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Wampum in Quebec from the 19th Century to the Present Day: Appropriation, Loss, Identication

Les wampums au Québec du xixe siècle à aujourd’hui. Appropriation, disparition, identification
Jonathan Lainey
Traduction de Susan Pickford
p. 98-117
Cet article est une traduction de :
Les wampums au Québec du xixe siècle à aujourd’hui Appropriation, disparition, identification [fr]

Résumés

Après plus de deux siècles de circulation régulière dans des contextes diplomatiques impliquant les nations autochtones et européennes du nord-est de l’Amérique, les colliers de wampum virent leur utilisation réduite au xixe siècle. Depuis l’affaiblissement de leur rôle politique jusqu’à leur intégration dans des collections privées ou muséologiques, l’histoire de ces objets prit différentes formes et suivit plusieurs directions. La présentation de cas particuliers de wampums ayant été ou étant toujours conservés sur le territoire actuel du Québec est utile pour expliquer en partie pourquoi ces objets de nature collective ont pu sortir de leur communauté d’origine pour se retrouver dans des musées. Ces exemples servent aussi à illustrer la manière dont une signification ou fonction nouvelles ont été imposées aux wampums par les collectionneurs privés non autochtones au détriment du sens initial que leur attribuaient leurs propriétaires d’origine.

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Introduction1

  • 1 This article draws on and updates a number of publications by the author between 2004 and the prese (...)
  • 2 Dutch and English traders acquired the beads from the Indigenous makers in exchange for various tra (...)

1Wampum beads, made from Atlantic seashells, were a major commodity in the fur trade which developed rapidly across early-17th-century northeastern North America. Dutch and English traders exchanged the beads for the thousands of pelts they needed for their business.2 The people of the Iroquoian territories further inland then used them in their diplomatic relations with neighboring nations. The beads were woven into belts of various sizes and presented as official gifts alongside speeches. One contemporary French report records the importance of such objects at official meetings in early-18th-century North America:

These belts are so necessary to those who speak of affairs on behalf of the nations that no faith would be placed in their words if they did not beforehand present the other party with a belt that they spread out before him; once the speech is over, the Savage being addressed picks up the belt and puts another down in its place to make his answer.
(BNF, NAF 2550, n. d. [c. 1725]: f. 24)

2Some wampum were kept for long periods as records of the messages they embodied and physical reminders of past agreements and mutual commitments. Exchanging wampum belts was regulated by protocols in many nations across northeastern North America, and was also taken up by Europeans engaging in diplomacy in the region in the 17th and 18th centuries.

  • 3 For examples of wampum use until the 20th century, see Lainey 2004: 82-86.

3It is generally held that diplomatic wampum uses fell out of favor following the final colonial conflict between the British crown and the Americans and their respective Indigenous allies in the war of 1812-1814. Though some authors have sought to pin down a specific date for the end of diplomatic wampum use, such an undertaking seems ill-advised. The practice of exchanging belts between Indigenous and European nations may have come to an end, but that by no means suggests it did not continue in Indigenous villages and communities or even within the same nation. Local practices can survive without having been recorded in the archives we consult today. Though wampum belts no longer circulated as they had in the 18th century and its use declined or changed substantially over time, several nations did long keep hold of their wampum as tangible records of founding principles and historical events or to mark and give official weight to ceremonies. Wampum belts were still spoken of, presented and used at public events and formal summits, without being offered or exchanged.3

4Yet clearly, the majority of wampum have ended up, one way or another, in private collections and museums. The history of these artifacts over the past 150 years, since the decline of their political role saw them move into private and museum collections, has followed a number of paths and directions. Certain wampum objects are known to have been bequeathed or sold to preserve them, particularly in the United States: chiefs who feared their wampum would eventually be scattered or slowly destroyed entrusted them to universities and national museums which they officially appointed “keepers of the wampum” (Lainey 2004: 143-144).

Fig. 1. William Notman, The Onondaga chief Isaac Hill Kaweneseronton of the Six Nations Confederacy with one wampum in his hand and another round his neck, Montreal, 1870. Albumen print, 13.7 × 10 cm.

Fig. 1. William Notman, The Onondaga chief Isaac Hill Kaweneseronton of the Six Nations Confederacy with one wampum in his hand and another round his neck, Montreal, 1870. Albumen print, 13.7 × 10 cm.

Montreal, McCord Museum, I-48873.1.

5In Quebec, wampum belts do not seem to have been handed over by their communities for reasons of preservation. Several made their way into private collections and from there into modern museums. One explanation for the sale of such objects is thought to be the gradual shift in modes of ownership at the turn of the 20th century, from the collective and national to the private and family sphere.

6This article sheds light on these historical realities by taking a closer look at specific wampum that were, and in some cases still are, held in Quebec, which are relatively well documented. These wampum belts, some curently in the McCord Museum collection in Montreal and others formerly in religious institutions, came for the most part from the Wendat of Wendake (formerly known as the Huron of Lorette), others from the Kanien’kehá:ka of Kahnawake and Kanesatake (formerly the Mohawk of Sault-Saint-Louis and Lake of Two Mountains). The first of the three villages is near Quebec City, the other two outside Montreal. These case studies offer a partial explanation as to why such collective objects left their home communities to end up in museum collections. It cannot be claimed that they are perfectly representative of the full set of wampum across the 19th and 20th centuries, but they do offer a glimpse of some of the realities impinging on the material culture of Indigenous nations in northeastern North America.

7Likewise, the history of these objects sheds light on how the non-Indigenous process of building ethnological collections imposes new meanings and functions on wampum, to the detriment of the meanings they were given from their original owners. Once they enter private collections, their primary meaning sometimes underwent a radical transformation, opening up to the beliefs and imaginings of their new owners. This process of re-appropriation, material or immaterial, inevitably shapes the way we look at wampum today.

