This text was written in Wendat by Belgian Jesuit Father Philippe Pierson (1642–1688), who came to North America in 1666. From 1673 to 1683, he lived and worked with the Wyandot community in what is now the city of St. Ignace near the tip of the Upper Peninsula, Michigan, on the shores of Lake Huron. It is the first part (Potier 1920:539) of a four-page text incorporated into the voluminous collection of copying, editing, and writing of another Belgian Jesuit, Father Pierre Potier (1708–1781), who worked with the Wyandot in the Detroit area from 1744 until his death in 1781. His collection was eventually published as an Ontario Archive Report, which represents the culmination of the Jesuits more than century and a half work with the Wendat/Wyandot people and their language.
Although Pierson lived with the Wyandot, he had been trained in the Wendat dialect among those people in their community Wendake, then referred to as Lorette, a little outside of what is now the city of Quebec. The Wyandot are a closely related people, whose communities at the time of first contact with the French were west of the territory of the Wendat, and close to the southern shores of Georgian Bay, Lake Huron. The French labelled them Petun because of their involvement in the tobacco trade. The Wendat called them Etionnontateronnon ‘people where there is a mountain or hill,’ owing to their proximity to Blue Mountain and other hills of the Niagara Escarpment. Both peoples were driven out of their homeland mid-17th century through European-allied struggles with the English-connected Haudenosaunee ‘they extend a house,’ known to English and French then as the Iroquois.
The translation into English and linguistic analysis are my own, based on what I have learned about the language for over 45 years of work. The inspiration to dedicate my research to the study of an Indigenous language came from Fred Wheatley, an Anishinaabe elder. He ‘lost his tongue’ through his experience in residential schools but regained it from his grandmother. He then dedicated his life to passing on that teaching to others, including me. When I learned that the Wendat people had ‘lost their tongue,’ but that the language was well-recorded and analysed in Jesuit writing, I knew what my life’s work would be.