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CHIHWATENHA (Chihouatenhoua, Chiohoarehra), baptized Joseph, model convert and friend of the Jesuit missionaries; b. 1602? in Huronia; slain 2 Aug. 1640, near Ossossanë.

Joseph, whose uncle was an important chief, lived in Ossossanë, where he participated in the fur trade and though not wealthy, had a voice in local councils. Throughout his lifetime Chihwatenha’s people were being drawn into ever closer contact with the French. European goods were eagerly sought after by the Indians, but epidemics and increasing warfare among the leading tribes over control of the fur trade added to the already numerous problems which resulted from their contact with European culture, the technological superiority of which they clearly recognized. Particularly disturbing to the Indians were the teachings and admonitions of the missionaries who came to live among them, and whose theology and concepts of moral behaviour were in many ways different from their own.

Chihwatenha was a man of sober habits, and even before conversion the Jesuits regarded his behaviour as exemplary. From the time of their arrival in Ossossanë Joseph showed great interest in their teaching, but the Jesuits wished to instruct him thoroughly before baptism. However, he was taken seriously ill and consequently was baptized soon afterwards on 16 Aug. 1637, while his wife, Marie Aonetta, and some other members of his family received baptism a little later. For about ten months his was the only Christian family in Ossossanë.

Joseph gave every assistance to the Jesuits in their mission work, not only in his own village but throughout Huronia. He made a public profession of his faith, refused to attend pagan rites, defended the Jesuits in hostile councils, and exhorted the Hurons to become Christians. This was done at considerable personal risk, since the Jesuits were already accused of being sorcerers and were held responsible for the epidemics which were to halve the Huron population by 1640. Joseph’s faith did not waver when many of his family died or were taken ill, or even when his sister-in-law sickened and died within 48 hours of her baptism. In the winter of 1637–38 the Jesuits taught him to read and write, apparently with considerable success. In 1639 he travelled to Quebec with Father Le Mercier, where, probably as on previous visits, he was impressed by the charity and religious zeal of the French, and particularly by the convent and hospital. At the cost of considerable personal difficulty he managed to carry a number of holy relies back to the Huron country. There he argued with his countrymen that the French religion and culture were no less desirable than their trade goods.

In January 1640 he spent eight days performing spiritual exercises at the new mission centre at Fort Sainte-Marie, after which he attempted unsuccessfully to convert his brother. He accompanied the Jesuits on a number of missions that winter, including one to the Tobacco (Petun) tribe, where he had relatives or trading partners. On 2 August, while he was alone cutting wood near his village, he was slain, just one day before his annual departure for Quebec. Sensing danger, he had sent his nieces (one of them quite probably the young Thérèse Oionhaton), back to the village. The Huron chiefs investigated his death and attributed it to Iroquois raiders, an explanation which the Jesuits accepted. But Joseph may just as well have been murdered by Hurons who distrusted him for associating with the French priests and who especially resented his accompanying white men to the Tobacco country for fear they might attempt to promote the fur trade there. It was a Huron practice to murder undesirables in a way that would make the crime seem the work of enemy raiders.

The Jesuits were impressed with Joseph’s ability and piety. His devotion and the continued devotion of his family under trying circumstances constituted a happy rebuttal to the Huron claim that it was impossible for an Indian to achieve the standard of morality required of a convert. Joseph was one of the first Hurons who managed to embrace whole-heartedly many of the spiritual as well as the material aspects of European civilization. This choice ran counter to the feeling of most of his people and tended to alienate him from them. His friendship for the French may eventually have brought about his death. Soon after, however, increasing numbers of Hurons came to feel that a more thoroughgoing acceptance of European ways was desirable. Joseph’s brother, Joseph Teondechoren, a cult-healer, became a distinguished convert.

Bruce G. Trigger

JR (Thwaites), passim. Léon Pouliot, Le premier retraitant du Canada (Montréal, 1958). B. G. Trigger, “The destruction of Huronia: a study in economic and cultural change, 1609–1650,” Royal Can. Institute Trans., XXXIII (1960), pt.i, 14–45; “Order and freedom in Huron society,” Anthropologica, V (1963), 151–69.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Bruce G. Trigger, “CHIHWATENHA, Joseph,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 24, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/chihwatenha_1E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/chihwatenha_1E.html
Author of Article: Bruce G. Trigger
Title of Article: CHIHWATENHA, Joseph
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1966
Year of revision: 1966
Access Date: October 24, 2014