Socio-political shifts and changing modes of ownership

8For the Wendat of Wendake, wampum belts were kept by chiefs, who formed a council of up to ten individuals in the early 19th century. As chiefs were appointed for life by their clan and family, some remained in position for decades. Whenever one died, a new chief was appointed to replace him. The chiefs, whose role was to represent and speak for their clan and family ensured the maintenance and transmission of collective knowledge, and looked after the written records and the objects connected with the nation’s history. Wampum belts were part of the record entrusted to chiefs: they did not own the objects, but took on a stewardship role.

  • 4 On the shift in material and documentary heritage from the community sphere to the private sphere i (...)

9When the traditional system of representation began to break down in the late 19th century, becoming difficult to maintain, wampum increasingly passed from the chiefs appointed for life to members of their families. The last traditional lifelong chiefs gave way to new chiefs elected to the three-year terms imposed by the racist federal Indian Act of 1876 that controlled the legal and civic lives of “Indians” in fundamental ways from the cradle to the grave as a means of assimilating them into the dominant society. The shift from collective ownership to the private sphere is clear in wills written by Wendat chiefs at the time bequeathing historical artifacts such as wampum and medals to their descendants rather than the next chief.4 It is no coincidence that wampum stayed in the family, since chiefdoms were traditionally hereditary and handed down within clans: the wampum staying in the family of the deceased therefore respect a certain customary logic. Concretely, the practice meant that children often became keepers of wampum without being traditional chiefs. The Wendat priest Prosper Vincent (1842-1915) told the ethnologist Marius Barbeau in 1911 the phenomenon he had himself observed:

When I was young, I heard that the grand chief kept a good number of porcelain [wampum] belts in hand […]. In those days, these belts were considered as tribal property. Later, the property became divisible, so most of the belts were sold.
(Quoted in Lainey 2004: 147).

10Vincent rightly pointed out one crucial development that came about when the mode of wampum ownership changed: they could now be sold. Some owners then considered wampum as private property that could legitimately be disposed of. The anthropologist Horatio Hale recorded the same phenomenon among the Wyandots of Anderdon, Michigan, when he acquired the four wampum belts now preserved at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, at the tail end of the 19th century:

The chief said that he had some belts which were his private property, and which he could sell to me. I inferred that they were belts which had ceased to be of practical use, and which the former wampum-keeper, in accordance with tribal usage, had left at his disposal.
(Hale 1897: 233)

11Socio-political shifts account for some of the reasons why some now felt able to sell diplomatic objects of collective property to private owners, but that does not mean they were legally entitled to do so. Clearly, the objects they were selling had meanings and functions that reached far beyond the individual, extending to the nation as a whole. The Wendake council of chiefs made efforts to recover and protect the material and archival record when it fell into the hands of individuals who did not represent the nation. For instance, in 1923, the grand chief Ovide Sioui complained to the Indian Affairs Department that Pierre-Albert Picard, the grandson of François-Xavier Picard, a traditional chief elected for life, “held in his possession precious documents and other effects that are the property of the tribe” (LAC, RG10, 1923-1925). In 1898, the New York court had to pass judgment on the legality of past transfers of wampum ownership. The Onondaga, member of the Haudenausonee Confederacy, made the case that no individual could sell them or give them away since they belonged to the confederacy as a whole. The attorneys for the other side argued that the confederacy had long since ceased to exist and the objects had become family heirlooms and privately owned “relics” (The Gazette 1898: 6).

12On some occasions, chiefs and other members of the nation only realized wampum had been sold years after the event. They then set about trying to recover them, a challenging process that generally ended in failure as the written records left by various collectors were often unclear, modifying and even simply omitting details crucial to the history of the artifacts (Bruchac 2018).

Changes of meaning and interpretation

13Once a wampum left its community, the meaning and provenance attributed to it were entirely dependent on the words and wills of the new owner, to the detriment of its exact historical origin. Indeed, sometimes the new meaning was at complete odds with the message it bore when originally exchanged in an international diplomatic context, with its meaning being regularly recalled to ensure the memory of the agreement. The shift in meaning of wampum across time is not the result of a social and cultural phenomenon whereby a given culture’s oral history develops new meanings: rather, it reflects a process of negation, usurpation and interference in the narratives told by the Other by appropriating the material culture in which they are embodied. This historical reality is encapsulated by two major wampum belts now in the McCord Museum, Montreal, that have particularly detailed records of provenance.

The “great war belt” of the Wendat

  • 5 On this wampum and its representation over time, see Lainey and Whitelaw 2021.
  • 6 Another possibility is that the Wendat received and accepted the hatchet from George III during the (...)

14This wampum, one of the most well-known of the McCord Museum collection, symbolizes the military alliance between the British crown and the Huron-Wendat nation and, probably, the Seven Nations of Canada, an Indigenous confederacy of nations along the Saint Lawrence Valley including the Wendat. The wampum’s central motif is a hatchet gifted by George III, which the Huron-Wendat eventually agreed to use to defend the interests of their new ally in the war of conquest.5 It is believed to have been presented at the fall of the French possessions in North America, when the British allied with the Indigenous nations and called for their neutrality or even support in conquering French territories in exchange for protecting their way of life and their lands. This was the political context for some of the earliest treaties of peace and friendship between the British and First Nations peoples living along the Saint Lawrence River.6

15When four Wendat leaders traveled to London in 1824-1825 to meet George IV to make the case for their land rights to the territory of the seigneury of Sillery, Quebec, they brought with them this wampum to remind the king of the long-standing alliance between their peoples. An engraving immortalized the grand chief Nicolas Vincent Tsawenhohi holding the wampum (Fig. 2). The caption beneath the lithograph clearly pointed out the hatchet’s symbolic meaning: “The chief bears in his hand the wampum or collar on which is marked the tomahawk given by his late majesty, George III.”

