- Discuss the attempts to convert Indigenous Peoples to Christianity. How successful were these attempts and what were some of the complicating factors in this process (for both the Jesuits, or missionaries, and the Indigenous Peoples involved)?
Answer: There was significant resistance to conversion as some Indigenous Peoples did not trust in the motives of the missionaries and were not convinced of the existence of hell. In 1648, only 15% of Wendat Confederacy were Christian. The sincerity of converts was questionable with motives possibly being connected to preferential treatment in fur trade; commercial incentives were especially beneficial. Of particular importance is the role of regional security concerns for the Wendat. The French were willing to trade firearms with converts only, and the Wendat were concerned about the number of muskets ending up in hands of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy from the Dutch and English.
In spite of high hopes of evangelizing the Indigenous Peoples quickly, it took nine years for Jesuit Jean de Brébeuf to learn the Wendat language; also, trade interests did not always match missionary goals. Ultimately, missionaries never completed the evangelization of the Wendat; a few nuns were produced but not a single priest among the men.
A source of difficulty arose with conflicting values between Indigenous worldview and Christian principles; Indigenous Peoples did not believe in a dominant position for human beings. Further, Indigenous Peoples recognized contradictions between Christian spiritual teachings and the actions of French traders. Importantly, Indigenous Peoples did not distinguish between religious and political roles.
When disease struck, the missionaries also became suspect as they seemed unaffected, thereby creating tensions. Later, at Hudson’s Bay Company posts, when formal education was implemented, the inclusion of Christian religion in the curriculum can be seen as an ominous predecessor of the residential school system.
- Briefly explain how the French and the Indigenous Peoples viewed the question of sovereignty and their position with regards to French Law.
Answer: The French were not clearly decided as to whether the Indigenous Peoples should be seen as allies or subjects of the French monarchy. Eventually, the French determined that the Indigenous Peoples should be seen as subjects and abide by French laws that were imposed. The Indigenous Peoples, who saw themselves as free and sovereign, did not accept this easily. They particularly did not appreciate being imprisoned for breaking laws they did not even know existed. If they had been approached with the proposition of abiding by French laws, they would not have accepted them.
- Briefly explain what role the Haudenosaunee and Onondowaga played in dispersing the Wendat.
Answer: In 1642, two members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the Kanien’keha:ka (who the French and English called Mohawk) and the Onondowaga, (who were referred to as Seneca), began river blockades to prevent the trade brigades that used the St Lawrence, Ottawa, and Richelieu rivers. A peace agreement between the French and the Kanien’keha:ka was short-lived, with the benefit of a few brigades getting through. In 1648, when the Wendat rallied again and sent down 60 canoes, they returned to find three of their villages burned. In conjunction with the attacks by the Haudenosaunee, the French were also fortifying their position. These challenges eventually led the Wendat to give up and in 1649 they burned their 15 remaining villages and dispersed.
- Explain the difference in understanding of early treaties and trade alliances between the English and the Cree.
Answer: The Cree presumed that the English were paying them “rent” as symbolized by ceremonial gift giving. The concept of owning land was foreign and the First Nations believed they still had access to the forts. The English believed they were acquiring property and had complete control. The Cree homeguard also hunted on behalf of the English; this relationship was also upheld via feasts and gifts. However, relations were uneasy. As resources became depleted, agreements sometimes turned to violence.