Racism of Missionaries evident in historical accounts of Haudenosaunee

First impressions of the inhabitants of what later became known as the Americas, are very interesting to read from a historical perspective. It was primarily Jesuits and other religious orders recording what they experienced in the “new world.”

The first tribal inhabitants of Ontario and New York areas as far as is known at this time was the “Attiwandaron” otherwise known as the Neutrals who were first mentioned as occupying what is now Brant County with in an around Brantford its cultural centre. Their hunting grounds ranged from the Genesee Falls to Sarnia, and South of a line drawn from Toronto to Goderich.

In 1535, French navigator and explorer Jaques Cartier established the first French colony calling the huge newly “found” land mass New France. Samuel DeChamplain followed in 1615 bringing Franciscan Brotherhood friars with him with the goal of establishing a missionary centre among the “Indians”.

In 1626, Father La Roche Daillon of the Recollet order of the Catholic Church studied the original inhabitants and found them to be “a powerful tribe”.

In his notes Daillon registers twenty-eight villages in Neutral country, including the principle village of Kandoucho, which later became Brantford, according to several researchers including Dr. Coyne and Adam Hunter.

Hunter, Secretary of the Ontario Historical Society, agrees Brantford to be the centre of the Neutrals.

In 1640 Fathers Breboeuf and Chaumonot also visited the Neutrals in the Brantford Arena.

In most cases, copious notes were taken revealing their customs and culture but also their appearance.

Accounts from 1640 estimate between 20,000 and 30,000 inhabitants. That would have been at a very low population level given the tribal wars, famine and sickness which reduced its numbers significantly by the time the survey was taken.

“They were great tobacco raisers and users,” according to Jesuit reports.

They were also noticeably bigger and stronger than their European invaders.

“They were physically the finest class of Indians on the American continent, tall, straight and well built, remarkable for their endurance and activity, and as a body so free of any deformity that Daillon states that during his stay among them, he did not notice a single lame, hunchbacked or deformed person. They were inveterate gamesters, often gambling for days and nights. In summer the men wore only moccasins, and the loin cloth or brayer; they tattooed their bodies with powdered charcoal. Many of their chiefs and leading warriors underwent the trying ordeal of tattooing with fixed pigments from head to foot; snakes, worms, animals, monstrosities of every conceivable nature ornamented, or disfigured their persons. In winter they clothed themselves in the skins of beasts, but winter or summer, they wore no covering on their heads. They dressed their hair each according to his own peculiar whim, but they never attempted to curl it and held in contempt the man, who even by the accident of nature, had curled hair,” according to another report.

It was also observed that “parents were held in great respect by their children,” and they were very fond of dancing, for pleasure, for ceremony, for peace and for war.

Around 1650, the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy) had absorbed the Neutrals as a power and occupying the greater part of the Brantford, Grand River area, long before the Haldimand Deed.

According to the academic book, “History of Brant Country”, old maps after 1658 show the former Neutral area as the “Beaver Hunting of the Iroquois.” And later the Mississauga’s had acquired occupation of the Brant County region, and by them it was sold to the British Government in connection with the settlement of the Six Nations here.

The Mohawks in 1746 adopted Sir William Johnson as a member of their nation and invested him with the rank of a war chief, with the name “Wa-raghi-ya-gey,” (which means “One who unites two peoples together.”)

In 1748, “Miss Molly” or Mary Brant, Joseph Brant’s Sister, became Johnson’s housekeeper whom he lived with until he died. By Mohawk standards, they were considered to be married.

An early account of their relationship. A story which circulated at the time tells of a beautiful 16-year-old whom Johnson had his eye on. He watch as she asked another officer for a ride on his horse and the two rode off with her hanging onto the officer with her dress flapping in the breeze behind them.

This sight cased the smitten and now jealous Johnson to act to protect her for his own and he hired her, later to become as man and wife.

Father Andrew White’s First Impressions 1634, wrote of a worrisome night. “That night fires were kindled through the whole region, and since so large a ship had never been seen by before, messengers were sent everywhere to announce, “that a canoe as large as an island had brought as many men as there were trees in the woods.”

Not understanding any political system foreign to their own, the early priests and explorers at first assumed a wild and lawless people.

“This I can say, he writes, “that the soil appears particularly fertile, and strawberries, vines, sassafras, hickory nuts, and walnuts, we tread upon everywhere, in the thickest woods. The soil is dark and soft, a foot in thickness, and rests upon a rich and red clay. Everywhere there are very high trees, except where the ground is tilled by a scanty population. An abundance of springs afford water. No animals are seen except deer, the beaver, and squirrels, which are as large as the hares of Europe. There is an infinite number of birds of various colors, as eagles, herons, swans, geese, and partridges. From which you may infer that there is not wanting to the region whatever may serve for commerce or pleasure. . .”

In his book, THE JESUITS IN COLONIAL AMERICA: 1565-1767, author Nicholas P. Cushner he opens his work with this thought. “…[the white man] does not understand our customs, just as we do not understand his. We say he is foolish because he does not know our ways, and perhaps he says we are foolish because we do not know his. Let him go away.” – Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

Early Jesuit reports about the Native Americans cast the original inhabitants as the incarnate presence of the devil and his human associates, in the form of Indian priests or shamans.

The Jesuits were working under the belief that the ultimate cause of native resistance to “Christian” ideas was the devil. For the European the devil was the major opponent in the battle for the Indian soul. Academic Georges Baudot has shown how the use of the Nahua terms for devil and demons may have inadvertently led to the affirmation of native beliefs.

The obsession with the devil is tied to the folk Catholicism of the Europeans. Pío Baroja’s work on the role of the devil in popular European Catholicism explains how the concept of the Evil One became a central feature in the Old World belief system.

The Jesuit who had been educated to believe that forces of evil waged a continual struggle against the forces of good easily translated Native American opposition into Satan’s handiwork. They were unable to imagine any other reason for the Native American’s refusal to accept Christianity along with major features of European culture. Witches or brujos were the servants of the devil. Thus, the fiesta in which individual saints were honored as protectors against the devil were important spiritual as well as social activities. European iconography placed Satan in a pivotal position whose manifestations became ubiquitous.

These two belief systems clashed often. “While the Renaissance Jesuit missionary was in the middle of a movement that asserted man’s control over nature, masculine superiority over the household, and a Christian religious fundamentalism that alleged certainty. These core values clashed head-on with Native America’s,” according to Cushner.

Jaques Thurin adds in conclusion, “Jean de Brebeuf thought that the qualities needed for New France were those that would please the Indians. Genuine affection for the Indian was ranked first. Patience, promptness, cheerfulness, silence, and the capacity to endure physical hardships were next. Nowhere in Brebeuf’s hierarchy was philosophy or theology, thus underlining the general Jesuit perception that the missions were for the less intellectually endowed.

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