Fig. 2. Edward Chateld, Nicholas Vincent Tsawenhohi, 1825. Hand-colored lithograph, 33.3 × 29 cm. Gift of Mrs. Walter M. Stewart.

Fig. 2. Edward Chatfield, Nicholas Vincent Tsawenhohi, 1825. Hand-colored lithograph, 33.3 × 29 cm. Gift of Mrs. Walter M. Stewart.

The Wendat grand chief Nicolas Vincent Tsawenhohi represented when he traveled to London in 1824-1825. He is pointing at the wampum belt symbolizing George III’s war hatchet and is wearing medals from George III and George IV.

Montreal, McCord Museum, M20855 © McCord Museum.

16The journey of this wampum, of fundamental significance to Wendat history, typifies the fate of other wampum belts at this time. It passed through the hands of successive chiefs for over a century and was then kept by the family of one of the last grand chiefs appointed for life according to Wendat tradition. When the hereditary grand chief François-Xavier Picard Tahourenché died in 1883, the wampum stayed with the Picard family in the ownership of his son Paul, who inherited it alongside other major historical objects and belongings. Paul was unable to pass the precious wampum on to his own children, since he lost it to the wealthy Quebec City notary and collector Cyrille Tessier (1835-1931) at a point when he was struggling to meet the financial commitments of a court case against his sisters, precisely over the inheritance itself (Lainey 2004: 121-126 and 149).

17The wampum was then kept away from public view in the Tessier family collection until it was sold on to the McCord Museum in 1957. From that point on, the original meaning of the wampum, recording the military alliance that allowed the British to establish a presence in northeastern North America, was challenged, then simply ignored. In 1951, when Cyrille’s son Joachim Des Rivières Tessier loaned the wampum to an exhibition commemorating the foundation of Detroit by Antoine de La Mothe-Cadillac in 1701, the meaning he gave it was far removed from its original message. It was claimed to be one of the three wampum belts exchanged at the Great Peace of Montreal in 1701, involving the French, and its main symbol was the war hatchet buried to mark the occasion (Richardson 1951: 49 and 51). The wampum exchanged to herald a new relationship between the British and the Indigenous nations that was to seal the British crown’s territorial success in the Americas became an object believed to commemorate peace with the French some six decades earlier. The meaning was turned on its head, from a military alliance with the British to peace with the French. Though the 1825 lithograph was proof to historians and the public at large that the belt depicted George III’s hatchet, the new owners felt justified in contradicting its evidence and ignoring the wampum’s real message. The erroneous reading followed the wampum when it was acquired by the McCord Museum in 1957, and was then taken up in numerous publications by experts who failed to question this interpretation and ascertain its foundations (Lainey and Whitelaw 2021: 192-194).

18Altering the true meaning of wampum is not trivial and harmless. In this case, the wampum was exchanged to mark a founding agreement, reflecting a historical reciprocal connection between the Indigenous nations and the British crown. The extraordinary act of the Wendat leaders who obtained a private audience with George IV in 1825 to remind him of his duties and obligations in the light of the sincere bond between allies now went unnoticed. The mutual pledges undertaken after the British conquest, which should have met Wendat interests, were neglected to the point of oblivion. Relegating and denying the content of such agreements plays a part in diminishing the affirmation of ancestral Indigenous rights that still potentially have legal value to this day.

The Kanesatake “two-dog wampum belt”

  • 7 On the events of the 1780s, see Lainey 2013: 99-108.

19The same practice of appropriating and transforming meaning took place at Kanesatake, where an equally important wampum was sold by a private individual early in the 20th century. The Two-Dog Wampum Belt (TDWB), now in the McCord Museum, was used in the 1780s to provide proof of territorial rights to the recently arrived British authorities.7 The root of the quarrel between the people of Kanesatake and their Canadian neighbors lay in land ownership: the priests of Saint-Sulpice contested Kanesatake ownership of some fields, claiming they had been granted ownership of the land for the purposes of instructing the Indigenous populations residing in their seigneury of Lake of Two Mountains. In 1781, the chiefs presented the wampum to the colonial authorities to justify and defend their cause, describing its woven symbols in the following terms:

This white line Father on the belt describes, according to our custom, the length of our lands, these figures hand in hand making for the Cross represent our faith in the religion we all profess; the Body represents the council fire of our village, the two dogs at each end must guard the limits of our lands, and should anyone disturb our peaceful possession, they must bark to warn us, which they have done for the past three years.
(Quoted in Lainey 2013: 99).

20The designs on the belt are explicitly described and explained in the account of the event: there are characters holding hands on either side of a central Catholic cross, a white line runs beneath their feet, and two dogs stand at either end (Fig. 3). The chiefs made their case again in 1788, for the same territorial reasons. The following year, the wampum was officially presented as a land ownership deed to the Executive Council of Quebec, called on to resolve the dispute. The material proof and arguments put forward by the Kanesatake chiefs held little weight in the view of the Colonial authorities, however, who came down on the side of the numerous official documents such as deeds, concessions, and earlier court judgments presented by the priests of Saint-Sulpice.

Fig. 3. J. C. Parks, The Kanien’kehá:ka [Mohawk] chief Joseph Swan Onasakenrat wearing the Kanesatake Two Dog Wampum Belt, c. 1868. Albumen print, 10.2 × 6.4 cm.

Fig. 3. J. C. Parks, The Kanien’kehá:ka [Mohawk] chief Joseph Swan Onasakenrat wearing the Kanesatake Two Dog Wampum Belt, c. 1868. Albumen print, 10.2 × 6.4 cm.

Jean Tanguay Collection.

Fig. 4. Edgar Gariépy, Four members of the Kahnawake community with Victor Morin, c. 1918. Gelatin silver lantern slide, 10.1 × 8.2 cm.

