James Hunter
Executive Director Huronia Museum / Huron Indian Village
Midland, Ontario, Canada

The Huron, or Ouendat as they called themselves, were organized into a political league or Confederacy of four separate Nations. Each Nation was divided into geographical districts made up of large fortified villages, smaller villages and hamlets. There might be forty or fifty families in a large village while only eight or ten in a small hamlet. The population was made up of extended families who had lived together for varying lengths of time. Kinship was identified by people of similar traditions and a common ancestry generally referred to as clans. Thus, a village would increase or decrease with the adoption of other families or clans. People were free to choose where they wanted to live and what pursuits they might want to follow, but hereditary positions, along with social and biological ties tended to hold families together in these extended families or clans. By AD 1100 these people had adapted to agriculture and the population increased dramatically, as did long distance trade and organized warfare.

Around A.D. 1300, certain clans seem to have come together to form the first and largest of the Huron Nations: the ATTIGNOUSNTAN, whose family crest or totem was the Bear. Around AD1420, another Nation of people- the ATTINGNEENONGNAHAC, whose totem was the Cord, joined the Attignousntan to formally establish the Huron Confederacy. This political alliance was formed to reduce and resolve conflicts and was represented by a Council. The Confederacy would provide a dispute mechanism between Nations to solve issues of peace, trade and war as well as other problems, but it did this on a purely voluntary basis. Each Nation also retained its own territory, identity, privileges, traditions and full responsibility for its own internal and external affairs which was administered by a Council. In turn, every village within each Nation was administered by its own civic council which sent representatives to the Nation Council.

Following the dispersal of the Laurentian Iroquois located along the St. Lawrence River And eastern Ontario, two more groups applied for and were admitted to the Huron Confederacy. The ARENDAHRONON, whose totem was the Rock, joined about A.D. 1560, and the TOHONAENRATS, whose totem was the Deer, joined about A.D. 1570. Each Nation sent representatives to the Confederacy Council, which seems to have expanded to include 52members from the four Nations. The village of Ossossane was the capital of the Huron Confederacy.

OUENDAKE was the term used by the Ouendat for their traditional homeland. It referred to the Huron as "Islanders" or people living "in the separated land". Huron territory was literally surrounded by the waters of southeastern Georgian Bay and Lakes Couchiching and Simcoe with various rivers and interior lakes. Thus, transportation over water by birch bark canoe enabled the Hurons to travel from Ouendake to the far flung reaches of Hudson Bay, Lake Winnipeg, the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Chesapeake Bay. They became superb long distance traders and travelled throughout eastern North America. It was this aspect of their society that attracted European interest in the Hurons. As the Europeans developed permanent fishing and trading activities in the New World, interest in Native groups took shape and alliances began to form.

By A.D. 1600, the Huron people were about to enter the pages of recorded history with there establishment of a French presence along the St. Lawrence in 1603, the creation of a permanent settlement at Quebec in 1608 and a formal trading alliance between the French and Huron Confederacy which was ratified at Quebec in 1614. The Huron people and Huron society would undergo profound change as a result of this association. It would ultimately lead to the dispersal of the Huron people between 1647 and 1651, and the creation of new political and social groupings that together, with other EuroCanadian immigrants, now form a large part of Canadian society.

Copyright 1995 by James Hunter and the Huronia Museum, Midland, Ontario, Canada. All rights reserved.