A Wyandot To Remember
In the Northwestern part of Ohio were the lands of the Wyandot Indian tribe.
Ohio isn’t sliced up with nice neat boundaries when it concerns the Indian tribe territories, who were quite fluid in their borders at times.
This effect was due to migrations of tribes forced from the East. There was a mingling of those who had alliances, but basically the Wyandot located in the upper-left quadrant of what is now the state of Ohio. Wyandot County takes its name from this tribe.
The story of the Wyandot is a heartbreaking one.
Their tribe is not the only one with such a tragic tale of events. It is one of broken treaties and promises from our government and of removal to the West, but one of the highlights in reading about these heartbreaking accounts was to happen upon the biography of Joseph Chiwatenhwa.
This man was a great saint of the Christian faith, but one of whom little is known.
I have courage because fearing God, I fear nothing else.
The life of Joseph Chiwatenhwa
Joseph Chiwatenhwa was born in 1602 into the Bear clan, in lands of the Wendat, or Wyandot tribe. By this time the Wyandot had been driven to the Georgian Bay area of Ontario, Canada by the Iroquois, who would continue to attack, raid, and harry the Wyandot peoples- and receive hostility in kind.
The Jesuit missionaries, called “Blackrobes” by the Native peoples, had come to preach Christianity and traveled among the tribal camps of longhouses. During an epidemic that had hit, they brought medicine and spoke of the Gospel of Christ.
It was during a ceremony of the Wyandot, the Feast of the Dead, that Jean de Brébeuf, leading the Jesuit mission, spoke in the hearing of Joseph Chiwatenhwa, who was gripped by faith, and embarked on learning all he could about Jesus and how he could best please and serve him.
This faith would come into direct conflict with the beliefs of his tribe, and consequently a great deal of opposition. The Wyandots were being decimated by diseases from Europeans, and this became blamed on the new faith, as well.
Through all these difficulties, sickness and death, suspicion and hostility of his own people, danger from traditional enemies, the spiritual stature and grace of Joseph grew and rooted deeply within his life. He impressed his Jesuit mentors, and won converts to Christ among his people.
“Their neighbors mocked them for refusing to take part in traditional rituals. They accused them of committing treason. In spite of these difficulties, their days were filled with the sense of the wonder of God’s grace. “1]
Joseph Chiwatenhwa had had a dream with a clear premonition that he would die at the hands of his enemies. Once while fishing, he told a friend of this dream, and it was in just such a way that Joseph would die not long in the future. He was only about 38 years old at the time of his death.
“Chiwatenhwa had had a dream sometime in the early summer of 1639 when on a fishing trip with his good friend and fellow Christian Rene Tsondihwane. He dreamt:
“that three or four Iroquois attacked him; that, having defended himself, he was thrown to the ground; that they took off his scalp, and gave him a blow with a hatchet on the head from which they removed it.”
There is some confusion whether an Iroquois raiding party or some of his own people disguised as Iroquois had killed him, but his words to his brother, earlier in time, shows his great faith,
Don’t worry about it bringing disgrace to our family if I am killed. If God gives our whole nation the faith, then my memory will be honored,” he explained. “People will say that I was the first who preferred to die rather than lose the freedom to live openly as a Christian.”
One of the outstanding features of this man’s life was the deep and personal knowledge and faith that he had with God. Conversing freely in prayer, witnessing constantly of God’s grace, and behaving with humility and service to members of his tribe and family. The stories of his walk with Christ reverberate with sincerity and a living faith that affects those who hear of it today.
Joseph Chiwatenhwa’s Recorded Prayer
O God, at last I start to understand you. You made the earth, which we live in.
You made the sky, which we see above us. You made us, we who are called people.
Now you let me start to know who you really are. I know how to make a canoe, and how to enjoy it.
I know how to build a cabin and how to live in it. But you! you made us, and you live in us.
The things we make last for a few seasons. We only use the canoes we create for a short time.
We only live in the houses we build for a few years.
But your love for us will endure so long that we cannot count the time. You will comfort us forever.
As long as we live, how can anyone not acknowledge you? You are the one who protects us.
The time we feel your presence the most is when we face death.
You are the one with the power to keep our souls alive,
because only you know how to love us in the deepest part of ourselves.
Not even a mother or father can love a human being the way you do.
Your love for us is so strong that it makes evil spirits lose their power.
Now I begin to see that the reason you made us is because you want to share your love.
Nothing attracts you as much as your people. Thank you for letting me understand you.
You love us so deeply that all I can do in return is offer myself to you. I claim you as my elder and chief.
There is no one else. Ask me for anything you want. Just let me always hold you in my heart.
I always want to feel you watching and protecting me. I offer you my family.
If any evil strikes them when I am away, I know you will take care of them.
Your love is more than I can ever give them. Thank you, from my heart.
I see the loving way you lead us along the path of life. You want what is best for us.
If we have poverty, let us feel your love in it. If we get rich, do not let comfort make us forget that we need you.
Never let us turn into selfish people. Never let us think we are better than others who have less.
You love us equally, rich and poor. We are people, your people, and you love us as we are.
It fills me with joy to know you. I can feel the presence of your love.
Thank you for letting me give you myself just as I am.