Fig. 4. Edgar Gariépy, Four members of the Kahnawake community with Victor Morin, c. 1918. Gelatin silver lantern slide, 10.1 × 8.2 cm.

Victor Morin was a major collector in and around Montreal. The man on the right has on his shoulder the wampum presented by the Wendat to the Kanien’kehá:ka in around 1677.

Montreal, Montreal Archives, BM042-Y-1-P1281, DR.

21As for the Wendat belt, once the TDWB was sold outside its community, its original meaning was completely lost and changed at the whim of its new owners. The wampum was sold privately by David Swan, a Kanesatake man working in the region east of Georgian Bay, Ontario, where Kanien’kehá:ka of Kanesatake had established a new village in the mid-19th century (now Wahta Mohawk). Swan sold the TDWB to David Ross McCord, founder of the McCord Museum, and sent it in February 1919 with a letter outlining a meaning that was far removed from the case made by the chiefs in 1780:

I am sending you the commemoration of the Eries coming under the white man’s rule. Figures of white man and Indian with hands joined thus leading the Indian in the paths of righteousness, which is the white line under their feet. Figures at each end denoting that the Indian was to become like the lamb. The cross in the middle representing loyalty to Christianity.
(MMA, M1904)

22This interpretation overlooks all the major facts relating to the wampum’s origin, bringing in another Indigenous nation, turning the guard dogs into tame lambs and losing the idea of territorial rights altogether! Yet Kanesatake-born David Swan must have known the wampum’s true meaning. Was it a way for him to distance the wampum, at least semantically, from its home community, just fifty kilometers or so distant? Given that the community leaders would not have taken kindly to news of the sale, was he trying to cover his tracks?

23McCord is known to have taken an uncritical approach to the information provided with his acquisitions, whether through lack of historical knowledge, sheer naivety, or even outright refusal to face facts (McCaffrey 1992a: 110). In this case, however, he did show some critical judgment, realizing that it could not possibly be connected with the Erie, a nation of the Great Lakes dispersed in the mid-17th century who had never hosted Jesuits in their villages. Rather than admitting that the message of his newly acquired wampum might be a mystery, he came up with a fanciful reading based on what David Swan had told him:

A very old and important belt commemorating the conversion of a whole Nation or Tribe. […] a cross in the centre on a solid base - the idea of permanency; on each side and touching the cross a red man, followed by a white man, a red man and a white man alternately on either side, all eight participants joining hands, indicating that the Indians are being led in the path of righteousness, the line terminating with a lamb at either end - meaning the Lamb of God, or the peaceful life they undertook to adopt conversion; along the whole base runs a white line, indicating the new life of peace; and at each end seven double bars - the agreement.
(MMA, M1904)

24As in the case of the Wendat wampum, the public-facing message was an entirely erroneous fabrication, taken up in various publications for the next seventy years until 1990, when the Onondaga attorney and negotiator Paul Williams published an article linking the McCord TDWB to late-18th-century archival records (Williams 1990: 31). The wampum’s original meaning, asserting the legitimacy of Indigenous land rights over part of the territory, had long been hijacked, discredited, altered, and re-appropriated. Yet for all that time, the Kanien’kehá:ka still bore the memory of the wampum. From the late 18th century to the present, they constantly fought for recognition of their rights, referring on occasion to the wampum marking the foundation of Kanesatake and the speeches made by their chiefs in the 1780s (Gabriel and Van den Hende 2010). In recent years, however, the Kanesatake Language and Cultural Center has put forward an alternative reading. In 2012, the McCord Museum loaned the TDWB to the Musée national des Beaux-Arts, Quebec City, for an exhibition on the arts in New France. The curator Laurier Lacroix followed institutional procedure, requesting permission from the wampum’s home community. The responsibles of the Kanesatake Language and Cultural Center agreed on the condition that their own voices and perspectives on the wampum’s meaning be included. Laurier Lacroix agreed. The reading provided by the Center, printed in the exhibition catalog, differs in many respects from that presented by the chiefs in 1781 and 1788. It is worth quoting at length to give Indigenous voices their rightful place today:

The Two Wolves Wampum is an agreement that took place around 1721 between Kontinonh-seshà:ka - the Longhouse people of Kanehsatà:ke – and the Sulpice priests with the group of Christian Mohawk, Nippissings and Algonquin Indigenous peoples that accompanied them. The agreement is one that is intended for a peaceful coexistence and that each side would not interfere in each others’ lives. […]. The background of the belt is made of purple beads highlighted by human figures and a wolf at each end of the belt. The two wolves signify the protectors of the land […]. The long white lines signifies the length of the land.. The figures are grasping hands to signify each other’s sincerity in remaining true to their own ways and loyalty to each other to uphold this peaceful coexistence agreement. What appears to be a cross in the center is instead understood by local interpretation as the depiction of two figures holding a wampum belt. The pole in the middle would be a demarcation signifier of land boundaries that were to be occupied and used. It is most likely not a cross as initially thought or interpreted by anthropologists. Some figures’ bodies are solid white and others have purple beads in their bodies. These could signify the gender of the person(s) as Iroquois custom dictates equality among men and women. As well within the bodies is represented the council fire (affairs of the nation) of Kanehsata’ kehro:non. It is therefore important to note that this was a belt signifying a means of peaceful coexistence as well as the Kanien’kehá:ka’s assertion to their sovereignty and to the Sulpicians by Kanehsata’ kehro:non. It is a proof of the existence of Kanesatà:ke pre-European arrival as it signified the fact that this was Kanien’kehà:ka (people of the flint) territory and that they had final say in its stewardship. Unfortunately, the Sulpican priests from the onset twisted the words and original intent of the belt. They claimed that the Kanehsata’kehro:nonwould be the ones who would have to ask permission if any wood was to be cut. This caused much hardship on the people as anytime families would cut wood to heat their homes or cook their food they were arrested under orders of the Sulpicians. The Sulpicians also claimed that the belt signified that the Kanesatà:ke Mohawks surrendered all land rights to them and would therefore be loyal to them. However, the contrary is true. The wampum belt meant that the Sulpicians would cooperate with the Mohawks and respect their occupation and use of our land. For many generations the people of Kanesatà:ke resisted any attempts by the Sulpicians to take their lands. The fight continues almost 400 years later.
(Quoted in Lacroix 2012: 271)

