Dogbane Cordage

My first Dogbane cord

My Wyandot sister, Catherine Tàmmaro asked me to participate in her art exhibit Fire Over Water. She needed someone to make ropes for cordoning off two installation pieces in the show. I was thrilled to take part in a project with fellow Wendat artists. I needed the connection. I was on a sick leave from work, burnt out from teaching about colonialism and having to tolerate a build-up of racist pushback from adults in the system. I needed time to heal and recharge. When Catherine asked me to make cordage for the show it occurred to me that this project was just what I needed. I had to learn how to make boundaries for myself in order to continue the work that I’ve been doing. How amazing that I would be making boundaries to protect Catherine’s vision of our Wendat history while at the same time, I would be creating a symbolic art piece that would help me learn how to protect myself in the present. This task would give me a purpose to go out regularly and connect with the Spirit of my Ancestral landscapes where I would start to feel good again. Learning a new skill that made me retrace my Ancestors’ steps, harvesting material in the same spots that they would have been harvesting it, gave me a sense of feeling rooted to the place and to my identity. It was such a gift to be invited into this project.

Greetings from Uhskenǫ́tǫʔ (oo-sken-O’-toh) at the Rouge River Dogbane patch.

Right before finding my first patch of Dogbane, I was greeted by Uhskenǫ́tǫʔ. I recalled this moment when I later read about Catherine Jean Vien (1676-1767) in Daughters of Aataentsic, because she belonged to the Hatiⁿdaʔarárunǫʔ (Deer Clan). When I asked Catherine for the significance of this clan, she said they “hold up the sky” meaning “they take people to meet their Ancestors in the Sky World.” I figured Uhskenǫ́tǫʔ might have appeared to help me connect with the Ancestors in this endeavour that I was starting out on.

Daughters of Aataentsic (2021) book cover. Painting: Huronia: SkyWorld View 2018
Acrylic on canvas, 30″ x 30″
© Catherine Tàmmaro 2022.

Fire Over Water was created as a companion piece to the Daughters of Aataentsic book project, written by Kathryn Labelle in collaboration with the Wendat/Wandat Women’s Advisory Council. The book celebrates the leadership of seven generations of Wendat/Wandat women who lived from the time of contact until the 21st century, maintaining their communities despite colonial interference. It presents the concept of motherwork to describe how these women, in their own distinct ways, were “creating opportunities for cultural survival and resilience”(10-11) within their communities that would have lasting impacts.

Motherwork – “work that is geared toward bettering their family and community’s circumstances rather than those of a single person.” [1]

Kathryn Labelle

Catherine Jean Vien, a Wendat born in Beauport, Quebec, lived in Detroit during the 1700s. Her motherwork described in chapter 2 of Daughters of Aataentsic entailed raising her descendants according to the spiritual teachings of the clan system, to be prominent Wendat/Wandat leaders. Her grandson Isadore Hayanemade Chesne played a diplomatic role in the Seven Years War and Pontiac’s War, while her great-grandson Isadore Roniatere Chesne Jr worked in alliance with Tecumseh (44-45). I was proud to read about Wendat/Wandat involvement in historical events that pushed back against colonial encroachment.

The Silver Fibre Patch along the Carrying Place Trail.

Catherine suggested that I use Dogbane and harvest it in late Fall, but I was too preoccupied and exhausted by my job at that time.

When Spring came my body made me take a break from work. I spent my days looking for last year’s growth, a little worried that I’d missed the harvest, a bit anxious that I might be too late.

I was not yet acquainted with the plant and looking forward to starting a new relationship. I heard they like to be near the water so I ventured out to the main rivers of Toronto. At first I found only sparse patches.

I noticed signs of Tsúʔtaiʔ (tSoo-tie) near the first dogbane patch that I found.

Dogbane patches near Taiaiako:n
Signs of Tsúʔtaiʔ
View on the way to the Sweet Spot

I found myself getting in shape, shedding my covid weight as I regularly went out searching for the narrow pods on top of rust coloured stalks still standing after the winter. I asked my Ancestors for a sweet spot and was led to a spectacular thicket of growth. The secret spot.

Dogbane thicket in May (the secret spot). Old growth standing tall among new green shoots coming up.

As I set myself up to peel the dogbane at a nice spot on the river just north of the thicket, I heard a loud “plop”. I wondered if it was Tsúʔtaiʔ. When I went to check it out I found Ketǫ́hskwaʔyęh (ke-TOHN’-skwhy-yeh) floating over the mud. My mind automatically went to our Creation Story.

“Our story of creation of what we call ‘the Great Island’ (the continent of America) is based on the belief that the world was founded by the First Woman upon the back of the big turtle, and that this woman began to form the earth from a little bit of mud that was brought from the bottom of the sea by the humble toad–which is why we look at Toad as one of our ancestors.”

– Georges Sioui, Histories of Kanatha Seen and Told, (2008) p.82.

