Quebec History Marianopolis College

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L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


French Influence upon Indians



[This text was originally published in 1907 by the Bureau of American Ethnology as part of its Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. It was later reproduced, in 1913, by the Geographic Board of Canada. The work done by the American Bureau was monumental, well informed and incorporated the most advanced scholarship available at the time. In many respects, the information is still useful today, although prudence should be exercised and the reader should consult some of the contemporary texts on the history and the anthropology of the North American Indians suggested in the bibliographic introduction to this section. The articles were not completely devoid of the paternalism and the prejudices prevalent at the time. While some of the terminology used would not pass the test of our "politically correct" era, most terms have been left unchanged by the editor. If a change in the original text has been effected it will be found between brackets [.] The original work contained long bibliographies that have not been reproduced for this web edition. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]


[Consult the article on French-Indian relations in the Encyclopedia of North American Indians.]



The influence of the French colonists on the Indians began very early. The use of glass beads in barter gave an impetus to the fur trade, and the speedy introduction of other commodities of trade led to long-continued associations, with the Iroquoian tribes in particular. The influence of the French missionaries on many of the Indian tribes was marked; for example, the Montagnais and the Huron in the early days. The supply of peltries was increased by furnishing the Indians with firearms, which enabled them to travel with impunity and gave them a superiority over the neighbouring tribes which they were not slow to take advantage of; hence almost from the beginning the French settlers and the government of New France came into more or less sympathetic contact with several tribes of the country. This state of affairs arose both from the peaceful efforts of the missionaries and from the desire of the authorities to use the aborigines as a bulwark against the power of the English in North America. To her alliances with the Algonquian tribes of the Great lakes and the region S. and E. of them, including New France and Acadia, France owed in great part her strength on this continent, while on the other hand the confederacy of the Iroquois, the natural enemies of the Algonquian peoples contributed largely to her overthrow. The French character impelled the colonists to see in the Indian a fellow human being, and it is no wonder that the greatest intermixture between the Indian and the European N. of the Mexican boundary, is represented by the mixed-bloods of Canada and the N. W. and their descendants, who form no small element in the population of these regions of civilized America. The French recognized the Indian's pride and prejudices, and won his confidence by respecting his institutions and often sharing in his ceremonies. They ruled while seeming to yield. Least of all did they despise the languages of the aborigines, as the rich records of the missionaries abundantly prove. The existence of a large number of mixed-bloods able to speak both their own tongue and French was a distinct advantage to the colonists. The relations between the French and the Acadian Indians, as pictured by Lescarbot, were, to use the word of Friederici, "idyllic," though there is doubtless some exaggeration in these old accounts.


Several words of French origin crept very early into the Eastern Algonquian tongues, such as Montagnais, Naskapi, and Micmac, and later a corresponding French element is to be found in the Algonquian languages of the region beyond Montreal (Chamberlain in Canad. Indian , Feb., 1891). The Chippewa vocabulary (Carver, Trav., 421, 1778) contains the word kapotewian, 'coat,' which is the French capote, with the Chippewa radical suffix -waian, ' skin.'In a Missisauga vocabulary of 1801 appears napané 'flour.' The French bon jour! in the form boju! is now the salutation in several Algonquian dialects. From (les) anglais is supposed to be derived the word for 'English' in a number of these languages: Micmac aglaseaoo, Montagnais agaleshu, Nipissing aganesha, formerly angalesha, Chippewa shaganash, c ree akayâsiw, etc. Another example of French influence is the contribution of Canadian French to the Chinook jargon. There is also a French element in the modern tales and legends of the Indians of the Canadian Northwest and British Columbia, partly due to missionary teaching, partly to the campfires of the trappers, voyageurs, coureurs de bois, etc. In tales of the N. Pacific coast appears Shisshé Tlé (i. e., Jésus Christ), and in some of those of Indians on the E. side of the Rocky mts., 'Mani' (i. e., the Virgin Mary). The French are also the subject of many Indian stories from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Among the Abnaki intermixture began very early. With them the term for mixed-blood is malouidit, 'of ( St. ) Malo,' indicative of the source of the fathers in most of these marriages. The wheat introduced from France was termed maloumenal, ' grains of ( St. ) Malo.' In the 17th century the Abnaki called peas wenulsiminar, ' French seeds.' The Micmac term for apple is wenjoosoon, 'French cranberry' In the Iroquoian languages an example of French influence is seen in Onontio, ('Big Mountain'), the term applied by the Mohawk to the kings of France, which seems to translate Montmagny, the name of Champlain's successor as governor of Canada. Another example, noted by Hewitt, is that the Mohawk of Caughnawaga and other settlements on St. Lawrence r. speak far more rapidly than do their brethren on Six Nation res., Ontario, and they also have a more copious lexicon of modern terms.


Under the leadership of Mgr. de Laval the clergy of New France made strenuous opposition to the sale of liquor to the Indians, and succeeded in getting Colbert to prohibit the traffic; but the necessities of the political schemes of Frontenac and the fact that the Indians turned to the English and Dutch, from whom they could easily procure rum and brandy, caused the reversal of this policy, against the protests of missionaries and the church. To salve their feelings the matter was referred to the Sorbonne and the University of Toulouse , the former pronouncing against the sale of liquor to the Indians, the latter declaring it permissible. Finally a sort of theoretical prohibition but actual toleration of liquor selling resulted.


Source: James WHITE, ed., Handbook of Indians of Canada , Published as an Appendix to the Tenth Report of the Geographic Board of Canada , Ottawa , 1913, 632p., pp. 172-173.



© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College