25This reading not only offers a contemporary version of the history of how their village was founded and asserts the ancestral sovereignty of their people over their territory, it also points to key societal and political issues in the 21st century. What elements of oral tradition and what historical arguments did the members of the Kanesatake community draw on to propose an interpretation that differs in so many respects from the words of their own ancestors as recorded in the archives, to the point at times of contradicting them? The origins of this contemporary reading would be worthy of study in their own right, involving interviews with Kanesatake representatives today.

The wampum presented in a religious context and kept in Quebec

26Between 1654 and 1716, Indigenous populations living in religious missions produced some ten or so belts to be presented at European and Canadian shrines. Almost all were produced by the Wendat as pious offerings in honor of the Virgin Mary and other saints and as religious vows. Some were sent to France, others remained in the community that made them. Unfortunately, few survive: the single belt in the Musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac and the two in the Chartres cathedral are the sole known surviving examples of the ten or so officially recorded in the Jesuit Relations and other archives. Wampum that stayed in North America proved less fortunate than those that crossed the Atlantic over three and a half centuries ago.

27Since most of the wampum were made by the Wendat, it was perhaps not surprising to find four votive wampum belts on the walls either side of the altar in the Lorette (now Wendake) chapel. When the chapel burned down in 1862, the wampum were sadly lost. The sole visual record of these wampum that bore witness to ancestral Wendat religious practice is surprisingly found in Melbourne, Australia, in a manuscript by a certain Samuel Douglas Smith Huyghue, who visited the Wendat in 1846 and took notes on the four unique wampum belts and the words they bore (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5. Samuel Douglas Smith Huyghue, Drawing of the four wampum belts hanging on the wall in the Lorette [Wendake] chapel prior to the fire of 1862, 1846. Drawing, dimensions unknown.

Fig. 5. Samuel Douglas Smith Huyghue, Drawing of the four wampum belts hanging on the wall in the Lorette [Wendake] chapel prior to the fire of 1862, 1846. Drawing, dimensions unknown.

The Latin on the wampum reads as follows (some words are abbreviated): V˙MATRI˙ILIN˙D˙D˙ (Gift of the Illinois to the Virgin Mary), B˙ANNAE˙MATRIM˙V˙VOTUM˙HUR (Vow of the Huron to the Blessed Anne Mother of the Virgin), B˙JOSEPHO˙MARIÆ˙SPONSO˙HUR˙ (The Huron to the Blessed Joseph Husband of Mary), DEIPARÆ:ABNAQVÆI˙ D D (Gift of the Abenaki to the Mother of God).

Melbourne, Museums Victoria, Collection SDS Huyghue, XM 1495, Manuscript, pre-1879.

28The loss of these wampum was incalculable in many ways, but particularly, perhaps, from the point of view of research. As a corpus of wampum of great age, it would have been immensely valuable in pinning down various techniques of weaving and bead-making in time and space, standing as a point of comparison for other wampum belts today. Wampum with a clear record of production and exchange are very rare, though a study of museum databases reveals that their attributed dates are often very early, in some cases as far back as the early 1600s. Yet research has shown that information associated with wampum in museums links them reliable to a specific period or group only in exceptional cases (Lainey 2004 and 2008). These type of wampum produced in religious settings are easier to locate in time and space. Since they were made under Jesuit supervision, the written records they kept tell us who they were sent to and when. Furthermore, their material characteristics—specifically Latin inscriptions conveying the vows of the makers—mean it is relatively easy to recognize them and connect them with the written historical record.

29Another wampum generally considered to have been presented in a religious context was preserved on display in the church of Kahnawake for three centuries after it was presented by the Wendat in around 1677 (Fig. 4). This precious wampum could have left the community, which faced particular socio-economic challenges, at the same time as the two described earlier in this article. Members of the community did indeed try to sell it twice, in 1923 and 1926. It was a very valuable object. The journalist covering the trial of two men aged seventy and eighty accused of stealing it in 1923 pointed out that American museums were offering vast sums for it (The Gazette 1923). Three years later, Reverend O. Lacouture tried to sell it to the McCord Museum, five years after it opened. He was apparently trying to raise a lot of money to fund repairs to religious buildings. Suspecting the sale was illegal, the museum’s assistant curator, Mary Dudley Muir, immediately alerted the Indian Affairs Department and the reverend was reprimanded by deputy superintendent Duncan Campbell Scott (LAC, RG10, 1923-1932).

  • 8 Some Wendat and Kanien’kehà:ka now hold that above and beyond the encouragement of religious fervor (...)

30Interestingly, the journalist mentioned that the Kahnawake community was split into two factions over the election of representatives for the nation. This echoes wider Wendake affairs, when hereditary chiefs were replaced by an electoral system. Some argued that the wampum should stay in the church to be looked after by priests, while others thought the diplomatic belt belonged to the “Iroquois” because it sealed an alliance with the Wendat.8

31It should be pointed out once more that the fate of wampum once held by traditional chiefs was shaped by the question of modes of political representation and a difficult economic context. Globally, wampum encountered the same fate: traditional structures evolved and were gradually replaced by exogenous structures bringing in new values and thought systems. Across Canada, Indigenous communities suffered under new economic measures that worked against them and massive restrictions placed on access to natural resources. These communities were increasingly marginalized and controlled by a prejudiced legal process that weighed heavily on them—particularly restrictive clauses in the Indian Act that had been a painful yoke for nearly half a century. The act, implemented by the Indian agents who were the Canadian government’s eyes and ears on First Nation reserves as well as the police and missionaries, controlled Indigenous populations by diminishing their rights considerably, defining and limiting membership of the community, sometimes keeping track of their travels, and discouraging or even outright banning some sacred cultural practices.

