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  • Writer's pictureArt Duval

Huronia in Prehistoric times: Winter Solstice season

We have this image of prehistoric people as being primitive and unintelligent. Nothing could be further the truth. Most of the ways they lived were very thoughtful, only in a way derive in a place where certain resources were flush and others quite devoid.

So as it approaches Christmas and I don't have anything suitable I thought I would try to explain what would have been going on in the time of the Wendat, tionantate and weskirini. Whereas we know them now by the blanket term of Huron, I choose to call them by the name they chose for themselves. Winter solstice would involve some religious aspects. So I will not delve to far in that drection.

As the days grew shorter and the outside got colder it would be a good time to get on to the arts and crafts essential to daily life. In the fall the corn would have been harvested and hung for the winter. The long house would probably be filled with cobs hanging from the rafters. The canoes would have been patched and buried to protect them from the winter snow. So a peace would fall over the land as the far of enemies could not approach.

Longhouses are inhabited by extended families, usually related to one woman in the family. These longhouses were long and narrow and separated into compartments open to a central fire. Two families shared this fire, one on each side. Set back from the fire was a platform where the people would sit and do the tasks set out for them that day. A smoke hole allowed in the roof would provide a small amount of light during daylight hours.

Further back was a sleeping area and areas for storage. Most of the families worldly possessions were in this area. These sleeping areas would have luxurious furs to sleep in. The sleeping are were on a reed mat or cattails. Space would be cramped, but this also provided less area that had to be heated.

Firewood, in the form of branches would be piled as well, it would be a long winter and the people were expert at manipulating fires for their uses. But it wouldn't look like what we have today, wood was not cut and split, it just wasn't efficient. Trees would be killed standing, so branches that fell, would be broken and stacked. Probably bigger pieces would be close by, and may have even been laid out to be pushed into the fire over time.

With little snow sleds of firewood could be pulled by dogs so that the daylight hours would probably be filled with accumulating enough for the cold of winter.

At this time of year it would probably be very comfortable in the long houses, but if they had winds like we had, time may have been spent fixing the longhouse as well. The short days and long nights would lead up to a celebration on the shortest day, December 21 as we know it today. Winter solstice.

On this day all types of things would go on, in special years the day of the dead where the bones of the dead would be laid to rest would occur. As each tribe would probably have their own celebration, and most of them would have a religious nature, it would be too dificult to explain here.

Also at this time the new pelts and skins would be being made into winter clothes and blankets. Whereas the animals have fur year round, it is only after the first frost that a proper hide can be made into proper vestments and new winter wear would be made. So like today new clothes were the thing.

If you were fortunate enough to have bagged a porcupine, needlework would also be going on.

Porcupine quills are hollow like straws, and can be fashioned into many fine items, like the box above.

With the snow it would be easier to track animals, and with the peaceful time, hunting parties could be spared. So in their way gifts would be given. The men and women would spend most of their time with their families either making and or teaching the skills needed to survive the harsh climate. In a longhouse arrangement every man of a certain age was father, and every woman mother, then there would be Grandfathers and Grandmothers, all would participate in the household in their own way. What you could contribute, and what you had contributed over time would be more important than what you couldn't, everyone had a value.


for winter such as building snowshoes and sleds would be taking place. Sinew would be strung onto wooden frames and boards would be bent for sleds.

The wendat had algonquin allies wherever they went, and these allies, if they hadn't already would be setting out to their winter grounds. In summer when the people could set out farther, and the fields were to be farmed the power in numbers would be beneficial, but as winter set in the advantage of some families to set out to hunting grounds to spread out the resources would be beneficial.

The men would probably be spending their days in late season hunting, but would return at night, and preparing items for the year ahead. Some last minute harvesting of items like chaga would also be going on.

I would assume that at this time the people would not be idle, and that arrows and bows and knives and such would be crafted. These arts would be passed down to the next generation, a sort of school for the time.

ionI would assume that at this time the people would not be idle, and that arrows and bows and knives and such would be crafted. These arts would be passed down to the next generation, insuring the next generation had the skills necessary. Artisans would copy the wares they had seen at summer gathering, and would invent new ways of of decorating them in the cutting edge of fashion.

Among the Longhouses in the village would be other buildings, one of which would be the sweat lodge. Sweat lodges are one of the many ways in which the wendat cured themselves of ailments. Heated rocks would be brought into the small enclosure and would bring the heat and humidity up much like a sauna today. This would cause a person to sweat and release toxins held in the body. This would be done along with ceremonies like marriage and funerals. I will leave it at that as it probably isn't my place to get too deep into ceremony.

The wendat were not without ways of healing ailments and sicknesses. They would have packed away a apothecary of medicinal plants such as Sumac, blackberries(dried), mint, cattails, and Chagas to cure what ailed them.

Many of these plants had various uses. Sumac, both the berries and the leaves could be used to heal eye problems, upset stomachs and even help with poison ivy.

The Blackberries could be made into a tea to help with stomach problems. Could also help with swollen joints and other issues.

Mint could be used as a tea to help with intestinal problems and as a poultice for rashes.

Cattails, one of the most useful of plants which almost ignore today. Cattails could be used in multiple dishes, and while not being used to also be used as a insulator under the bed.

Although not ideal living conditions, around the solstice there would be a certain energy. The deep dark cold of winter was soon to come, but the winds and rains of fall were behind them. Food was still fresh and abundant and there was less threat of war or raids. The men would be closer to home and not as far off on hunting or fishing expeditions. It would be a time for families, especially those close to you. And steadily they would be closer and closer, so you better get along.

Art Duval Pipesmoke of the Past

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