People of the lakes

The allies of the Wendat were the Algonquin, who lived in the lakes of the Canadian Shield. Unlike the Wendat, the Algonquin did not practice agriculture. Instead, they hunted, fished and gathered the abundant plants in the forests. These different ways of living created many questions and misunderstandings when the two groups met. Willow and Loon, two young Wendat envoys in training, travel north and meet with a group of the Algonquian youth for the first time. Falcon is the only Algonquian who can speak the Wendat language and he translates for the others.

Click through to see photos of the landscape that was home to the Huron Wendat nation

Excerpt from the book

One of Falcon’s friends said something to him and then looked at Willow.

“He wants to know why your people live behind walls. How can you live without seeing the forest?”

“We can’t see the forest unless we go outside the palisade,” answered Willow. Falcon translated and his friends reacted with frowns and murmurs.

“Our houses are behind walls because our enemies sometimes attack us. The walls protect us,” Willow continued as Falcon translated.

“Who are your enemies?” asked Falcon.

"We call them the People From Across the Lake. They call themselves something else. We live on Thunder River on the northern shore of a huge lake, the Beautiful Lake. It’s so wide it takes our strongest warriors more than a day and a night to cross by canoe – and that’s in calm weather. But it’s usually too dangerous to cross. We follow the shoreline to get to the south side where our enemies live. They’ve always been our enemies. They attack us mostly in the spring and the fall, but they can appear any time. Without the palisades to protect us, we’d be massacred in our sleep.”

“We fight them too,” said Falcon. “Some of our warriors have joined your people on raids across the lake.”

“Shrike fought with my father long ago,” said Willow. “We’re going to see him.”

“I know Shrike,” said Falcon. “His images watch over the lakes.”

Someone else asked a question and Falcon translated.

“Why do you keep your villages in the same place all the time? You’d be safer moving around as we do.”

Loon laughed out loud at the question – to the displeasure of Falcon and his friends.

“We can’t move our villages like you. Our longhouses and palisades are surrounded by cornfields. They don’t move easily. We only move when the fields are tired and the firewood has been used up.” Falcon asked Loon another question.

“Why do you grow corn if it forces you to live in villages you can’t move?”

Loon looked shocked at the question. He turned to Willow for help.

“Why do we grow corn?” Willow repeated. As he did, he noticed the Wanderer’s daughter appear in the light of the fire where she sat down quietly near the elders. Falcon and his friends noticed her too. Willow felt a gnawing pain in his stomach, as he attempted to answer the question. He wanted to slip into a shell.

“We grow corn because it’s our life,” he said, leaving time for Falcon to translate. “It allows us to get through the winters without starving. Most of all, we can carry it on hunting trips, or when we go to war. We can travel farther and faster than anyone else because we don’t have to hunt on the way, and we trade it for things we don’t have.” He looked over at Lynx who sat listening with the elders on the other side of the low fire. Lynx nodded back at him imperceptibly.

“I have a question for you,” Willow said to Falcon.“Why don’t your people grow any corn? Why do you trade with us to get it?”

Falcon repeated the question to his friends. They talked excitedly among themselves for some time, waving their hands for emphasis. Finally, when everyone was silent, Falcon answered.

“Because we’re hunters,” was his brief reply.