32In these difficult circumstances, Indigenous communities were a big draw for amateur and professional collectors alike, on the hunt for “relics” of cultures that they believed were dying before their very eyes. The craze for collecting Indigenous objects, typical of the “salvage anthropology” period, reached its height in Canada in the decades from 1860 to 1920:

Both anthropologists and the general public thought that aboriginal people and their distinctive lifeways were destined to vanish. Victorian scientists and private collectors rushed to document what they took to be the fascinating vestiges of a disappearing people.
(McCaffrey 1992b: 34)

33This precious old wampum has disappeared some time in the 1970s. Was it simply removed from the church by people who wished to strip it of its religious context to foreground its political significance (as some had attempted in the 1920s), or was it sold for a fortune to a private collector?

Inventorying and documenting wampum today

34Wampum belts are today as precious and intriguing as ever, much sought after for their mysterious aura and held sacred by many. Proof of their ongoing historical, legal, and political relevance is the fact that they have on occasion been discussed or even presented as evidence in Canadian courtrooms. In 2016, Jacynthe Ledoux, an attorney specialized in Indigenous rights, wrote that “since the 1980s, wampum have been invoked in Canadian courtrooms in over thirty cases in very varied fields of law” (Ledoux 2016: 9). That figure would today need revising upwards to reflect the rise in the number of causes.

35Very rarely, wampum come up for sale online or at public auctions. They are generally met with such reactions and questions that they are quickly withdrawn from sale (Bruchac 2018). Since the 1970s, fifty wampum have been returned to the Haudeno-saunee and fewer than ten to other home communities (Stolle 2016: 256 and 305-359). In the United States, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990 facilitates the return of cultural objects, human remains, funeral objects and sacred relics to their original communities. In Canada, while the 1992 report of the working group on museums and First Nations did recommend museums should work with Indigenous peoples on returning such items (AFN/CMA 1992), no equivalent legislation exists, and museums are expected to draw up and implement their own restitution policy and/ or handle requests on a case by case basis. Compiling proper provenance records clearly becomes a key priority in this context, since returning artifacts to the wrong communities would be compounding one mistake with another (Tooker 1998). Archival research drawing on a range of manuscript, iconographic, and oral sources, cross-referencing and exchanging information is best practice.

36This approach to documenting wampum can give solid results, if two crucial conditions are respected. The description in the archives associated with the wampum that was exchanged must be sufficiently detailed and the designs represented on the belt elaborate and specific enough to identify it unambiguously. Wampum belts with distinctive motifs are obviously the easiest to identify if the description of the objects in the proceedings of official meetings is good enough. The TDWB is the perfect example. The exhaustive inventory of known wampum belts compiled by Nikolaus Stolle (2016) demonstrates that several wampum can easily share similar motifs, making it tricky to associate them with an archival description, particularly as such descriptions are often rather broad in nature. In a handful of cases, the wampum was sketched by the scribe tasked with recording the discussion in a written account of the meeting (Lainey 2005: 65; Carpenter 2018).

37Further to archival research, iconographic sources are often very helpful in identifying wampum belts and their original owners. This may be particularly relevant for the Wendat who, when wampum began to lose their diplomatic and political function, used them as adornment and symbols of chiefdom, worn and displayed on special occasions. Vintage photographs from the 1870s on sometimes show chiefs wearing wampum belts slung across their bodies, while older depictions never show diplomatic wampum being used as personal adornments (Lainey 2004: 134-136 and 150-162) [Fig.7].

Fig. 6. Teharihulen Michel Savard (a Huron-Wendat artist), Reciprocity, 2009. Sculpture, mixed media, 35.5 × 29 cm.

Fig. 6. Teharihulen Michel Savard (a Huron-Wendat artist), Reciprocity, 2009. Sculpture, mixed media, 35.5 × 29 cm.

The Indian Act, which came into force in 1876, gave the Canadian government exclusive authority to make laws governing Indians and the lands reserved for them. Savard went out into the woods with the text and symbolically “executed” it with his hunting rifle. From the wound pour the color red, associated with Indigenous identity, and wampum beads used in alliances and treaties trampled by the Canadian government.

By kind permission of the artist. Photo: Michelle Boisvert, 2021.

Fig. 7. Alphonse Boivin, Gaspard Picard Ondiaraléthé, 1906. Albumen print, 15.2 x 10.5 cm.

Fig. 7. Alphonse Boivin, Gaspard Picard Ondiaraléthé, 1906. Albumen print, 15.2 x 10.5 cm.

Gaspard Picard Ondiaraléthé was named chief of the warriors according to Wendat custom in the 1870s. He was then elected grand chief following the terms of the Indian Act from 1904 to 1909. He wears a wampum now preserved at the Canadian Museum of History (No. III-H-485) as well as medals from George III and Queen Victoria.

Wendake, Quebec, Huron-Wendat Nation Council archives

38It should be borne in mind that not all known wampum are in museums around the world or returned to their original home communities. Some are held in private collections, occasionally making the journey back into public display. When my 2004 book focusing mainly on Wendat wampum came out, one woman living in Wendake reached out to me to discuss a wampum in her possession. Not only did she learn more about her wampum, but she agreed to loan it to the Huron-Wendat Museum, enabling the nation as a whole to reconnect with part of its heritage.