“The ancients had stories about the toad toskwa’yę, and the beginning of the world. The way I heard it was: The toad dived twice or thrice, and when she picked up some earth, she brought it up to enlarge the island. I have often heard the folks say that the toads that hop around the houses are not to be hurt. ‘Don’t hurt the toads; don’t hurt your grandmother.’ This was the common saying.” [2]

Mary McKee of Anderdon in Barbeau, 1915
Tsúʔtaiʔ stick caught my eye after filming the above clip. I pulled it out of the mud. I liked the rust colour on it and all the little marks worked into it from a busy worker. I felt there was something I could learn from Tsúʔtaiʔ.

Of all the locations I harvested, there was only one area that had silver fibre. It was golden brown everywhere else. When I spoke with Catherine she confirmed that the silver patch I described was situated near the Seed-Barker site, where some of our longhouses were located along the Carrying Place trail. I am still curious about what made this particular batch silver. Maybe something in the soil. It was just as strong as the brown fibres. I ended up with 2 lengths of cord, each 14 feet long. The silver fibre spanned one half of one of the ropes. The two tone rope seemed meant to be.

I decided to attach red moose hair tassels, traditional Wendat accoutrements, to the ends of each rope with obsidian beads for a stately effect. Catherine gave me some moose hair, I dyed it and got techniques for making the copper cones from Richard Zane Smith, my Wyandot brother in Oklahoma.

There seemed to be a theme of duality happening in this show. The two installations that were cordoned off expressed colonial presence on one side, and aspects of traditional Wendat ceremony and Matrilineal governance on the other side.

The duality theme emerged in the moose hair as well. When I dyed the first batch it came out much darker than I expected. It had a strong presence that felt almost obscene when I saw it. It was the same feeling I got upon seeing the cassock. Earlier that day I had been at Catherine’s studio and Nazarene brought over the Jesuit missionary cassock that she and her mom Nichole had been beading with dark red thread and black beads. Catherine had obtained this vestment and asked Nichole to bead it. I felt ambivalent about making the rope for it. My blood memory was getting all stirred up. I didn’t like the idea of honouring or somehow protecting the memory of Jesuit interference with my Ancestors. When I saw the dark red moose hair, I knew it belonged with the cassock. It reminded me of the colour of blood after a wound happened. The bright red tassels, on the other hand, were affixed to the silver rope which went in front of the Clan Mother’s Staff and Bones of Ancestors. That was the side that was alive for me.

Detail: Clan Mother’s Staff, Catherine Tàmmaro, 2022.

While Catherine stated that my interpretation of the cassock did not quite align with the intention of the work, I recall thinking about how a successful art piece is open to multiple interpretations. My emotional response to it was valuable, as it sparked an inner conflict that presented an opportunity for me to explore and come to terms with the nuanced history of my Wendat ancestors’ relationship with the colonizers.

Catherine explained that she planned to dip the bottom of the cassock into ashes. It was an acknowledgement of Brébeuf’s death by torture and fire at the hands of our Haudenosaunee and Wendat relatives. I was thinking about my own Ancestors who travelled to Quebec at the time of dispersal. My great Ancestor, Joachim Arontio, from Ossossanè was written about by Cyprien Tanguay as the first Wendat chief to be baptized by Brébeuf. Eighty percent[3] of our population had died from the pandemic that the Jesuits brought, so they were vulnerable, under extreme duress when they agreed to convert as a condition for receiving help.

Kathryn Labelle’s research in Dispersed but Not Destroyed (2013) illustrates how Wendat leaders converted to Christianity as a military defence strategy. Unlike the Dutch who freely traded guns with the Haudenosaunee, the French supplied guns to the Wendat only if they converted to Christianity. Wendat war chiefs agreed to be baptized in their efforts to encourage conversions among their troops (31, 42). This is reflected in Jesuit records from 1639 showing a male majority of Wendat Christian converts (32), and a 1642 report noting a pronounced increase in baptisms of war leaders (31).

Cécile Gannendâris, featured in chapter 1 of Daughters of Aataentsic, was one of the 300 Wendat refugees who travelled to Quebec from Georgian Bay during the 1650 dispersal. She would have been travelling with my Ancestors Cecile Arenatsi (widowed at age 23) and her five year old daughter Marie-Felix Ouentonouen Arontio, who sought protection from the Ursuline nuns upon their arrival to Quebec. [4]

Gannendâris’ motherwork is described as using Christian networks to provide resources and safety for her community. She adapted to patriarchal norms and managed to share her Longhouse traditions syncretically as women’s teachings in her involvement with Christian women’s organizations. The Wendats entrusted Ursuline nuns in Sillery to create a seminary for their daughters where they would be protected from Mohawk strikes and threats of sexual violence perpetrated by French settlers. The seminary taught the girls French culture (including embroidery) and religion, while also celebrating their expressions in Wendat language and culture. [5]