The more I thank you, the more I find I can give myself to you.
Help me let go of the things I used to place my faith in. All I ask is to be yours.
It would have been enough to give us the gifts of the earth. Thank you for them.
But you’ve given us much more. In you, we live forever. I can hardly imagine what heaven is like, but it is enough for me to know your love and to believe in you with all my heart.
You have promised to let us be free spirits in you, and because I know you love us,your promise gives me hope. Help us to welcome suffering if it means we will know our need of you more deeply.
In our suffering, help us give ourselves to you.
We don’t have to be afraid to die, because death is the new birth that lets us live fully in you.
Life is a journey, and with you as our companion and our destination, it will end with great joy.
Lord, I am not afraid of death anymore. I will rejoice when I know the time has come for me to die.
I do not even want to mourn the passing of my relatives.
All I need to remember is you are bringing them to be with you in paradise.
You want to take them away so they can have perfect happiness.
-Joseph Chiwatenhwa, as recorded in Friends of God account.
One feature of a living faith is the way it transcends the boundaries of time. when I read this prayer of a saintly Indian of centuries ago, it speaks to my own heart, and I find it is a prayer that I can speak in tandem with Joseph Chiwatenhwa. To know and experience that God understands us, that He is a very present help in trouble, these are things that we hold in common with believers in Christ all over the earth.
This Indian man knew persecution and discrimination from both within the tribe of his people and from without. He stayed steadfast even though the difficulties of his life were so many and so severe. He faced everything with a good humor and humility. These are things that I greatly admire, and would want to emulate in my own life.
Ohio Indian Tribes, the Miami, Ojibwa, and Wyandot
Source: Woodland Indian
Indians of the Ohio Lands
Ohio Historical Center says of the Wyandot that they were what was little left of the Huron groups of Indian tribes driven by the Iroquois to the Upper Great Lakes area. Hunting ranges, which were much wider territories than settlement, traditional lands, reached into the northwest quadrant of the State of Ohio. By the 1740s, they had settled there and spread eastward into the Cuyahoga River valley.
The Wyandots controlled much of Ohio. It was by permission from the Wyandot that the the Shawnee and Delaware tribes came to settle north of the Ohio River.
Among their famous chiefs were Leatherlips, Tarhe “The Crane”, and Big Turtle.
The Farewell of the Wyandot People to Ohio
In the sad annals of American history, the story of the Wyandot tribe, Joseph Chiwatenhwa’s tribe, is particularly tragic. Once the leading tribe of Ohio lands, disease and finally removal to Western lands took a tragic toll upon this people. So much so, that their language is largely lost, and it is unclear just what some of their clans names were, a number of the known clans are now extinct, all their members having died out.
Many know of the terrible “Trail of Tears” of the Cherokee tribe, but less is known of this similar story of the Wyandot, who were forcibly removed from their beloved Ohio lands. During their history, as Chiwatenhwa is but one individual, they were known as one of the most noble and dignified of First Nation peoples.
Squire Grey Eyes delivered the following address to the Wyandots assembled at the mission church before leaving for Ohio, from which they were removed to the West.
All six hundred and sixty four members of the Wyandot Nation were gathered for the farewell address.
Squire Grey Eyes was an ordained minister and the Wyandot spiritual leader. He resisted removal from Ohio until the very end.
“My people, the time for our departure is at hand. A few words remain only to be said.
Our entire nation has gathered here for farewell. We have this morning met together for the last time in our Love Feast. More than two-hundred have testified to the great power of God.
Brother Wheeler has preached the funeral for our dead, our John Stewart, our beloved Mononcue, our recently murdered Summundewat, our eloquent Between-the-Logs. They sleep the sleep of death, but the hope of immortality is strong within our breasts.
Our chiefs have committed to the care our White Brothers, our temple; to the great spirit, the grave of our ancestors.
The Indian does not forget the pale-faced brother who came to him with the message from the Great Spirit, and who loved him well and served him well.
The White Man’s God has become the Indian’s God, and with us go ever to our new home, our beloved shepherd, Brother Wheeler, and sister Lucy Armstrong, the Wyandot bride.
Surely like the white-faced truth of all that she says: “Whither thou goest, I will go and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God; where thou diest I will die, and there will I be buried.”
It remains only for me to say farewell. Yes, it is indeed farewell.
No more shall we engage in the solemn feast, or the feast of rejoicing.
No more shall Sandusky’s Plains and forests echo to the voice of song and praise.
No more shall we assemble in our Temple to sing the sacred songs and hear the story of the Cross.
Here our dead are buried. We have placed fresh flowers upon their graves for the last time. No longer shall we visit them. Soon they shall be forgotten, for the onward march of the strong White Man will not turn aside for the Indian graves.
Farewell, Farewell Sandusky River.
Farewell, Farewell our hunting grounds and homes.
Farewell to the stately trees and forests.
Farewell to the Temple of the Great Spirit.
Farewell to our White Brothers, and friends, and neighbors.
It is but a little time for us till we leave our earthly home; for here we are no continuing city, but we seek one that is to come, whose builder and maker is God.
Let us remember the dying words of Brother Stewart:”Be Faithful.” “
-from the The Wyandot Nation of Kansas Website