392017 saw an almost unprecedented event, when a photograph of a wampum belt was shared with a small group of scholars. The family who owned it was trying to locate the original owners to return the wampum, acquired by their father, an avid amateur numismatist in the mid-20th century. I immediately recognized it as part of Cyrille Tessier’s original collection by cross-referencing various historical sources I had compiled over the course of two decades. I was able to put the family in touch with the Huron-Wendat nation to discuss potentially returning this major heritage belonging. When you stop and think about the sometimes tumultuous history of such objects and the almost mythical aura shrouding them today, you realize how truly generous and exceptional the gesture of that family was.

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Bibliographie

Manuscript sources

MMA (McCord Museum Archives, Montreal)

“dossier de recherche - wampum M1904”

LAC (Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa)

RG10 (1923-1932): “Correspondence Regarding Theft of Wampum Belts at the Caughnawaga Agency”, vol. 6817, folder 486-8-2.

RG10 (1923-1925): “Correspondence Regarding the Sale of Relics, Documents & Antiques”, vol. 3231, folder 582-548.

BNF (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris)

NAF 2550, Recueil de pièces diverses, la plupart relatives à l’histoire de la première moitié du règne de Louis XV. V-VIII Marine et Colonies (1667-1735):

n. d. [c. 1725]: “Mémoire concernant les coliers de porcelaine des Sauvages, leurs différents usages et la matière dont ils sont composés”, fol. 24-27.

Printed sources

AFN/CMA (Assembly of First Nations/Canadian Museums Association)

1992 Turning the Page: Forging New Partnerships Between Museums and First Peoples. Task Force on Museums and First Peoples. Ottawa, Canadian Museums Association/Assembly of First Nations. Ottawa, Ontario.

Anonyme

16 novembre 1923 “Guilty of Theft of Wampum Belt”, The Gazette: 5.

28 juillet 1898 “Old Wampum Belts – A Curious Suit Entered the New York Court”, The Gazette: 6.

Bruchac, Margaret

2018 “Broken Chains of Custody: Possessing, Dispossessing, and Repossessing Lost Wampum Belts”, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 162 (1): 56-105.

Carpenter, Brian

19 juillet 2018Manuscripts Contain Rare 1712 Wampum Drawings”, American Philosophical Society [online], available at: https://www.amphilsoc.org/blog/manuscripts-contain-rare-1712-wampum-drawings, consulted 09/02/2021.

Fenton, William N.

1989 “Return of the Eleven Wampum Belts to the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy on Grand River, Canada”, Ethnohistory 36: 392-410.

Gabriel, Brenda and Arlette Kawanatatie Van den Hende

2010 À l’orée des bois: une anthologie de l’histoire du peuple de Kanehsatà:ke. Centre culturel et de langue Tsi Ronterihwanónhnha ne Kanien’kéha, Kanehsatake.

Hale, Horatio E.

1897 “Four Huron Wampum Records: A Study of Aboriginal American History and Mnemonic Symbols”, Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 26: 221-247.

Lacroix, Laurier

2012 Les Arts en Nouvelle-France. Quebec, musée national des Beaux-Arts du Québec/Publications du Québec.

Lainey, Jonathan and Anne Whitelaw

2021 “The Wampum and the Print: Objects Tied to Nicolas Vincent Tsawenhohi’s London Visit, 1824-1825”, in Beverly Lemire, Laura Peers, and Anne Whitelaw (eds.), Object Lives and Global Histories in Northern North America: Material Culture in Motion, c. 1780-1980. Montreal, MQUP: 176-202.

Lainey, Jonathan C.

2004 La “Monnaie des Sauvages”: les colliers de wampum d’hier à aujourd’hui. Sillery/Quebec, Septentrion.

2005 “Les colliers de porcelaine de l’époque coloniale à aujourd’hui”, Recherches amérindiennes au Québec 35 (2): 61-73.

2008 “Le prétendu wampum offert à Champlain et l’interprétation des objets muséifiés”, Revue d’histoire de l’Amérique française 61 (3-4): 397-424.

2013 “Les colliers de wampum comme support mémoriel: le cas du Two-Dog Wampum”, in Alain Beaulieu, Martin Papillon and Stephan Gervais (eds.), Les Autochtones et le Québec: des premiers contacts au Plan Nord. Montreal, University of Montreal Press: 93-111.

Ledoux, Jacynthe

2016 “Sur les traces des wampums devant les tribunaux canadiens: réflexions sur l’état du dialogue internormatif entre traditions juridiques autochtones et étatique”, MA thesis. Montreal, Law Faculty, McGill University.

McCaffrey, Moira T.

1992a “Rononshonni - the Builder: McCord's Collection of Ethnographic Objects”, in Pamela Miller et al., La Famille McCord: une vision passionnée/ The McCord Family, A Passionate Vision. Montreal, musée McCord d’histoire canadienne: 102-114.

1992b Aux couleurs de la terre: héritage culturel des Premières nations/Wrapped in the Colours of the Earth: Cultural heritage of the First Nations. Montreal, musée McCord d’histoire canadienne.

Richardson, Edgar Preston (ed.)

1951 The French in America 1520-1880: An Exhibition Organized by the Detroit Institute of Arts to Commemorate the Founding of Detroit by Antoine de Lamothe Cadillac in the Year 1701. Detroit, Detroit Institute of Arts.

Stolle, Nikolaus

2016 Talking Beads: The History of Wampum as a Value and Knowledge Bearer, From Its Very First Beginnings Until Today. Hamburg, Dr. Kova.

Tooker, Elisabeth

1998 “A Note on the Return of Eleven Wampum Belts to the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy on Grand River, Canada”, Ethnohistory 45 (2): 219-236.