I struggled with the details of Gannendâris’ assimilation process which entailed using corporal punishment to publicly discipline her children and adhering to patriarchal guidelines of behaviour for women that were written by male church leaders, [6] as they, in Catherine’s words: “contravened all Wendat life ways.” The context of her situation must be considered to make sense of it:

“Options were limited for women of the diaspora, while the number of threats continued to grow. Warfare and drought threatened lives, as did the European onslaught of disease, trade of alcohol, and a rising number of single, lonely men who saw Indigenous women as part of the colonial conquest… As a child, Gannendâris had few options. By the time of the dispersal she would have survived disease and starvation and most likely witnessed the deaths of numerous family members.” [7]

Kathryn Labelle

The society that Gannendâris assimilated to set the foundation for the systems that we live under today. Unlike Gannendâris, our survival does not depend on upholding the harmful aspects of these systems that made sense to European settlers 400 years ago. Despite written policies that promote Indigenous perspectives and discourage punitive methods, leadership within the current education system too often falls back on punishment and hierarchy to silence and discipline those who resist the imposition of colonial norms.

It’s about time for settler society to consider an assimilation process of its own to bring it into a respectful alignment with the nations whose land it occupies.

Flying Churches by Catherine Tàmmaro, 2022. Beadwork and embroidered Sacred Heart by Nichole Leveck and Nazarene Pope. Dogbane cordage and moosehair tassels by Janet Csontos.

In my interpretation, which differed from Catherine’s intention, the embroidered heart and beadwork on the cassock show Wendat/Wandat women at work as agents of transformation. The ominous presence of the upright cassock shows colonialism still standing. The Pope apologized for residential schools but has not repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery. Even if he did, it wouldn’t make a difference until settlers undergo an education process that helps them recognize and stop the behaviours that normalize it: the behaviours of control, silencing and punishing Indigenous voices, maintaining jurisdiction over the stolen land and severing Indigenous children from their families. The beaded cassock evokes a sense of the invader learning how to wear Indigenous cultural values such as sharing, humility and respect, that would be required to stop the colonial behaviours. The dogbane stanchion rope is protecting this sacred work of transformation.

“The yolk of two holed beads would symbolize the two souls of the Wendat; the duality of conflicting world views and the Jesuits taking on the responsibility of people’s souls en masse.”

Catherine Tàmmaro
View from the trail surrounding Crawford Lake

A month after the show’s opening, I went back several times to Crawford Lake. I wanted to spend time in the gallery space to give myself a chance to connect with the show and go for a hike on the trails.

Path to the swimming spot.

After walking around Crawford Lake I drove to a secret swimming spot that my friend took me to a year ago. She brought me there after I endured a difficult and traumatizing ordeal that involved attempts to silence the anti-racist work that I was doing. I was so grateful to her for introducing me to this place and for being there when I felt so horribly beaten. My sick leave started in February after one of my colleagues filed an incident report against me because I tried to engage him in an honest conversation about his racist micro-aggressions. At that point my body told me that I needed a break. I had an intense literal pain in the butt. The childhood trauma I had endured was triggered. I always remembered what happened right before and after the beatings, thinking that it must have hurt, but I couldn’t remember experiencing the actual beatings or feeling the pain. It only emerged this year, when I was confronted with colonial behaviours that called on powers within the system to silence and discipline me. The pain must have gotten pushed into my body when I was too little to deal with it. It was always the same pattern. Silenced and beaten. I don’t hold resentment against them. I understand they hadn’t healed their own traumas. As for the people who complained to avoid engaging in a conversation about race, I believe if they had more information, they might see things differently and be open to considering a different approach.

I had to get my body into the water now and ask it to take the pain away.

When I was a kid I was afraid of the water. My dad helped me overcome that fear. Because of his patient persistence I learned how to swim.

Two days later I drove back to Crawford Lake. When I entered the gallery this time, I had water on my mind. On either side of the modern longhouse gallery interior was a row of 3 rectangular paintings, interspersed with 2 circular paintings that signified waterways of the Dispersal. Along the perimeter of each circular painting was a string of wampum beads, which seemed to indicate promises that must have been made for every relocation. These painted discs captured my attention, compelling me to learn about the details of the Wendat/Wandat Dispersal.

Left to right: [1] Kabir Kouba The River of a Thousand Bends Montagnais (Innu) Wendake, Quebec; [2] Missouri/Kansas Rivers, Caw Point; [3] Detroit (The Straights) (Fighting Island); [4] Neosho River, Osage word meaning “clear water” Oklahoma. All images © Catherine Tàmmaro 2022.

