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Wyandotte Street signStreet names are among the vestiges of Wyandot history in the Windsor-Detroit area.

Research project to uncover Wyandot history

Windsorites travel on Wyandotte and Huron Church roads, but the true Indigenous heritage behind these street names has been largely lost to time.

Enter UWindsor history professors Rob Nelson and Guillaume Teasdale. Armed with a grant of nearly $25,000 from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and matching funding from the Wyandot of Anderdon Nation in Trenton, Mich., they plan to put the Wyandot people back on the map locally.

“When one speaks of local Indigenous groups, one refers almost always only to the Three Fires Confederacy, made up of the Ojibwe, the Odawa, and the Potawatomie, all Anishanaabe-speaking peoples,” said Dr. Nelson.

But the highly-mobile Wyandot people, also known as Huron, were here in the 1700s as well. When Cadillac founded Fort Detroit in 1701, he convinced members of the Three Fires Confederacy and the Wyandot to settle in the region to supply the French with food. By the 1880s, the Wyandot had integrated into the European population or been removed from the area.

One of the few historical remnants are a few street names whose true cultural importance is not fully understood, Nelson said.

“It’s a historical mystery in the day-to-day experience of non-Indigenous Windsor.”

Nelson and Dr. Teasdale have enlisted Museum Windsor; local Wyandot historian Michael Odette; and School of Creative Arts professors Michael Darroch, Kim Nelson, and Lee Rodney on the project to acknowledge the local history of the Wyandot people.

Together with an Indigenous student from the Wyandot community, they will gather the oral history of the Wyandot Nation. Grand Chief Ted Roll will recruit members of the community for on-camera interviews that will be posted to the Wyandot’s webpage. The interviews will be recorded by a UWindsor film student.

Together with archival research conducted with the help of an UWindsor Indigenous graduate student, the interviews will form part of a history collection that will be presented on both sides of the border in April 2020 and become part of a travelling museum exhibition that will make stops at the Chimczuk Museum in Windsor and the Community Center in Brownstown, Mich.

Nelson said the research team will share the exhibit materials with high school history teachers so they can incorporate the information into their classes.

The federal grant is part of a program to fund short-term research projects that let non-academic organizations and post-secondary researchers access each other’s expertise on topics of mutual interest.

Nelson is an expert in global settler colonialism, including how borders are created to name and recognize ethnicities as well as to divide them. Teasdale is an expert in the French and Indigenous history of the Windsor-Detroit borderlands.

Their research will help the Wyandot reclaim their place in Windsor’s history and give them information to establish a longhouse, museum, and visitor centre at Six Points in Gibraltar, Mich.

“The goal is to co-create and mobilize historical knowledge of the Wyandot of Anderdon Nation,” Nelson said. “This goal will both satisfy the pressing desire of the Wyandot of Anderdon to have their story better known in the Windsor-Detroit borderlands, and it will help meet the University of Windsor’s goal of a call to action for reconciliation with First Nations.”

─ Sarah Sacheli