As well, each village was surrounded by as many as three palisades—rows of closely spaced posts with sharp, pointed ends.

Inside the village, the Wendat lived in longhouses. There could be as many as 100 longhouses in a Wendat village. These were large, rectangular homes with rounded roofs. Poles and logs formed the frame of these homes, which were then covered with cedar, fir, or spruce bark. Some of these homes could fit more than ten families. 

An authentic reproduction of an Iroquois longhouse

Inside a longhouse were compartments for each family. There were raised sleeping platforms along the walls, with bearskins for blankets. Cooking fires were located in a row down the centre of the longhouse.

Hunting, Gathering, Planting

The Wendat fished and hunted, as well as picking fruit and gathering herbs, nuts, and roots. This group of Indigenous people is one of the few who also grew food. To clear a field and make it ready to plant a crop, the Wendat burned the trees and grass where they wanted to plant. The ash from the fire fertilized the soil.

The Three Sisters

The main crops that the Wendat planted were beans, corn, and squash (the Three Sisters). The beans grew tall, supported by the corn stalks, while the wide leaves of the squash shaded the ground and made it hard for weeds to grow.

The Wendat made sure their villages were close to a good water supply to help their crops grow. But every 10 to 15 years, the crops would use up the nutrients in the soil and all the nearby firewood would have been cut down. The villagers had to move and rebuild their palisades and longhouses in a new location.

The Wendat Today

Mélanie Savard, a member of the Huron-Wendat performs a traditional dance

Explorers from France met the Wendat beginning in the 1500s. The Frenchmen called these Indigenous people the “Huron.” The name comes from the French word “hure” and means “wild boar.” The French gave the Wendat this nickname because the Indigenous men’s bristly hairstyle reminded the French of the wild animal.

Unfortunately, contact with the Europeans exposed the Wendat to diseases, and many of them died. After 1650, the peoples of the Wendat confederacy were scattered from their lands as a result of battles with the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois). The surviving Wendat joined other nations but kept their own identity. Today, descendants of these people mostly live mostly on the Wendake Reserve, which is near Quebec City in the province of Quebec.

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