Catherine envisions Huronia (Wendake) as the landing place for Sky Woman.  It is the area that extends from Lake Simcoe to the Georgian Bay peninsula between Nottawasaga Bay and Matchedash Bay in Ontario. The Wendat Confederacy of the Bear, Rock, Cord, Deer and later Bog Peoples was formed here. Georges Sioui, a Wendat historian and son of Eleanor Sioui, the Daughter of Aataentsic featured in chapter 7, states that a south-central Ontario location is now generally accepted by anthropologists as the Wendat place of origin,[8] however, he also considers the possibility of Montreal, Quebec City, Kentucky, or Mexico through his interpretations of Wendat oral tradition.[9] Anishinaabe oral history tells of the Nadowek migrating from the south. [10] Labelle (2013) writes that “as early as A.D. 1000…the Wendat migrated north into present-day Ontario and the Great Lakes region…into Anishinaabe territory…[and settled] as far east as Quebec City.”[11] While Sioui states that we will probably never know for certain where the Wendat originated, we do know that our archaelogical sites populate the north shore of Lake Ontario, and we had a significant presence in the Georgian Bay Wendake area from the thirteenth century[12] to the time of Dispersal in 1649.

Huronia: SkyWorld View, 2018. Acrylic on canvas, 30″x30″ © Tàmmaro 2020 from the collection of Kathryn Magee Labelle; the beadSpitter, Woven Varve Belt on Fireline, Glass Beads and Crawford Lake Water, Wampum Beads 13″x1.5″ Encased in museum display construction with Keyed Top on a wooden plinth 2021 – 2022, Toronto.

The abstract style of the circular paintings correspond with Catherine’s depiction of Sky Woman’s view as she plummets toward Wendake, in the larger painting entitled Huronia: SkyWorld View. Like this painting of Sky Woman’s perspective in the Creation Story, during her birth to the world from the heavens, the circular abstractions express disoriented flashbacks of topographies upon arrival to a new homeland.

In front of the painting Huronia: SkyWorld View, is the beadSpitter, a beaded belt of horizontal stripes that look like layers of sediment from the Earth, submerged in water from Crawford Lake. It puts the idea of being deeply rooted to a place through layers of time in the forefront, and also the notion of protecting that place. I remember Catherine referring to the core samples that scientists were taking from the Lake’s bed, and how she had communicated that it would be disrespectful to continue with such invasive procedures.

Layered behind the painting is a beaver pelt. In “Eatenonha” (2019) Georges Sioui explains how the beaver was a “political emblem” for the Wendat, who were known for their production surpluses, and expertise in diplomacy and trade:

“…the Wendat viewed [the beaver] as a sedentary animal that builds and defends villages, at the same time creating spaces where almost all other animal species can foregather. Where beaver villages or colonies exist, waterfowl abound, as well as wetland animals such as ondathra (muskrats). Deer, elk, and moose come to drink and feed on plants rarely found elsewhere.” [13]

Georges Sioui

Contrasting Huronia: SkyWorld View is the nearby painting, Where We Were Rejected (where we threw ourselves/ our bodies out), with an empty turtleshell and scattered acorns enclosed in a lucite box below it. The painting looks like Huronia: SkyWorld View with all the vivid colours drained out of it. It looks like the empty snake skins displayed across from it on the opposite wall. It is a depiction of our 1650 Dispersal from Gahoendoe on the icy shores of Georgian Bay.

After the Haudenosaunee invaded Wendake, taking 700 captives in the summer of 1648[14] and killing hundreds of Wendat warriors in the Spring of 1649, the Wendat decided to relocate to Gahoendoe, and invited the Jesuits to join them. Thousands died from famine on the island where the main food source was boiled acorns. [15] After one year those who managed to survive decided to split up and leave the area. Over a thousand Wendats joined the Haudenosaunee (some as prisoners, and some voluntarily),[16] some joined Anishinaabe towns on the northern shores of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, 500 Wendats connected with the Tionnontaté (Petun)[17] and moved to Michilimackinac in 1651, while 300 travelled the St. Lawrence River to Quebec. [18]

Where We Were Rejected (where we threw ourselves/ our bodies out), Acrylic on canvas 30″ x 30″ with installation containing beaver trimmed blandings turtle shell and acorns harvested from Gahoendoe
© Tàmmaro 2020-2021

The circular shape of the dispersal paintings indicate fluid cyclical migration patterns. When the Wendat travelled to Quebec, they were returning to the land of their Nadouek predecessors who, according to oral tradition, originated near Stadacona (now Quebec City) and Hochelaga (Montreal). [19]

Kabir Kouba The River of a Thousand Bends Montagnais (Innu) Wendake Quebec, Oil on canvas, on board, with bone and garnet beads symbolizing wampum and the moon time of the young Wendat women and their connection to water
© Tàmmaro 2022.

Cascading blue tones loosely flowing downward into points like the edge of a magnificent bird’s tail feathers fill one side of Kabir Kouba The River of a Thousand Bends‘ composition, contrasting an expanse of still black space. It envisions the waterfall in the Akiawenrahk (St. Charles River) near the site of the Wendake Reserve at Ancienne Lorette, where 150 Wendat Ancestors settled in 1697,[20] after being displaced from different villages (Sillery, Île d’Orleans, Quebec City, Beauport, Notre Dame de Foy)[21] in the French colony.

