History and Origins
The film excerpts in this theme look at the creation myth of the Wendat, the life of the Mi’kmaq before European settlement, the origin of the word “Canada,” and the question of territory under the English and French regimes.
Comments on Excerpts from Kanata : Legacy of the Children of Aataentsic
by Georges Emery Sioui, Historian and Traditionalist assisted by Miguel Paul Sioui, Ecologist and Traditionalist
The French explorer Jacques Cartier made three landings in North America. During a brief stay in the Gaspé Peninsula in the summer of 1534, he took as prisoners on one of his ships two young men whom he took back with him to France. Their names were Taignoagny and Domagaya. The following summer, in 1535, Taignoagny and Domagaya guided Cartier to the home of their father, an important chief by the name of Donnacona, whom Cartier had also met in the Gaspé area the previous year. The village where this chief lived was called Stadacona and was located at the site of what is now Quebec City.
It is now September 1535. The First Nations of Stadacona, related to the Wendat (Hurons) and the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) of today, tell the French captain that the French are now in their “kanata”, which in their language meant “our headquarters” or “our main village”. Cartier, whose mission was to conquer the New World in the name of his king, wrote in his ship’s log that he was in “the country of Canada” and that he was with the “Lord of Canada”, i.e., Chief Donnacona. The Canada of the Europeans was born. Cartier would leave seven months later with ten captives, including Donnacona, the Grand Chief of the First Nations kanata. The world, as it had been understood and constructed by these First Peoples, would never be the same.
As all peoples do, the Wendat had (and some still have) their own ideas about the creation of the world. The most important belief, in their eyes, was that the world and the universe are ruled by feminine spirits. Indeed, it was one of these powerful spirit women who, a very very long time ago, came down from the heavens to found the earth world on which we live. Her name was Aataentsic, which means “She Who Is All Knowing”. A flight of geese stretched out their wings and caught her as she fell from the sky. The chief of the animals, the Great Tortoise, asked the best diving animals to bring back some mud from the bottom of the sea. The most humble among them, a female toad, was the last to try and the only one who was able to bring the precious substance back to the surface (and that is why our Mother Earth is sacred). Thanks to the power of all the animal spirits combined, this mud, spread over the shell of the Great Tortoise, formed a marvellously beautiful Island, our Earth, where our grandmother Aataentsic could be set down. She planted corn, zucchini, beans and tobacco, which she had brought from the other world, and began to fashion the life of all the creatures that would inhabit the Earth.
The Wendat, like all First Nations, have a circular vision of life, meaning that their society, from the time they are infants, encourages them to see everything in nature as connected. All of life – humans, animals, plants, spirits – is a great Circle of relationships, one big family. This way of looking at life is fundamentally centred on the mother and on female nature. The Europeans, on the other hand, especially their religious representatives, saw things otherwise. For them, humans think very differently, that is, in linear fashion. Those who hold power are superior, and the less power one has the less importance one has. Theirs is also a patriarchal world where the feminine is subordinated to the masculine; even Mother Earth exists to serve the interests of men.
Huron-Wendat Group from Wendake (Lorette) at Spencerwood, Quebec City, QC, 1880
McCord Museum of Canadian History, Canada MP-0000.223
The Jesuits arrived in Wendake (in Huronia) in 1632, determined to transform the Wendat’s entire way of thinking. They had to become linear and patriarchal thinkers. They also had to be converted to Catholicism. Now, the Wendat, thanks to their circular vision, were able to welcome the Europeans as they were. They had no objection to learning about the French people’s religion and even adopting some aspects of it.
Because of the strength of the beliefs and culture of the Wendat, the two societies would surely have been able to adapt to each other. But something very serious happened, which very quickly led to the weakening of Wendat society – epidemics of European disease.
Repeatedly, these microbial plagues attacked the Wendat, killing thousands of people each time, particularly the oldest and the youngest. The Wendat political order was divided, and a deep panic set in. The Wendat confederacy, until then the most powerful in the Northeast, seemed destined to disappear. The survivors were divided. Some turned to the Jesuits and the Church in a desperate effort to survive. Others returned more strongly to their ancestral beliefs. All of them wept at the loss of their marvellous circular civilization. The missionaries rejoiced. They said that their God had triumphed over the devil.
Georges E. Sioui
Georges E. Sioui, Coordinator, Aboriginal Studies Program, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario. Prof. Sioui received both his MA (1987) and his Ph.D. (1991) in History from Laval University. In May 1990, Prof. Sioui and his four brothers obtained a landmark victory in the Supreme Court of Canada (the "Sioui Case") over territorial and traditional land use rights. From 1992 to 1997, Dr. Sioui was associate professor of Indian Studies and Dean of Academics of the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College at the University of Regina. From January 1999 to December 2000, he was president of the Institute of Indigenous Government in Vancouver. During 2003, he was head of research of the Indian Claims Commission in Ottawa. In January 2004, he became the coordinator of the newly created Aboriginal Studies Program at the University of Ottawa. His writings on Indigenous philosophy, history and education have appeared in several journals, magazines and books, continent-wide and abroad.
Miguel Paul Sioui
Miguel Paul Sioui, a Huron-Wendat currently living in Gatineau, Quebec, speaks Spanish, English and French and is initiated in Mandarin Chinese and Brazilian Portuguese. He has attended the Environmental Studies program at the University of Ottawa. During the summer of 2005, he worked for the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples in Ottawa as a research assistant, conducting a study related to Aboriginal youth and youth organizations across Canada. One of Miguel’s talents is storytelling and he was once a special guest of renowned Native storyteller Joe Bruchac at the Pequot Museum in Connecticut. In 2003, he was the recipient of the Hudson’s Bay Company Aboriginal Futures Scholarship for academic achievement and in 2004 and 2005 was awarded a special grant for Excellence in Sports from his First Nation Council. He has travelled in Europe, China, Colombia and Mexico as well as the United States and all regions of Canada.