Conference on Indian-French Encounters in New France

Nicolas de Fer, Le cours de Missisipi, ou de St. Louis…, 1718, map6F G4042.M5 1718 F4
Nicolas de Fer, Le cours de Missisipi, ou de St. Louis…, 1718, map6F G4042.M5 1718 F4
Center for American Indian Studies Programs
Center for Renaissance Studies Programs
Other Renaissance Programs
Center for the History of Cartography Programs
Thursday, February 22, 2001 to Saturday, February 24, 2001

The colony of New France began with settlements in the St. Lawrence valley in present-day Quebec, then spread to the Upper Midwest, including Illinois. As a French colony, New France was administratively unified. As a region, however, it was far from demographically and culturally homogenous. New France was inhabited by a large number of different Amerindian groups, who interacted with the French missionaries, traders, and settlers in varying ways. It was a world in which, to quote historian Richard White, “the older worlds of the [Amerindian groups] and of various Europeans overlapped, and their mixture created new systems of meaning and exchange.”

The French drew the first maps of the Upper Midwest, and, as cartographic historian David Buisseret notes in Mapping the French Empire in North America, looking at these documents leads ot reflection upon their role in the imperial venture: “The very innovativeness and excellence of French cartographers seemed to give them a sort of claim to the lands that they delineated… . The maps stand as powerful testimony to the extent of French ambitions.” Tracing the production of French maps, both in manuscripts and in print, allows us to follow the progress of French “discovery” and settlement of the American heartland, and of Indian-French encounters.

For example, the first recorded passage through the Chicago area was made by Marquette and Joliet in 1673, when they discovered the portage between the Chicago River and the DesPlaines River, the shortest on between the Atlantic watershed and the Gulf. Numerous French traders, missionaries, and soldiers used this portage and passed through the surrounding area where they came into contact with Amerindians and—eventually—created a whole new ethnic group, the Métis.

This symposium, in drawing together scholars of French colonial history, cartography, and Amerindian history, provided an opportunity for professors, graduate students, and the general public to familiarize themselves with the colonial culture that has left so many traces in the Midwest.

This symposium was made possible in part by grants from the Illinois Humanities Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Illinois General Assembly. Additional support was provided try the Ministère des Rélations Internationales de Québec, the Délégation de Québec à Chicago, and the Alliance Française de Chicago. Organized by the Newberry Center for Renaissance Studies, the D’Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian History, the Hermon Dunlap Smith Center for the History of Cartography, and the Center for Public Programs.

Thursday, February 22

Lecture at the Alliance Française

French Mapping of the Old Upper Midwest
David Buisseret, University of Texas at Arlington (now emeritus)

Friday, February 23

Workshop at the Newberry Library

Huron-Wendat: The Heritage of the Circle
Leader: Georges Sioui (Huron-Wendat), Institute for Indigenous Government, Vancouver

Documentary and Discussion at the Alliance Française

Kanata: Legacy of the Children of Aetaentsic, directed by Rene Sioui-Labelle (1998)

Saturday, February 24

Lectures at the Alliance Française

Copper Kettles, Glass Beads, and Other Trinkets: What the French Brought with Them
Laurier Turgeon, Universite Laval, Québec City

“Fait-toi Huron?” [Become Huron]: Americanizing America
Georges Sioui (Huron-Wendat), Institute for Indigenous Government, Vancouver (now at University of Ottawa)

Workshops at the Newberry Library

Sources for the Study of French Amerindian Contacts in the Old Upper Midwest
Leader: Laurier Turgeon, Universite Laval, Québec City

Cartographic Evidence Concerning French and Indian Contacts in the Old Upper Midwest
Leader: David Buisseret, University of Texas at Arlington (now emeritus)

Learn more about Center for Renaissance Studies programs.