In 1742 the Jesuits demonstrated Land Back when they returned this area of land (for the Wendake Reserve) that they had come to acquire through a series of colonial transactions.

The Jesuits had bought the land in 1667 from Robert Giffard, a seigneur who acquired it in 1647 by the Company of One Hundred Associates,[22] a colonial enterprise established by the French government in 1627.[23] The Wendat lived around this area (Stadacona) prior to 1550.[24]

The Wendake Reserve is the birthplace of Dr. Éléonore Sioui, featured in chapter 7 of Daughters of Aataentsic, whose motherwork flourished in the form of global activism in the 20th century. Sioui carried out her motherwork through education, writing, and public speaking at international forums on the rights of Indigenous women. She earned a phD in Native American Philosophy, becoming the first Indigenous woman in Canada to earn a doctorate degree. Sioui used the colonial school system to amplify her voice, advocating for Indigenous rights.[25] Her work stands out like the vibrant waves in the painting, against the still black backdrop of relative peace provided by her Ancestors who, three centuries before, allied with the Black Robes in New France to ensure the survival of their descendants. The line of wampum beads encircling the composition are a reminder of when Taiaeronk gave wampum belts to the French nuns in Sillery in 1651, asking them to stay and build a school for their daughters.[26]

“I learned very early that we would only get what we fought for…I learned this more from attitudes of my family and my People than from any systemic analysis.” [27]

Éléonore Sioui

Detroit (The Straights) (Fighting Island) captured my attention with its sharp edges, fractured shapes, and the zigzag–a signifier of conflict from the language of wampum belts.[28] It seemed to represent a location that had a lot to unpack.

The region had been occupied by the Neutrals before the Haudensaunee invaded. After clearing the Wendat and Tionnontaté from Georgian Bay, the Haudenosaunee attacked the Neutral nation, claiming the entire region of southwestern Ontario.[29] After 1686, The Wendat, Tionnontaté, Odawa, and Potawotami nations allied with the French in an attack on the Senecas to clear the Haudenosaunee from southwestern Ontario.[30]

Detroit (The Straights) (Fighting Island)
© Tàmmaro 2022.

In 1701 the Great Peace of Montreal ended conflict between the Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee. The treaty was largely initiated by Wendat leader Kondioronk from Michilimackinac. It enabled the French to set up Fort Pontchartrain at Detroit in their attempt to prevent Haudenosaunee/British western expansion. The French commander Cadillac invited 100 French soldiers and 100 Omamawinini (Algonquin) to establish the fort.[31]

While writing this, I learned that my Ancestors were part of this group. Marguerite Faffart an Omamawinini métis trader from Trois Rivieres married a French voyageur in Detroit, Jean Baptiste Turpin, in 1709. She was the niece of influential Omamawinini diplomat and trader, Madam Montour, who may have worked with Cadillac as an interpreter. Marguerite’s marriage was a good trade alliance, but Turpin was abusive toward her and their son. She took her child and left, defying French/Catholic laws that forbade women from leaving their husbands unless they could prove that they were financially inept. She followed Omamawinini customs which allowed for divorce upon leaving one’s partner. She left with Ouytaouikigik, who had gone to Detroit to convince First Nations to trade with the British. Madam Montour, who was a trader in Michilimickinac before moving to Pennsylvania, may have made arrangements for Ouytaouikigik to connect with Marguerite. Marguerite moved to Pennsylvania with her son, reuniting with her Omamawinini family, and marrying a Mohawk man named Katarioniecha.[32] Like her aunt, she was a respected member of her Native community. When she died, the town that she lived in was named after her: “French Margaret’s Town”. This is my family’s story of surviving conflict at the Detroit Straits. It demonstrates how Omamawinini women too, used Motherwork to transcend colonial harm.

After 1701, different First Nations who had been dispersed by the Haudenosaunee settled in the Detroit area among French settlers brought by Cadillac, and Anishinabe who had been there long before the Great Peace.

According to Laurie Leclair’s account of Wyandot oral history, shared with her by Peter Dooyentate Clarke, (grandson of Adam Brown, who had been a keeper of the Four Nations Alliance wampum belt), the Wyandots who migrated from Michilimackinac to Detroit entered an alliance with the Three Fires Confederacy some time between 1712 and 1720, after defeating the Fox, who had built a fort nearby and attacked Fort Pontchartrain. She explains that the outnumbered French and Wyandot were able to defend the fort and surrounding settlements with assistance from the Odawa, Pottawatomi, and Ojibwe. The fighting lasted three weeks resulting in 1000 Fox casualties, and a victory that brought about the Four Nations Alliance.[33] In the wampum belt that documents this alliance, four squares represent the four nations and their land allocations, while the purple edges are indicators of “French fortifications.”[34]

Four Nations Alliance belt. © Pitt Rivers Museum , University of Oxford (1896.7.10) in Alan Corbiere [35].

