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09.30  Wendat Archaeological Heritage: Challenging the Professionals

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9:00, Tuesday 7 Jun 2016 (30 minutes)

Since 2011, the Ontario Standards and Guidelines for Consultant Archaeologists have required “Aboriginal Engagement” for projects impacting ancestral archaeological sites. In this paper we examine the historical perception of one First Nation society, the Wendat, by archaeologists and other academics. We argue that Aboriginal engagement process should go beyond informing communities about potential impacts to archaeological sites by development. True engagement is a dialogue in which research questions are proposed by community members and in which the community participates in formulating research strategies. Archaeologists, if open to this, may find that traditionally accepted paradigms are no longer tenable. 

The Wendat people are historically one of the most studied First Nations of Canada. The early to mid-seventeenth century saw intense contact between these Iroquoian-speaking peoples and French missionaries and traders. This period of less than fifty years of contact in Ontario had profound impacts on Wendat communities and ultimately led to the dispersal of the Wendat from their traditional homeland in Simcoe County, Ontario, in 1649-1650. Europeans were present within Wendat communities from the time of the first direct contact in the region. The writings of Champlain, Sagard, and the Jesuit Relations chronicled the lives of Wendat people from a European perspective. Together, these are arguably the richest set of ethnohistoric accounts of First Nations lives at the time of European contact. It is little surprise that they have served as the basis of a number of important scholarly works. 

Considered in retrospect, these secondary writings appear to have had several effects on how the Wendat were thought about by archaeologists: 

1) The Wendat became “frozen in time” with the nature of society as recorded by ethnohistorians representing the Wendat as though they had not changed over time. 

2) History ended in 1650 with the geopolitical reorganization of the Wendat confederacy and creation of what some refer to as a diaspora. The Wendat were considered to be a people who disappeared or suffered cultural loss. 

The involvement of Wendat in archaeological projects in Ontario has a long history but it was only with the implementation of the Standards and Guidelines that the process of consultation became standard. Initially, the needs of developers set the agenda for consultation, but as relationships have been established, we have begun to move forward toward real engagement. 

Two examples of “why heritage matters” serve to illustrate this: 

1) For a dispersed people, heritage may bring together communities that are geographically separated. There are several examples of events or projects in which members of the Wendat and Wyandot communities from across North America have reunited around their shared heritage: the reburial of ancestors at Ossossané and Donnaconna, the Yawenda language revival project, and the recent Circles of Interaction conference which focussed on Wendat archaeology. Academics have had some level of involvement in all these projects. 

2) The question of the St. Lawrence Iroquoians and their relationship to the Wendat people has been approached very differently by archaeologists and the Wendat. Recently this has been highlighted as a question of particular interest to the Wendat with the result being that archaeologists are forced to rethink some of their traditional assumptions. 

Heritage makes a real difference in lives of Wendat peoples in areas ranging from the political to the spiritual. Archaeologists have tools for investigating the past, but the challenge is to work together to use these in ways that are appropriate and address issues of importance.

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