Williams, Paul

1990 “Reading Wampum Belts as Living Symbols”, Northeast Indian Quarterly 7 (1): 31-35.

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Notes

1 This article draws on and updates a number of publications by the author between 2004 and the present day.

2 Dutch and English traders acquired the beads from the Indigenous makers in exchange for various trading commodities manufactured in Europe. They then took the beads west to exchange for furs. The trade in beads inland helped develop the export of furs to the colonies where investors made large profits sending them on to Europe.

3 For examples of wampum use until the 20th century, see Lainey 2004: 82-86.

4 On the shift in material and documentary heritage from the community sphere to the private sphere in the Wendat context, see Lainey 2004: 142-162 and 183-185.

5 On this wampum and its representation over time, see Lainey and Whitelaw 2021.

6 Another possibility is that the Wendat received and accepted the hatchet from George III during the armed conflict between the British crown and the American rebels in the mid-1770s.

7 On the events of the 1780s, see Lainey 2013: 99-108.

8 Some Wendat and Kanien’kehà:ka now hold that above and beyond the encouragement of religious fervor and Catholic faith recorded in the Jesuit Relations detailing the presentation of the wampum, its purpose was more significantly to establish a relationship between the two villages and nations according to Indigenous geopolitics of the day, which drove decisions of individuals and groups more than purely missionary interests did.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1. William Notman, The Onondaga chief Isaac Hill Kaweneseronton of the Six Nations Confederacy with one wampum in his hand and another round his neck, Montreal, 1870. Albumen print, 13.7 × 10 cm.
Crédits Montreal, McCord Museum, I-48873.1.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/gradhiva/docannexe/image/6238/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 536k
Titre Fig. 2. Edward Chatfield, Nicholas Vincent Tsawenhohi, 1825. Hand-colored lithograph, 33.3 × 29 cm. Gift of Mrs. Walter M. Stewart.
Légende The Wendat grand chief Nicolas Vincent Tsawenhohi represented when he traveled to London in 1824-1825. He is pointing at the wampum belt symbolizing George III’s war hatchet and is wearing medals from George III and George IV.
Crédits Montreal, McCord Museum, M20855 © McCord Museum.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/gradhiva/docannexe/image/6238/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 2,0M
Titre Fig. 3. J. C. Parks, The Kanien’kehá:ka [Mohawk] chief Joseph Swan Onasakenrat wearing the Kanesatake Two Dog Wampum Belt, c. 1868. Albumen print, 10.2 × 6.4 cm.
Crédits Jean Tanguay Collection.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/gradhiva/docannexe/image/6238/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 548k
Titre Fig. 4. Edgar Gariépy, Four members of the Kahnawake community with Victor Morin, c. 1918. Gelatin silver lantern slide, 10.1 × 8.2 cm.
Légende Victor Morin was a major collector in and around Montreal. The man on the right has on his shoulder the wampum presented by the Wendat to the Kanien’kehá:ka in around 1677.
Crédits Montreal, Montreal Archives, BM042-Y-1-P1281, DR.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/gradhiva/docannexe/image/6238/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 648k
Titre Fig. 5. Samuel Douglas Smith Huyghue, Drawing of the four wampum belts hanging on the wall in the Lorette [Wendake] chapel prior to the fire of 1862, 1846. Drawing, dimensions unknown.
Légende The Latin on the wampum reads as follows (some words are abbreviated): V˙MATRI˙ILIN˙D˙D˙ (Gift of the Illinois to the Virgin Mary), B˙ANNAE˙MATRIM˙V˙VOTUM˙HUR (Vow of the Huron to the Blessed Anne Mother of the Virgin), B˙JOSEPHO˙MARIÆ˙SPONSO˙HUR˙ (The Huron to the Blessed Joseph Husband of Mary), DEIPARÆ:ABNAQVÆI˙ D D (Gift of the Abenaki to the Mother of God).
URL http://journals.openedition.org/gradhiva/docannexe/image/6238/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,2M
Titre Fig. 6. Teharihulen Michel Savard (a Huron-Wendat artist), Reciprocity, 2009. Sculpture, mixed media, 35.5 × 29 cm.
Légende The Indian Act, which came into force in 1876, gave the Canadian government exclusive authority to make laws governing Indians and the lands reserved for them. Savard went out into the woods with the text and symbolically “executed” it with his hunting rifle. From the wound pour the color red, associated with Indigenous identity, and wampum beads used in alliances and treaties trampled by the Canadian government.
Crédits By kind permission of the artist. Photo: Michelle Boisvert, 2021.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/gradhiva/docannexe/image/6238/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,2M
Titre Fig. 7. Alphonse Boivin, Gaspard Picard Ondiaraléthé, 1906. Albumen print, 15.2 x 10.5 cm.
Légende Gaspard Picard Ondiaraléthé was named chief of the warriors according to Wendat custom in the 1870s. He was then elected grand chief following the terms of the Indian Act from 1904 to 1909. He wears a wampum now preserved at the Canadian Museum of History (No. III-H-485) as well as medals from George III and Queen Victoria.
Crédits Wendake, Quebec, Huron-Wendat Nation Council archives
URL http://journals.openedition.org/gradhiva/docannexe/image/6238/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 557k
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Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Jonathan Lainey, « Wampum in Quebec from the 19th Century to the Present Day: Appropriation, Loss, Identication »Gradhiva, 33 | 2022, 98-117.

Référence électronique

Jonathan Lainey, « Wampum in Quebec from the 19th Century to the Present Day: Appropriation, Loss, Identication »Gradhiva [En ligne], 33 | 2022, mis en ligne le 15 juin 2022, consulté le 26 juin 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/gradhiva/6238 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/gradhiva.6238

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Auteur

Jonathan Lainey

McCord Museum, Montreal, Quebec
jonathan.lainey[at]mccord-stewart.ca

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