“…about this time the four nations (the French being a fifth party) of Indians having already formed an alliance for their mutual protection against the incursions of the roving savages of the West, the four nations now entered into an arrangement about their country as follows:

The Wyandottes to occupy and take charge of the regions from the River Thames, north, to the shores of Lake Erie south.  The Chippewas to hold the regions from the Thames to the shores of Lake Huron, and beyond.  The Ottawas to occupy and take charge of the county from Detroit to the confluence of Lake Huron, with St. Clair River, thence north-west to Michilimackinac and all around there.  And the Potawatamies the regions south and west of Detroit. … But it was understood among them, at the same time that each of the four nations should have the privilege of hunting in one another’s territory….”

Peter Dooyentate Clarke, shared by Laurie Leclair in Anishinabek News, 2018.
Distribution of the Four Nation Alliance as described in Leclair (2018; 1988, 23)

The Wyandots acted as arbiters and held the Council Fire for the Four Nations Confederacy. [36]

The tempestuous waves and the sharp jagged line of the straights in the Detroit (The Straights) (Fighting Island) painting express pressures and divisions within Wyandot communities as they tried to hold on to their land base during this turbulent time in history. Conflict arose in 1720, when a Black Robe was invited into the community. A group of Wyandots who rejected Christian influence moved to Sandusky, Ohio, where their winter hunting grounds had been, while a group of Wyandot Christians established a mission at Bois Blanc island in 1742. By 1747, some from the Ohio group, with Orontony, destroyed the mission at Bois Blanc.[37] Throughout the 1780s, there were Wyandots who were gifting their lands to the Church,[38] and this caused further distress. After the American Revolution (1783), the Wyandots were inundated with Loyalists encroaching on their land base. The colonial government illegally granted land to settlers who surrounded the Wyandot settlements. The Indian Agent, Alexander McKee, had to negotiate a treaty to legitimize these land transfers as required by the Royal Proclamation. In 1790 the Four Nations agreed to the McKee Treaty, which opened the entire Wyandot area for settlers and created the Anderdon reserve.[39] The Four Nations agreed to allowing settlement on this land tract partly because they were expecting Americans to invade and saw the benefit of reinforcing an alignment with the British. Also, most of the Potawatomi and Wyandots lived on the north side of the Detroit River.[40]

The Wyandots had to defend their reserve land from angry settlers who felt entitled to it,[41] and the Three Fires, who brought claims forward from 1790-1801 to assert their rights to the Reserve land. In 1836 the government sold two thirds of the Reserve with proceeds going to the Wyandots for one third and all Western nations for another. The final third remained as Reserve land for the Wyandots of Anderdon.[42]

Over the years, much of the Anderdon land was ceded as many of the Wyandots chose enfranchisement. By 1914, Anderdon no longer legally existed as a Canadian recognized Band. However, Wyandots still living in the area remain, engaged as a community, practicing their culture and traditons.

Mary McKee, featured in chapter 4 of Daughters of Aataentsic, was one of the Wyandots who fought to keep the land. When she had been away in Kansas, the government tried to waive her Band membership and land rights. Upon her return in the early 1900s, she petitioned the government and reclaimed it. Her motherwork was evident in her drive to keep her connection to the land and her work to pass on her knowledge as a Wendat speaker and carrier of traditional stories.

In 1817, the Wyandots secured Reserve land in Ohio, by the Treaty of Fort Meigs, for allying with the Americans in the War of 1812. Catherine Jean’s grandson Rontondee was one of the treaty negotiators. In Ohio, they built a schoolhouse and Church with Methodist missionaries where their children retained their Wyandot culture. [43] Margaret Grey Eyes Solomon, the Daughter of Aataentsic from Chapter 3, was revered for her motherwork in Ohio, upon returning after her time in Kansas, where she lost her family. Like Mary McKee, Margaret was drawn back to her homeland after the removal. She devoted her life to raising the children of the Ohio community, with the cultural knowledge that she carried.

Missouri/Kansas Rivers Caw Point © Tàmmaro 2022

The Wyandots of Ohio and Detroit had to move to Kansas in 1842 because of the American Indian Removal Act of 1830. [44] Missouri/Kansas Rivers Caw Point depicts the location where Wyandots landed after travelling a treacherous 19 day journey from Ohio. They travelled by foot, wagon, horse, and two steamboats from Cincinnati, with many dying from an outbreak of measles. When they arrived, they had to live in the prairie lowlands, a place of dangerous floodings and cholera outbreaks.[45] They buried their kin on a ridge of high land overlooking the Missouri River. The cemetery that held their relatives’ bones provided an immediate connection to the land that would be a sacred space. [46]

The visceral fleshlike tones of Missouri/Kansas Rivers Caw Point show the land as a richly layered ethereal entity where the remains of the Ancestors are protected. The spiritual significance of the Kansas Cemetery is embedded in this art piece.

