The Wyandot and Huron are indigenous peoples of North America known in their native language as the Wendat. Modern Wyandots and Hurons emerged in the 17th century from the remnants of two earlier groups, the Huron Confederacy and the Petun, who were located in what is now the Canadian province of Ontario before being decimated by disease and dispersed by war. Wyandots and Hurons today live in various locations in Canada and the United States.
The Wendat were not a tribe, but a confederacy of four or more tribes with a mutually intelligible language. According to tradition, this Wendat (or Huron) Confederacy was initiated by the Attignawantans ("People of the Bear") and the Attigneenongnahacs ("Cord"), who confederated in the 15th century. They were joined by the Arendarhonons ("People of the Rock") in about 1590, and the Tahontaenrats ("People of the Deer") around 1610. A fifth group, the Ataronchronons ("People of the Marshes" or "Bog"), may not have attained full membership in the confederacy, and may have been a division of the Attignawantan.
Closely related to the people of the Huron Confederacy were a group known to the French as the Petuns ("Tobacco People"), who lived further south. The Petun comprised two groups: the Deer and the Wolves. What the Petun called themselves is not known, but considering that they formed the nucleus of the tribe later known as the Wyandot, they too may have called themselves Wendat.
Hurons lived in villages spanning from one to ten acres (40,000 m²), most of which were fortified in defense against enemy attack. They lived in long houses similar to other Iroquoian cultural groups. The typical village had 900 to 1600 people organized into 30 or 40 longhouses. Villages were moved about every ten years as the soil became less fertile and the nearby forest, which provided firewood, grew thin. Hurons engaged in trade with neighboring tribes, notably for tobacco with the neighboring Petun and Neutral nations.
Tuberculosis was endemic among Hurons, aggravated by the close and smoky living conditions in the long houses. Hurons were on the whole healthy, however; the Jesuits believed that the Huron were "more healthy than we".
The total population of the Huron at the time of European contact has been estimated on average at about 20,000 to 40,000 people. From 1634 to 1640, Hurons were devastated by European diseases such as measles and smallpox, and numerous villages and areas were permanently abandoned. About two-thirds of the population died in the epidemics, decreasing the population to about 12,000.
Before the French arrived, the Huron had already been in conflict with the Iroquois to the south. Once the European powers became involved, this conflict intensified significantly. The French allied with the Huron, because they were the most advanced trading nation at the time. The Iroquois tended to ally with the English, who took advantage of their hatred of the Huron and their new French allies. The introduction of European weapons increased the severity of wars, and, by about 1650, the Iroquois had almost completely destroyed the Huron tribes. The Jesuit mission of Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, near modern Midland, Ontario, was one focus of Iroquois attacks, and many of the Jesuit missionaries were killed (see Canadian Martyrs); the mission was eventually burned on abandonment by the Jesuits, so as to prevent capture in 1649. After relocating and spending the bitter winter of 1649-50 on Gahoendoe, some Huron relocated near Quebec City and settled at Wendake, Quebec, becoming the Huron-Wendat Nation.
In June 1853 Big Turtle, a chief of the Wyandot tribe, wrote to the Ohio State Journal regarding the current condition of his tribe. The Wyandots received nearly $127,000 in 1845. Big Turtle noted that in the spring of 1850 the tribal chiefs retroceded the granted land to the government. $100,000 of the proceeds was invested in 5% government stock. Removed from Ohio to the Indian Territory, the Wyandot tribe had good libraries along with two thriving Sabbath Schools. They were in the process of organizing a division of the Sons of Temperance and maintained a sizable Temperance Society. Big Turtle commented on the agricultural yield, which produced an annual surplus for market. He said that the Wyandot's general thrift exceeded that of any tribe north of the Arkansas line. The Wyandot nation was contented and happy, and enjoyed better living conditions than formerly in Ohio.
A United States government treaty ceded the Wyandot Nation a small portion of fertile land located in an acute angle of the Missouri River and Kansas River. In addition the government granted thirty-two floating sections which were located on public lands west of the Mississippi River. By 1855 the number of Wyandots had diminished to 600 or 700. On August 14 of that year the Wyandot nation elected a chief, using polls which were located at a lodge about 200 yards from the confluence of the Kansas River and the Missouri River. The Kansas correspondent of the Missouri Republican reported that the judges of the election were three elderly braves, who were trusted by their peers. Some of the floating sections were offered for sale on the same day at a price of $800. A section was composed of . Altogether were sold for $25,600. They were located in Kansas, Nebraska, and unspecified sites. Surveys were not required, with the title becoming complete at the time of location.
An October 1855 article in the New York Times reported that the Wayandots were free and without restrictions placed on other tribes. Their leaders were unanimously Pro Slavery, which meant 900 or 1,000 additional votes in opposition to the Free State movement of Kansas.
The last of the original Wyandot of Ohio was Margaret "Grey Eyes" Solomon, a.k.a. "Mother Solomon". The daughter of Chief John Grey Eyes, she was born in 1816 and departed Ohio in 1843. She had returned to Ohio by 1889 when she was a spectator to the restoration of the Wyandot's "Old Mission Church," a Wyandot Mission Church at Upper Sandusky. She died in Upper Sandusky on August 17, 1890. For photograph see this reference site
In February 1985 the U.S. government agreed to pay descendants of the Wyandot Indians $5.5 million. The decision settled a 143-year-old treaty which forced the tribe to sell their Ohio homes for less than fair value in 1842. A spokesman for the Bureau of Indian Affairs said that the government would pay $1,600 each, in July 1985, to 3,600 people in Kansas and Oklahoma who could prove they are Wyandot descendants. A program founded in the 1940s to address grievances filed by various Native American tribes allocated $800 million to rectify promises broken by settlers who invaded their territories. The Wyandot settlement was based on an 1830 Federal law which required Native Americans to move west of the Mississippi River. Originally the Wyandots were paid .75 cents per acre for land that was worth $1.50 an acre.
In 1999, representatives of the far-flung Wyandot bands of Quebec, Kansas, Oklahoma and Michigan gathered at their historic homeland in Midland, Ontario, and formally re-established the Wendat Confederacy.
Each modern Wyandot community is a self-governing band:
The Kansas and Oklahoma groups have fought legal battles over the Huron Indian Cemetery in Kansas City, Kansas for over 100 years, and continue to do so in the 21st century. The local Wyandots wish to preserve the 400 plus grave cemetery, while the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma wants to use the land to establish commercial gambling.
The approximately 3,000 Wyandots in Quebec are primarily Catholic and speak French as a first language. There are now efforts to promote the use and study of the Wyandot language. For many decades, a leading source of income for the Wyandots of Quebec has been selling pottery and other locally produced crafts.