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French Involvement With and Understanding of Native Americans

French Involvement With and Understanding of Native Americans

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In 1608 under the leadership of Samuel de Champlain and with the help of an exploration party, the City of Quebec was founded in the name of France. Unlike other European nations establishing colonies in the New World, the French approached the Amerindian people with more respect and acceptance. The goal of the French government was to create a “unified state, united in speech, customs, religion, king, and blood.” 1 Quebec City was located in the St. Laurence River Valley of North America, and along with learning about the new terrain, Catholic Missionaries and French explorers had to learn and become accustomed to Native American peoples while complying with the demands of the French crown. Accommodation becomes a key element in all parties coming to the New World; missionaries use it to attempt to convert natives to Christianity, while government officials try to establish order and French customs in New France. In Jesuit Relations of 1636 by Jean de Brebeuf a Jesuit missionary, his goals were not only to convert natives to Christianity but to understand their culture and beliefs, this was done through accommodation. Using accommodation ensured that while converting Natives to Christianity, the Jesuits were not belittling Native American beliefs and practices. The main goal of Brebeuf was leading the natives to embrace Christianity. Accommodation gave both parties a common ground to work from and established a trusting bond between them. Brebeuf lived with the Huron people. In his report of them he makes it very clear that he would not classify them as beasts or savage people, as they had been categorized in Europe, but as men, “for they have not been able to deny the existence of God altogether.” 2 Brebeuf explains the importance of spirituality for the natives in their everyday lives. They pray to the sky for almost everything in their lives, they look at it for clarity and guidance. Brebeuf compares this with Christianity, stating there is nothing more clear than looking to the heavens to find these things. 1
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Brebeuf also comments on Huron politics and society, speaking of their elders and political decisions that form their society. He is particular in stating that although these natives have their own form of “government” that it is nowhere near as sophisticated and intelligent as European forms. Brebeuf uses this report as informative but it also explains his true mission which is to convert these natives to Christianity.
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