Generations of Wyandots fought to ensure its protection. In 1848, when the Wyandots purchased land on higher ground from the Delaware, the Kansas Cemetery was included in the purchase.[47] With this land purchase, the Wyandots built and incorporated Wyandotte City in 1851, (which later became Kansas City), and also established the town of Quindaro as a stop on the Underground Railroad.[48] In an 1855 treaty with the U.S. government, Kansas Wyandots lost federal recognition. Those who stayed in Kansas received private ownership of land and maintained their Indigenous identities despite not being recognized as having tribal status by the colonial government. Those who chose to retain their legal status moved to Oklahoma. Eternal protection of the cemetery was written into the 1855 treaty and signed by Chiefs Armstrong, Clark, Walker, Hicks, Tauromee, and Mudeater, yet, in 1890, Mother Grey Eyes Solomon had to sign another treaty to protect the cemetery from a proposed removal of remains. [49] In 1906, the government again tried to move the remains of the cemetery. Lyda Conley and her sisters took arms and built a fort inside the cemetery to protest the removal of their Ancestors. They maintained their occupation for 2 years. [50] In her efforts to ensure the protection of this burial place, Lyda Conley became the first Indigenous woman to fight a case at the Supreme Court. She lost the case, but community members kept the fire burning with a letter writing campaign and succeeded in convincing Congress to preserve the cemetery.

“In this cemetery are buried one-hundred of our ancestors…why should we not be proud of our ancestors and protect their graves? We shall do it, and woe be to the man that first attempts to steal a body.” [52]

Eliza “Lyda” Burton Conley Jr.

In 1998, Oklahoma Chief Janith English was a key figure in bringing about an agreement between the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma and the Wyandot Nation of Kansas, promising that they would “never permit construction, development, or business on, over, or under the site” and by 2017, the Kansas Cemetery became an American National Historic Landmark. [51]

In her manuscript entitled, “Tears of My Grandmothers” Chief English notes how the activism of the Conley sisters is connected to the activism of Indigenous women across the world today, who continue the fight for justice and sovereignty. This particular line struck a cord as it articulates what happens in schools when there is resistance to anti-racist education:

“Within these stories is interwoven the thread of grief that arises from the tension created when a paradigm of fear, power and control is pitted against a journey toward interconnectedness and independence.” [52]

Chief Janith English

The Wyandots who moved to Oklahoma purchased land from the Seneca nation for their reservation. By 1893, the Dawes Act (aka the Allotment Act) enabled the government to break communal land holdings into individual allotments, and sell much of the land to settlers.

In 1934, the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act gave land back to tribes and allowed for tribes to rebuild their sovereign governments. The Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma accepted membership from the Kansas Wyandots who had previously lost their legal status.

Perhaps the clear running water of Neosho River with fine silver lines like tiny minnows moving fast, can symbolize the view when you are finally able to stand still in a place.

Neosho River, Osage word meaning “clear water” Oklahoma with a double row of ceramic beads representing solidity and finality. © Tàmmaro 2022.

The pink satin line reminds me of Jane Zane Gordon, bending the flow of a current. She was born on the Oklahoma Wyandotte Reservation and grew up in the Dawes Era. She went to colonial boarding schools outside of her community where she learned how to unite with her peers from different tribes to confront the colonial system. Jane was a stirring activist as a child and adult, directing revolts, giving talks, writing articles, and initiating organizations like the Indian Arts and Crafts Board to promote Indigenous solidarity, culture and sovereignty.

“Hold fast to your ancestral greatness, to honor, to generosity, bury resentment and fear. Know that the truer you are to yourselves, the more certain you will be to retain your birthright and add to the strength and purity of the metal that shall come from the fire.” [53]

Jane Zane Gordon

Fire Over Water exhibit, Catherine Tàmmaro, Crawford Lake, 2022.
Still from Fire Over Water video, Catherine Tàmmaro, Crawford Lake, 2022.

The suspended canoe in the centre of the gallery space suggests the idea of travelling through space and time. I sat underneath it one quiet morning and was able to contemplate the video that was looped on the screen. I was mesmerized by this vision of a fire in a canoe over water. It made me think about the Ancestors who were dispersed carrying their teachings with them wherever they travelled.

I also thought about the fire that we carry as individuals, and the need for traditional knowledge/technology/wisdom to get somewhere with it. And the need to protect myself or stay balanced with the healing force of the water.

Dogbane July growth, Secret Spot revisited months later. Old growth is still there but not visible.
May Dogbane patch

Some time in July I went back to the Secret Spot to visit the dogbane patch. I couldn’t believe how completely different it looked; how full its new growth was. I couldn’t see the stalks from the year before anymore for the new growth that was flourishing. As I made my way through it, not even able to see the path, I felt like it was hugging me. I was reminded of the importance of community, especially when contending with colonial forces that try to silence you and frustrate you until you reach a breaking point. When you speak the truth, no matter how kind you are, they have a way of framing you as a problem…and you start believing it. But reading about the Daughters of Aataentsic made me feel normal again. Like those older stalks standing tall from last season, among the new green shoots coming up. We grow full and strong when our Ancestors are right beside us.

My new friend Dogbane taught me about the healing process. Transformation and healing requires being seen and surrounded by our community and creating something for it.

Tsúʔtaiʔ handiwork near the Sweet Spot

The art works featured in this article are the property of Catherine Tàmmaro and are used with permission.



[1] Kathryn Labelle, Daughters of Aataentsic. (McGill-Queens University Press, 2021), 6.

[2] C.M. Barbeau, Huron and Wyandot Mythology. (Ottawa: Government Printing Bureau, 1915), 40.

[3] Georges Sioui, Histories of Kanatha Seen and Told. (Canada: University of Ottawa Press, 2008), 119. Sioui states that the Wendat population dropped from 30 000 to 6000 within 20 years of the establishment of French missions in Wendake.

[4] Kathryn Magee Labelle, Dispersed but Not Destroyed. (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2013), 168.

[5] Labelle, 2021, 21-23.

[6] Labelle, 2021, 24-25.

[7] Labelle, 2021, 15, 19.

[8] Georges Sioui, Huron Wendat The Heritage of the Circle. (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1999), 57.

[9] Sioui, 1999, 13-15.

[10] Isaac Murdoch. Aug.29, 2022.

[11] Labelle, 2013, 69.

[12] Labelle, 2013, 69.

[13] Georges Sioui, Eatenonha. (McGill-Queens University Press, 2019), 140-141.

[14] Thwaites, ed., Jesuit Relations 34:87-99 in Labelle, 2013, 49.

[15] Labelle, 2013, 54, 61.

[16] Bruce G. Trigger, The Children of Aataentsic A History of the Huron People to 1660. (McGill-Queens University Press, 1976), 826.

[17] Labelle, 2013, 85.

[18] Labelle, 2013, 85.

[19] Sioui, 1999, 13.

[20] “Wendake” About page,, accessed 23, August 2022.

[21] Labelle, 2013, 106-107.

[22] Natural Resources Canada, Village des Hurons, Wendake.

[23] Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Giffard de Moncel, Robert.

[24] Barbeau in Sioui, 1999.

[25] Labelle, 2021, 141-143.

[26] Labelle, 2021, 136.

[27] Labelle, 2021, 21-22.

[28] Brian Charles, Wampum Woven through Anishinaabe History. February 15, 2017. University of Toronto Art Centre.

[29] Laurie Leclair, The Huron Wyandottes of Anderdon township a case study in native adaptation, 1701-1914. (University of Windsor, 1988), 4.

[30] Leclair, 1988, 4-5.

[31] Detroit Historical Society. French Detroit 1700-1760.

[32] Women and the American Story, Life Story: Marguerite Faffart Métis Fur Trader in New France The story of a métis fur trader of the Great Lakes region.

[33] Laurie Leclair, Anishinabek News The voice of the Anishinabek Nation, Four Nations Alliance Belt A lesson in Indigenous Diplomacy. (Leclair Historical Research November 1, 2018).

[34] Alan Ojiig Corbiere, Their Own Forms Most Notice, in Anishinaabewin Niiwin: Four Rising Winds (2013), edited by Alan OjiigCorbiere, Mary Ann Naokwegijig Corbiere, Deborah McGregor, and CrystalMigwans. M’Chigeeng, ON: Ojibwe Cultural Foundation, 2014.

[35] Corbiere, 2014.

[36] Leclair, 1988, 9.

[37] Leclair, 1988, 10.

[38] Leclair, 1988, 23.

[39] Leclair, 1988, 9-11.

[40] Adam Drouillard, The Huron-Wyandottes of the Anderdon Reserve: A Unique Case of Assimilation and Enfranchisement. (University of Windsor).

[41] Leclair, 1988, 18-19.

[42] Leclair, 1988, 43-44.

[43] Labelle, 2021, 56.

[44] Labelle, 2021, 58.

[45] Labelle, 2021, 60.

[46] Labelle, 2021, 61.

[47] Labelle, 2021, 104.

[48] Labelle, 2021, 96-97.

[49] Labelle, 2021, 90.

[50] Janith English, Wyandot Nation of Kansas, Huron Indian Cemetery Chronology.

[51] Labelle, 2021, 114.

[52] Janith English, Tears of My Grandmothers, unpublished manuscript, Wyandot Nation of Kansas Archives in Labelle, 2021, 114.

[53] Labelle, 2021, 127.

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